Monday, August 31, 2009

PvE v PvP: Blue Poster Screws the Pooch

Here's a nice big steaming pile for you this Monday morning, in response to "why can't I get a decent weapon from honor points?":
No PvP Weapons available for Honor points
"...because we make the assumption that since WoW was engaging enough for 80 levels of play to get to the scenario you mention that most people aren't actually that horribly offended by doing pve content (which is arguably the core of the game).

We may need to reconsider that particular philosophy if doing heroics is indeed that unappealing to many players. Although, I'm not sure how "many" players that really is TBH... forums like these are a surprisingly poor way to actually figure out what percentage of players think what about a given issue."

Oh, Kalgan. Ghostcrawler spends months countering complaints about "you nerfed my pve for pvp!" by saying "both parts of the game are important", and you turn around and cut his legs out from under him with this gem.

Straight from a dev: PvE is the core of the game. So now you can stop nerfing us based on PvP balance, right?



Aside from the controversy over whether a PvPer should have to do PvE to get competitively equipped, there are a few other major problems with Kalgan's statement.

To get this out of the way first: "WoW was engaging enough for 80 levels of play". Leveling play has nothing to do with level-capped play. Nothing. Most people don't even do instances while leveling.

Back to business. He says, and I quote, "doing heroics" is the way to get a weapon for PvP. First of all, weapons from heroics are not remotely competitive with raid weapons or the 1850 arena rating weapons. There aren't any emblem weapons available beyond the pathetic Heroism-level offhands. Sure, if you grind one heroic over and over that happens to drop an epic weapon that you can use, maybe you get something. Something ilevel 200 with no resilience, if it even drops. Running heroics is OK for a starter weapon, but you can't even get a halfway decent weapon until high rating, and high rating is hard to get if your team is using starter weapons and has no way to upgrade them to be competitive.

Someone who wants to compete in arena has to raid, no matter how much they don't want to. And since all of the gear they've earned from beloved PvP has resilience on it, it's ill-suited to get them into a raid, especially considering that everyone else competing for that raid spot will be geared out in conquest emblem gear, easily outstripping the ilevel of PvP gear available for those with average arena performance. They haven't been getting conquest emblems in Isle of Conquest, ironically.

He's really saying, "if you are average in arena, we expect you to use an ilevel 200 weapon, perhaps even a blue, most likely poorly itemized, and try to break into the higher rankings against people wielding cutting-edge (har!) 232-245 weapons. Have fun, suckers, thanks for the $15!" There is no in-between option for the PvPer. There is certainly no casual option. If you want to succeed in arena, you either must grind winning matches with an OP comp to get high raiting, or you can do limited matches a week, but spend the rest of your free time grinding PvE content enough to get a good guild to actually loot a good weapon to you.


The root of the problem is the distance between the weapon options. Either you get an absolutely terrible weapon, or a top of the line weapon, and there is nothing in between. Wouldn't it make sense to add a selection of ilevel 213 weapons with resilience on them to the honor vendors for exhorbitant honor prices, just to add a bridge? Or, perhapse even more palatable: just offer 213 weapons at lower arena ratings! Instead of the arid wasteland between 200 and 232, why not let people pick up a middling weapon at, say, middling rating (1600ish)? Will it really hurt anything? The decision not to do this really doesn't make any sense to me, especially considering how much the dev team has pushed PvP as it's own separate progression path. Not being able to get even a slightly reasonable weapon is ridiculous.

Kalgan, please take your statement to it's logical conclusions. I don't know what it is that's blinding you to this stuff, but I certainly hope you clear it up before you make any decisions that affect the millions of people who depend on you to make a reasonably fair game. Your post here was a misstep, to say the least.

By the way, there wasn't any major WoW news announced while I was on vacation last week, right?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Champions Online Beta Review: Should You Buy It?

Let me get this out of the way first:

I love Champions Online.

So now my job is no longer to tell you whether or not I like the game. My job is to tell you why I like it, and what it is about me that makes me the type of person who would love this game. Then you can compare yourself to me, and see if you might love it too.

Another thing to get out of the way first: I've spent a lot of time playing the game, but I have not proceeded past Millenium City, which is the level 12-20ish zone. I can't tell you anything first hand about the endgame or even the later leveling zones, the Nemesis system, or how heroes play once they've built up a lot of powers. Instead, between the closed and open beta, I rerolled a dozen different characters over the past few months, trying different powersets and both early zones, getting a strong feel for the character creator and the early levels.

What CO gets right:

Aesthetics: Sure, not everyone is going to love the the cel-shaded graphics with the thick black outlines, but there is an easily-located check-box in the video options that turns all that off. Then it just looks like a next-gen CoH. Not the visual revelation Aion is, but a leap ahead of WoW, and still pleasantly stylized.

But the real victory of the visuals is in the animations, the costumes, and the power effects. I can't tell you what you will think of them, but I can tell you to me, as a long-time comic-book and video game fan, they just feel right. The animations are dynamic, varied, and exciting. You really get the feel of being a powerful superhero. Superpowered punches distort the air around them with visible impact, while a sword-wielding ninja spins and flips while cutting down her enemies, and a sorcerer deployes magical circles and runes across the landscape to assist the gadgeteer's mechanical gun turret. The travel powers are really standout here, especially the spot-on rocket boots, ice-surfing, and fire flight. The costume options not only dwarf even CoX, but they show appropriate variety and even a sense of humor. You can make a hero with a cartoonish nuclear rocket strapped to his back and a "1/2" emblazoned on his chest, with tentacles for a mouth, furred cybernetic hands, mandibles emerging from his waist and boots that would be more at home in Gundam than Gotham.

The powers look good, and get bigger and flashier the more you level them up and acquire complementary powers. For instance, at level 1 your psi-blade looks a bit small and weak. Rank it up and it gets big and fiery. Pick up Ego Form and suddenly you're dual-wielding big, pulsing id- blades in a flurry of destruction.

And that's not even mentioning "power replacers" that you can pick up throughout the game to selectively modify your powers visually. The clearest example is one that changes the look of your hero's sword.

I'm someone who cares about aesthetics. Unlike a lot of other bloggers, I care what my mount or vanity pet or armor looks like, and what my character's animations are. One of the deciding factors originally for me to pick WoW over EQ was the more appealing (to me) visual style. If you are like me, and care a lot about how a game looks and feels, you won't be disappointed with CO.

Customizability: Not a lot can be said here that hasn't already been said. Character creation puts other games to shame. Powers can be recolored and have different emanation points. Powers, including weapons, can be visually replaced. The power system lets you pick and choose from any powerset at any time, with a loose tier system being the only thing keeping you from going completely nuts. There are tons of different powers to choose from. You can use any name you want, even if someone else already thought of it. You can even heavily customize the controls (even choosing between gamepad and mouse/keyboard!) and the graphics quite heavily.

Accessibility: You'd think, with all these options, the game would be hard to get into. It's not. There's all kinds of optional presets when creating a hero to help you jump in quickly, while still giving you access to the full power of the system. If you don't care to delve too far into the creator, you can be ready in a minute or two. The power set structures are easy to understand, and there to guide you, while still offering the "custom" option for advanced players who want to delve further. The game plays like others you are familiar with. It has the most lenient death penalty I have ever seen in any game. It marks your quest objectives on the map, simplifies your inventory, keeps your gear decisions limited and relatively simple, and slowly ramps up your powers and abilities. Yes, there are some partially-obscured game mechanics, but it comes nowhere close to most other MMOs, where you have to keep a guide open in another window just to figure out what your stats mean or where to go next. You get your travel power right after the tutorial and early leveling moves at a brisk pace.

CO is going to be very good for whatever chunk of time you have available, whether that be 20 minutes while the baby naps or 4 hours on a sunday afternoon alone. It's easy to pick up and play.

The thing that brings all these positives together into one package is a trick stolen from Blizzard (no surprise, given that one of the head designers is one of the early Blizzard guys): combining the best elements from other games. You're going to level up through a series of quests you get from people with yellow exclamation points over their heads. You're going to encounter WAR elements like public quests and having quest objectives labeled on your map. You're going to see statistics, and gear, and instanced group missions. In short, you are getting every feature you'd expect from a modern MMO. So really, the only questions you have to ask yourself are:

1) Do I like the way the game looks and feels?

2) Is the combat and character advancement system deep enough for me? Do I want something this accessible, or will I get bored when I'm not balancing 5 stats with my 40-talent-point build while skilling up my wand skill and juggling 15 pieces of gear?

3) Can I enjoy a "care bear" game with no world PvP or major consequences for death?

What CO gets wrong:
  • The powers system is mostly good, but it builds far too slowly. You spend the first 45 minutes or so with only 2 abilities, and then only 3 for another half-hour. At level 12 you still only have 4-5 combat abilities. In most MMOs, you'll have that many by level 4.
  • Lack of innovation in questing: this is a WoW-alike.
  • Controls are a little wonky, especially targeting. I often find myself accidentally mistargeting, and having to retrain myself for the fact that I have to either use an attack or hit tab, but if I do both I won't be on my desired target. It's also a hassle to ensure that your auto-attack stays active when you want it to. Interacting with objects requires a keypress (though sometimes I can right-click a quest giver, but I can't figure out why it sometimes works and sometimes doesn't), and if you are close to multiple interactive objects, you'll get a hard-to-navigate list of them to choose from. I can't count the number of times I meant to pick up a quest item and accidentally hefted a nearby truck instead. I think this will improve as I adjust, but it feels more detached and less responsive than, say, WoW.
  • Super Stats are poorly explained. They are actually very interesting, because the two super stats you select become the only stats that raise your damage. Essentially, you have complete freedom to choose which stats you want to chase, rather than, for instance, being a WoW warrior who has to gather strength and ignore intellect.
  • The stats system has another flaw: powers often scale with specific stats, and it's easy to put yourself in a situation where you favor, say, ego and strength, and find that one of your powers scales off of endurance, and thus will always be gimp.
  • PvE Balance: In closed beta, I would get decimated by groups with even two enemies in them. Every fight was a dangerous struggle, seemingly no matter what power combination I picked. Defensive powers helped, but the game didn't do enough to encourage me to pick them up even though I'd consider then almost mandatory (hint: the first power you get upon leaving the tutorial should be a defensive passive!). But even with them, the game was on the hard side. This is completely changed in open beta. I have to ass-pull three packs to even be in danger of dying, and have just mowed through even group quests as long as I have a defensive power active. The sweet spot is somewhere in between.

So far, replay value is mixed. The downside is that there is only one tutorial zone, so you are going to get sick of those first four levels very quickly. There are two early leveling zones, then Millenium City. The two zones are quite different from each other, but don't really offer any alternate branches for replaying, so it's a lot like the choice between the Barrens and Silverpine for the Horde. For most power combinations I tried, the first 10 levels were nearly identical. You start with 2 abilities: an weak auto-attack that builds Endurance, and a bigger attack that spends it. There is some token variation among these (some end-builders are ranged, some of the attacks can be charged up, or need to be held, etc), but the differences are minor. Upon completing the tutorial at level 5, you are gifted an orgasm of upgrades (you get no new powers during the tutorial, even though you "level up"), including a new fighting power, a travel power (what a blessing to get it this early!), a Super Stat, and a "talent" (stat boost, such as +8 Strength).

The upside on replayability is the flexibility of the character creator and the power system. Cryptic nailed the character creator. Prepare to hear raves about it in every review about the game. You can spend an hour in there, per character, and not even notice the time passing. There are enough options to make almost any humanoid you can imagine. I've seen everything from busty supergirls to robots to hulking Cthulu-lookalikes 5 times wider than the average man, to tiny people who only reach your knee, to hunched, slavering demons, to comically stretched-out beanpoles.

Combat is another mixed bag. It's a bit more action-oriented than other MMOs, and sports a much smaller pool of available abilities compared to competitors, though the block system and "roles" (similar to warrior stances) offer some extra depth. The low ability count is both a blessing and a curse: while easy to learn and pleasingly streamlined, it also has a tendency to get even more repetitive than WoW.

One thing I want to bring to the forefront concerning the beta is how quickly Cryptic makes changes and improvements to every aspect of the game. The open beta so many see today is almost unrecognizable as the closed beta I first launched 2 months ago - and even the closed beta I played 2 weeks ago - especially when it comes to interface and useability. So I'd recommend against being dismissive of the game because of minor issues. So many things I had been prepared to complain about were fixed in the open beta - and not only fixed, but brought up to exceed my expectations and surprise me. The early closed beta was a mess, but the open beta fixes almost every issue I had, and more. The costume creator makes more sense, the controls are easier to set up (the game gives you full control setup packages at the start, including one modeled almost exactly after WoW), the power tooltips are now actually informative. They must have been working hard over at Cryptic HQ to polish the game.

TL;DR version: Buy Champions Online if you:
  • Want to feel like a superhero
  • Care a lot about aesthetics. The game looks and feels great, and is full of visual customizability, aesthetic novelty, and vanity items.
  • Want to play a WoW-alike with less depth but more action
  • Would enjoy a further refinement of the WoW playstyle with even greater accessibility
  • Like soloing as much as you like grouping

Do not buy Champions Online if:

  • You think games that lack open-world PvP or "real consequences for failure" are for "carebears" (go play Darkfall instead, you'll like it!)
  • You don't really like superheroes
  • Strongly prefer slower and more complicated games that are a bit more work to figure out, like EQ, and dislike how accessible or action-oriented WoW is in comparison
  • You are really sick of questing
  • You don't care at all about aesthetics, or strongly dislike those of CO
  • Are only interested in group dungeon crawls and have no interest in soloing

Champions Online is currently in "open beta" (requiring preorder or, I believe, Fileplanet membership) and will be released on Tuesday, September 1.

UPDATE (8/31/09):

The comments gave me a few good ideas of things I'd like to add.

Champions contains a mechanism for microtransactions. This is supposed to encompass things like novelty and vanity items and additional character slots. None of the purchasables are implemented yet, as far as I can tell, and little information is known about the details.

If you won't buy the game simply because it has a mechanism for microtransactions, then I encourage you to stay away from Champions so I don't have to interact with you. WoW has microtransactions too, called, for instance, paid server transfers, so you better cancel that account too, kthxbai. Learn about the prices and what is on offer before you dismiss the game. You may find you have no interest in what is for sale, and also find the game quite complete and worthwhile without the microtransactions.

There are more than enough costume options and character slots (8) available for my needs, so it doesn't bother me. If the microtransactions were blocking heavy swaths of content, then I'd be pissed. Again, consider the details of the particular system rather than dismissing something out of hand as soon as the word "microtransaction" is mentioned.


For me, the carrot luring me through the levels is being able to get more powers to play with. If that doesn't sound exciting to you, then consider what it is that excites you about a new game before you buy Champions. Champions plays a lot like WoW. It is a questing game. You will kill ten rats, you will fedex, you will collect 15 monster teeth, you will click on 5 objects, and you will escort someone defenseless through packs of enemies. If you are tired of questing and are tired of WoW's gameplay, don't buy Champions. If you enjoy WoW's gameplay and just want a change of setting, aesthetic, and a fresh, streamlined look at the character-development systems, then give Champions a chance.

One big mistake it makes is that it starts slowly, and holds your hand through the tutorial (it assumes you've never played an MMO before). A lot of the more exciting stuff doesn't happen until the later levels, such as the Nemesis system and the meatier team missions. However, leveling is fast. The game appears to be much more focused on encouraging you to level multiple characters to try out all kinds of powers and costumes, and much less focused on getting one "main" to the endgame and grinding away. This makes me suspect that replay value is going to be kind of poor if you care a lot about content, because you'll end up leveling each character through the same zones over and over. Hopefully it won't come to that, but it is something to caution you about. Hopefully patches will expand the game laterally by adding more leveling content.

I very much enjoy Champions, but I cannot recommend it to everyone. The best way to make your buying decision is to gather as much information as you can about it, and see if those things appeal to you.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pre-Blizzcon Roundup

I'm leaving on vacation next week, and when I get back all we'll be talking about is the revelations of the next WoW xpac, and the Champions and Aion open betas and launches. I would really like to get a "should you buy the game?" post about Champions out there before I leave, since it will launch a few days after I get back. There are a few things that got lost in the shuffle, and frankly deserved their own posts, but I just don't have time for. Here they are.

1) This weapon, the Reclaimed Thunderstrike, drops from the new Onyxia. It is flat-out B.S. Can you guess why?

Here's a hint:

Not to mention the very high stamina and agility, and the aoe threat proc. Seriously?

Here's another hint, in the form of a quote from Ghostcrawler about why the blacksmithed DK tanking 2-handers with defensive stats were removed from the PTR before patch 3.1 went live:

"The two-handed Blacksmithing tanking weapons are not going to be implemented.

Indeed, we did not want to stick DKs with these weapons forever, nor did we want to start itemizing 2H tanking weapons forever. DKs were designed to tank with 2H dps weapons.

The new sigil and runeforge enchant should help players with low defense. "

So yeah, that dodge rating has got to go, or Onyxia goes from being "fun raid to goof off with" to "OMG I have to make sure we run this every week and hope that the tanking weapon drops instead of all the other stuff we shard every week." It's going to become the new Dragonspine Trophy: so much better than everything else that people will keep grinding the boss long after they are sick of it, just in hopes of one drop. Every other tanking weapon in the game immediately becomes obsolete for mitigation/survivability, and effectively you go from having dozens of roughly-equally-viable weapons to choose from for tanking (all dropping in different places, giving you a choice), to only. one. option. Not fun. For an analogue, imagine if the only one-handed weapon with tanking stats in the entire game dropped off of Malygos. Sure, lots of tanks would just use a dps one-hander, but those players would always be inferior to the guy who got lucky when farming Maly.

2) Paladins at max level are not as simple as they were to level up. You can see my impressions here, where I discovered that leveling a Retribution Paladin is ludicrously easy, and frankly simpler than any other class. Having spent some time as retribution at 80, I can now add that doing optimal dps does require skill and quick decision-making. Leveling your character, and even 5-man instancing and 1 on 1 pvp, may be complete faceroll as ret, but executing your First Come First Served dps method while dealing with conflicts between different powers coming off cooldown at the same time brings into play a skill gap between the best and the rest. I'd still maintain that it's easier to learn and figure out than many other classes (rogues and DKs are much more complicated in their rotations for example, IMO, especially if you don't have a guide), but at least raid performance as ret requires some thought.

3) Second Skin: This documentary was pretty eye-opening for me. I caught it on Hulu during a free preview last week, but now it's apparently only available on DVD and in select theaters. I enjoyed it, and normally would recommend you go into it with an open mind. But, it's hard to talk about it without spoiling anything, so I'm just going to say what I want to say.

First of all, I thought the documentary was skewed against MMO players. It focused almost exlusively on those whose lives are dominated by the game, and perhaps even ruined. It primarily follows three different groups of gamers: 1) a clan of four guys in their early 20's who live in the same house and play WoW every waking hour they are not at work, 2) A hetero couple who met in EQ2 and spend the film meeting in Real Life, 3) A guy in his early 30s who got treated for "MMO addiction" at a shady halfway house, then moves in with his cousin. None of these stories really go well, and at the end you are left with the distinct impression that everyone who remained immersed in their game is allowing their life to crumble around them, while everyone who reduced playtime or left the game is going on to a better life. Though the narrative doesn't explicitly cast MMOs as an addiction (and frankly those in the film who use that word come across as crackpots), it does treat it like an addiction, with those who recover suceeding, and those who succumb doomed to failure. So the value of the film is certainly not in its balanced approach to all MMO players.

The film's actual value is as a window into the lives of those who do allow MMOs to take over, and inevitably catalyze the degradation of, their lives. I had heard the statistics before, but actually seeing these people, having MMO dependency made flesh, really brought the concept home to me. Until now, those people weren't real to me, they were some kind of conceptual construct that didn't really exist.

But it turns out there really are people who live in a pig sty because they can't spare the minutes away from WoW to tidy up, and there really are people who kill themselves over WoW addiction. There are even people who will speak, without irony, of "cutting down to just 3 nights a week of raiding" while their wife, pregnant with twins, looks on in horror at the prospect of having to take care of THREE children instead of just the two in her belly. This man goes on to become a community rep for Warhammer Online, and presumeably his wife's evident terror (watch her eyes - poor girl!) over raising the children herself while her husband downs Illidan was unfounded. I wish Andy and his family the best, and I think it's pretty clear by the end of the movie that he's one of the people who escapes and gets control of his life.

That's not to say the movie was completely negative. There was a moving section about disabled gamers who can socialize freely without prejudice in the game world, and who enjoy a sense of liberation from being able to walk around in the game and speak freely via text while their physical body is confined to a wheelchair or unable to articulate their thoughts.

And that leads into the best and most memorable line in the film, worth the price of admission, delivered by an author about an MMO book whose name escapes me:

“If people are enjoying these mmo worlds more than the real world, what does that say about our current reality?”

And that is a question that needs to be asked.

Second Skin is far from a fair representation of fans of the genre, but is worth a view nonetheless. It definitely made me look at this whole MMO phenomenon, and the people in it, differently. But not too differently. It's easy to watch this movie and think that every player is like that, but in reality we can't really tell how many are. Most likely special cases were selected to make the film more interesting. I'll try to keep an open mind. And next time someone griefs me, I'll imagine them as living on the floor in the midst of a pile of trash while gaining weight and losing their job and girlfriend.

But before I say anything, I'll remember that they might be a parplygic rape victim, and maybe hold my tongue.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Big week in the world of MMOs

Work is extra busy today as I try to get ahead in preparation for going on vacation next week (so if I don't post next week, don't worry, I'll be back), so I can't do a full-on post on the subjects I want to, such as Second Skin, the huge WoW Cataclysm leak (they're actually going through with what I was hoping for!), and a lot of other subjects.

This is a massive (har!) week for MMOs, with the CO open beta starting today (NDA lifted!!), the final Aion beta preview this past weekend (I tried casters!), Blizzcon this coming weekend (screw directTV and check out the coverage at, and 3.2 really settling in as people try the new raid and continue farming badges, badges, BADGES!

I have a lot to say on all of these subjects and more, so hopefully I'll find tons of time to post once things cool down at work.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Second Skin Documentary

So I watched this documentary on Hulu Sunday night after a RL friend and fellow WoW-player recommended it to me. I was putting off writing about it, and now it seems I've been scooped here and here, as apparently the filmmakers are sending copies out to MMO blogs (not mine).

Tonight is the last night it will be available for free on Hulu. If you have a free 90 minutes tonight, give it a watch before it's gone.

I'll write about it tomorrow after you've had a chance to watch it, since I believe it is much more interesting if you go in without knowing what to expect.

I'm not endorsing anything that's said in it; I just found it very, very interesting.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Interesting Quote

From a preview of the WoW beta (the original game, not the xpacs) still on this internet from the ancient era of two-thousand and four:

"For all the improvements, it's remarkable now little actual change there has been in gameplay. Even the simplest of battles are involved affairs that require player interaction, it's not just a matter of setting the warrior to auto-swing and occasionally delivering a kick. The various rage/mana/etc. managements that each class has keep things interesting. Battles do often play out similarly - charge, rend, wait for 2 attacks, yell, wait an attack, smash - but the ability to participate does make a difference. A warrior has to be particularly quick with his Overpower shortcut which will permit him to score a hit despite a 'Dodge'."

Though we expect more nowadays, and should always strive to improve, maybe the combat system wasn't so bad for its time.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Goblins & Worgen: Classes?


Well, it would seem I was right about this. That's one for two! Now I just have to make one more correct prediction, then I can title a post "two out of three ain't bad" and check that one off my bucket list.

The xpac will be Cataclysmic, Worgen will join the Alliance, and Goblins, the Horde.

Being a giant geek, I immediately began to wonder what classes those races might include. Death Knights are a foregone conclusion, and I doubt we'll see a new hero class this xpac. If I were Blizzard, I'd also be favoring healing classes and trying to avoid plate dps classes where possible. It would also be nice to give alliance another shaman race and horde another paladin race.

But then, we have to consider the lore. I know, "lorelol". And that's a problem. We can speculate all we want about the lore, but in the end Blizzard can always pull some crazy retcon like they did with Draenei, or with BE Paladins, and just say "well this is a previously undiscovered branch of the Goblins that really loves the earth and can be a Shaman, despite decades of Goblin deforestation and stripmining" or whatever. Nonetheless, I think they'd prefer to stick to lore where they can, and only deviate when they would consider it a necessity for gameplay and balance. With that assumption, I went and did some research on the two races.

First, we've got the Goblins. We know a lot more about them, being an established race and all. The ability to have neutral goblin towns is so useful to the developers that I think it's safe to say that we won't see the entirety of the Goblin race joining the Horde. Most likely it will be one of the trade princes deciding to break off from the rest (Goblin society is capitalism-focused, and ruled by a Coalition of trade princes. We've only really met goblins from two of these cartels; the others haven't really appeared in Kalimdor or the Eastern Kingdoms). Steamwheedle Cartel and the Venture Company, for instance, will likely stay neutral or hostile to both factions. This opens up a nice opportunity to revamp the character models for player Goblins as well, just as playable Darkspear trolls look different from NPC forest trolls.

According to wowwiki: "Officially, five trade princes exist, though one or two may be lurking about in the shadows." The leader in charge of the Venture Company is not technically a trade prince, but a lesser, independent "Mogul", so it's possible that the splinter of goblins that become playable are under one of them instead of a prince. On the other hand, thee Steamwheedle Cartel was the group that originally sided with the Horde, so it's possible they will again, or that this is a splinter group that separates from the cartel.

It also means that these goblins can be a little different from the ones we have encountered so far. I brought up the 'ole wowwiki to get some background on the race, and learned a lot. For instance, the goblins claim that "if not for their frail physical forms, goblins would rule the world", given their high intelligence and technology. This gently points away from warriors, but we might be meeting a cartel that bred 'em a little sturdier, or might easily find that goblins, like gnomes, can make fine warriors. Druids and shaman are pretty much a no go with goblins, and would take a massively insulting slight-of-hand to pull off given their history of complete contempt for mother nature when it stands in the way of profits. Traditionally, they also tend to focus on material pursuits and find magic and religion frivolous, meaning that they don't tend to be priests, paladins, mages, or warlocks naturally ("Goblins place their faith in themselves and in gold. They raise eyebrows at insubstantial concepts such as shamanism and the Holy Light, preferring gods they can see, weigh, and spend"). I think this is a much easier hole to plug: just say this particular cartel specialized in the trade of magical artifacts, and over time some particularly gifted members learned to be mages or warlocks. That would fly just fine. Or maybe this happens to be the only cartel with religious beliefs, and maybe make that the reason only this one cartel decided to break off and join the horde. Then you could at least have priests.

Goblins, with their interest in gold and firearms, will almost certainly be able to play rogues and hunters (this will be awesome, with pets they could almost ride!).

Meanwhile, we know a whole lot less about the Worgen. I think it's clear that the Worgen faction that joins the alliance will not be the same worgen we have encountered in Duskwood or while dealing with Arugal. Those feral worgen were summoned from another dimension (much like Outlands) where they battle a relentless enemy known as the Emerald Flame, which I'm gonna go out on a limb and say is the Burning Legion (since that dovetails nicely into the idea that the Naaru are using Azeroth to gather races from many different planets to take a final stand against the Legion). Arugal summoned them with magic, while a Night Elf summoned and commanded them via an artifact known as the Scythe of Elune. Supposedly, the Scythe appeared in response to a prayer to Elune for help, but quickly spiraled out of control, summoning Worgen all on its own. It is believed the Scythe was lost in Duskwood (and is the source of the darkness there), but may have been found by someone (perhaps the LotR ripoff "Black Riders" that were searching for it). So one viable avenue to bring them into the world is to have them flee to Azeroth to escape the Legion, and pull something like they did with Draenei where the Worgen we play are a more intelligent, "higher" version of the race. Perhaps the ones we pulled through previously were warped by the summoning, or were some lesser slave race akin to apes. If Blizzard goes this route, it opens up almost infinite class possibilities, since we know almost nothing about their society.

On the other hand, and far more likely, the Worgen we play have already been right here on Azeroth all along. If you've ever played an Undead character past level 10, you've probably been to Silverpine forest, just southwest of Undercity. In the southern end of that zone lies Arugal's Shadowfang Keep, and the small town of people he magicked into werewolves. If you continue south, you'll find an impassable wall: the Greymane wall.

Beyond that wall lies the human nation of Gilneas, sealed off completely from the rest of the world since before the Third War. No one has heard from them since. Their king, Gen Greymane, was isolationist and basically considered the problems of the Alliance to not be his problems. The position of this city on the seaboard, its proximity to SFK, and its previous association with the alliance and lore importance, and the fact that it is an already-existing capital city for the developers to use, all point to the possibility that playable worgen will in fact be Gilneans, somehow transformed into Worgen-like creatures during their isolation. This would explain why the Worgen look and think differently from the ones we have encountered so far, perhaps being more like human/animal hybrids. So much about this one fits that I find it to be highly likely. This would create a ready-made capital city on that continent, while the goblins could easily settle a trade city in the open lands of Kalimdor. The goblin race is based in Kezan, a large island in the South Seas, of which wowwiki says "Several cities exist on Kezan, including the nefarious Undermine," which will likely be the neutral city (the "Dalaran") of the next xpac, making it an unlikely, but potential, capital city for the playable goblins. One of the other "several" cities might be the starting area, with the early leveling zones being the surface of Kezan and the passage Undermine blocked off until a certain level.

Another nice supporting tidbit from wowwiki: "After Patch 3.1.0, the loading screen/ship route from Menethil to Theramore no longer crosses Gilneas." I think we have a winner!

I know that was a little off track, but the fallout is that we'll either have a situation where (a) the devs are free to make the worgen anything they want, or (b) the worgen are an offshoot of humanity, and share their culture and general learnings. Since it's useless to speculate about (a), let's consider (b).

It would make warriors, rogues, mages, and warlocks obvious choices. Druids would be right out, since a furry turning into a furry isn't that exciting, and the race has no connection with the elves anyway. Hunters also seem likely, since the peninsula of Gilneas is much larger than the city itself, and being isolated probably drove them to hunt to survive (plus keen animal sense help with the hunt). However, I would be able to buy the idea that the worgen develop a special kinship with, and begin to learn Shamanism from, the draenei, being the other "freaks" of the Alliance (and perhaps the animal transformation lends these humans a closer relationship with nature). Unfortunately, it's a stretch.

So let's combine the game design parameters with the lore and see if we can come up with educated guesses about what classes each race might have.

Looking at the population numbers, you'll find that currently paladins are tied with death knights as the most popular class. As a dev, I'd avoid giving either race paladins. I doubt they would bar those new races from being death knights, though it is possible. I'd want to favor healing classes and disfavor plate dps classes without losing all tank options. Druids don't really work for these races, and I'm avoiding paladins, so DKs and warriors for both seem obvious to give them tanks. Without druids or paladins, I'd try to do whatever I could to give both races priests and shaman. However, shaman don't work for goblins without insane lore twisting. Hunters are popular, so we should only use that class if we need to fill in some space, and also consider that right now we've got 3 alliance hunter races and 4 horde hunter races. Rogues fit perfectly for both classes, and along with warlocks and shaman are the least-played class in the game. So fit in rogue, warlock, and shaman where I can.

Where does that leave us?

Death Knight
Mage (maybe)
Warlock (maybe)
(Hunter or Warrior)

So we avoid the nature-lovers and focus on the intelligence of the goblins. If Blizzard wishes to avoid the arcane, we may see both hunters and warriors, but not mages (though the goblinish affinity for fire and explosions are in favor of it).

Death Knight

(Hunter or Shaman)

EDIT: I neglected the 6-class limit in my original post, listing both hunter and shaman. I've changed it to an either/or situation.

Here we mimic the human classes and add shaman if at all possible. The biggest leap I take here is dropping mages. This is partly because the Worgen already have too many options that fit better, and partly because mages are quite popular. I also find it likely that the combination of no ties to the Kirin Tor along with the worgen transformation probably make arcane practitioners quite rare in Gilneas, a nation known more for its burliness than its cleverness.


So there are my predictions for which classes will be offered as options for the new races. There are far too many variables for me to be exactly right, but if I at least had the right idea I'll probably count it as 2 out of 3. :)

UPDATE 8/31/09: Well, though my reasoning turned out to be mostly sound, my conclusions were off-base here, mostly due to information that I couldn't have had or guessed, such as the expanded class selection for the other races. I'm much happier with what they chose to do compared to what I speculated, so I consider myself lucky to be wrong on this one. Now excuse me while I beat up the guy who sold me this crystal ball.

Monday, August 10, 2009

One million WoW subscriptions...

...this is where the money from literally a million WoW subscriptions goes.

Meanwhile, "additional instances cannot be launched, please try again later".

Update: Here's a sensationalist piece on Kotick that nonetheless echoes some of my concerns here. I've got a lot of personal relationships based in WoW that I am loathe to give up, so hopefully another competing MMO will fill the gap.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Simple guide to the Northrend Beasts in 3.2's new raid

The only boss encounter currently available in WoW's new raid instance is the "Northrend Beasts". It consists of 3 different boss fights chained together (with only a few seconds in between), essentially creating one 3-phase boss. Here's a guide to handling this battle in 10-man normal mode. Bring 2 tanks and 2-3 healers (I'd recommend 3 to start out with).

Phase 1: Gormok the Impaler

He's a Magnataur. He throws snobolds at you.

Executive Summary:
Tank him in the middle of the room. Assign two dps to kill Snobolds. Have tanks switch (taunt) at 3 stacks of the debuff. Move (do I really have to say this?) out of the patches of fire.

TL;DR version:
Once you talk to the organizer by the entrance, that wuss runs out and Gormok emerges from the big gate on the other side of the arena. Tank him in the middle of the room, and have the raid spread out behind him. He will drop fire patchs on the ground under random people. Move out of them. Every once in a while he'll pull a little Snobold (little rat-person) out of his pocket (Ed. note: what pocket?!?) and throw it on a raid member, hindering them. Assign two of your dps to remove these snobold hats ASAP. They should make the following macro:

/tar Snobold

Ranged dps are better for this, but melee works fine too.

The boss does an aoe stun in a small radius around himself, so don't stand near him unless you have to.

Every 10 seconds, he will add a stack of an undispellable Impale debuff to the current tank (the icon looks like a spear). Have your other tank taunt the boss once it reaches 3 stacks. 30 seconds later, tank 1's stack will wear off and tank 2 will have 3 stacks, so have tank 1 taunt it back. Repeat until he's dead.

Remind your healers that the debuff still does a large DoT even if the boss is no longer targeting that tank.

Pro tip: Gormok is disarmable. He cannot apply the debuff while disarmed, so you can slow the dot stacking that way.

Phase 2: Acidmaw & Dreadscale (aka Poison One and Bile One)

This is the "not one but two jormungar worms" of internet meme legend. You fight them both at once. At all times, one of them will be half-burrowed (sticking stationary out of the ground) and one will be loose and mobile. They both burrow and switch roles every 30 seconds or so.

Executive Summmary: Have a tank on each Worm, and face both of them away from the raid. The tank should kite the mobile worm backwards around the outer part of the room, a la Grobbulus. Spread the raid out between the two worms. All dps should be on the worm that is mobile. When Acidmaw is loose, anyone in the raid who gets the Burning Bile debuff must run to the tank (avoiding the rest of the raid if possible) to dispel the Parlytic poison from the tank. When Dreadscale is loose, anyone who gets Parlytic poison must run toward the tank who has the Burning Bile ticking on him. The Burning Bile ticks minor aoe damage (2-3k) in a radius around the debuffed player, and ticks of that damage will dispel the Parlytic poison. It can be removed by standing in one of the poison clouds. Make sure that you kill Acidmaw first, but only when Dreadscale is very low on health.

TL;DR version:
At best, you'll get a few ticks of drinking done in between Gormok and these guys.

The burrowed worm acts as an immobile turret, and should be treated a lot like Mimiron's head. Point him away from the raid. My group had a warlock tank this using Searing Pain. I've read of other groups using a traditional tank on the burrowed worm, but I found myself getting knocked back a lot when trying this. Either way probably works. The image to the right is not the same color as either boss, but it's there to give you an idea of what the worms look like when half-burrowed. They will be stationary, but most of their body is still visible.

Whichever worm is not burrowed will be free to move around like a traditional mob. Have your main tank pick it up and face it at an angle away from the raid. The loose worm will drop a poison cloud just like Grobbulus, so the tank will need to back up periodically to move the worm out of these clouds.

The raid should gather loosely in between the two worms. Every time they switch roles, they will burrow underground then re-emerge in random locations, so the raid needs to be alert and figure out where to move on the fly. The worms have a frontal cone and leave the clouds behind them, so make sure all ranged and healers stay behind the burrowed worm and to the side of the loose worm.

The gimmick to this fight is the interaction between Paralytic Bite (applied by Acidmaw) and Burning Bile (applied by Dreadscale). The Paralytic Bite is a one-minute-duration poison that increases in damage-per-tick the longer it is applied (will eventually kill you) and also slows the victim the longer it remains up, immobilizing them completely after about 20 seconds. The Burning Bile is a DoT that damages the victim and anyone within 10 or so yards every time it ticks (for about 2-3k). Getting hit with a tick of this is the only way to dispel Paralytic Bite (aside from Divine Protection for Paladins and Ice Block for mages).

Whichever worm is in turret mode will randomly apply their respective debuff to members of the raid every 20 seconds or so. They target one raider, but the debuff has an aoe application, meaning that if your raiders are too close together, more than one person will get the debuff. So spread out. Meanwhile, whichever worm is mobile will periodically apply its debuff to its current target, i.e. your tank. So you'll either have poisoned raid members who need to get close to a tank who is ticking the Bile, or you have biled raid members who need to dispel the paralysis from the tank.

There are a number of ways to deal with this. What I suspect most raids will do is have any raid member who gets debuffed simply run to the tank, dispel, then run back (making a detour to a poison cloud to dispel Bile if needed). Since we already had two tanks anyway, we took some pressure off our healers by having the offtank taunt the mobile worm whenever the main tank was hit with the debuff. Then the main tank would move toward the raid to dispel/be dispelled. This spread the damage out a bit too, since the original tank was no longer taking melee damage and the new tank didn't have a dot ticking while holding the boss. It also made it a lot easier for raid members slowed by Parlytic Bite to reach the Biled tank.

Also, keep in mind it's beneficial for the group to stack up when Dreadscale is loose, but dangerous to do so when Acidmaw is loose (since random raiders get the aoe Bile). The simplest solution may be to always group up, because it makes it easier to reach a Biled tank while slowed if you aren't spread out, and the Bile dot is small enough that it shouldn't be dangerous, provided your raiders can move out of the group fast enough (see: XT-002).

Since Paralytic Bite cannot be dispelled except by Bile, you must kill Acidmaw first, and make sure all Bites are dispelled before killing Dreadscale. However, once you kill one of them, the remaining worm enrages, so don't finish Acidmaw until Dreadscale is low on health.

Phase 3: Icehowl

Icehowl is a giant Yeti. Fighting him is very simple, but he's a heavy-hitter.

Executive Summary: tank him with your back to the wall and the raid spread out in a half-circle behind him. When he knocks everyone back and stuns them, be ready to immediately strafe sideways if he emotes that he is targeting you or someone near you. Blow cooldowns while he is stunned after running into the wall. If he kills someone and enrages, have your hunter tranq shot it.

Click here for specifics on all the boss abilities, courtesy of
Because I'm borrowing their picture so you better give them some traffic!

TL;DR version:
Icehowl is only dangerous because he hits hard. The fight is almost entirely a tank and spank.

Your tank should put his/her back to the wall to mitigate Icehowl's knockback. The raid should spread out in a half-circle behind/to the side of him. Melee should stand apart from each other as well. Think Anub'Rekhan in Naxx.

Every 20 seconds or so he'll blow freezing breath toward a random raid member. This is just like the ability of the trash leading up to Hodir. It freezes anyone in the cone it touches (thus the spreading out).

A few times during the fight (I didn't time it, but this first phase lasted about a minute each time) he'll stomp the ground, stunning the entire raid and knocking you all back against the wall behind wherever you happen to be standing. He will emote that he's focusing on one of you, and when the stun wears off you have only about 2 seconds to strafe to the side (you get a speed boost during this time). He'll hop back, then charge right at where you were. He will insta-kill anyone who is still in front of him when he reaches the wall, even if they weren't the intended target, so your raid needs to be aware of who is near them and whether they need to move. If he hits someone, he'll turn red and enrage, and you'll need to immediately dispel this with Tranq Shot or Anesthetic Poison, because your tank probably won't survive this. Since we had two tanks for the other phases anyway, we just had an offtank at the ready in case he did this and killed the main tank. If Icehowl misses, he'll comically hit the wall and stun himself for about 20 seconds, taking double damage the whole time. Use this opportunity to Bloodlust and blow your cooldowns to dps him. Once the stun wears off, the main phase resumes, so get back in position.

Finish him, and collect your ilevel 232 loot that dwarfs anything you could get outside of Uld 25 hard modes!

I'd gauge this encounter as roughly as difficult as Freya normal mode. Go go loot pinata!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

3.2 Cometh: What You Actually Need to Know

So I was about as wrong as I could possibly be on this one. Patch 3.2 hits today, which I have to admit is at least mildly exciting. Something is better than nothing. The patch notes are here, but there are enough changes that it's easy to get lost. What's the fallout for us?

Your brief to-do list when you log on tonight:
-epic gems
-the new 5-man
-the new raid
-the new BG
-new dailies (blech)
-start gathering badges

1) New Battleground: which is awesome. All old BGs are now faster, and reward you extra for defending.

2) New raid: Only one boss will be available today, in only the normal difficulty in 10 and 25 mode. In the Northrend Beast encounter, you'll fight a succession of 3 battles: first against a minotaur, then "Not One, but TWO Jormungar Worms!!!!", then a giant Yeti. Early reports from the PTR give the impression that the strategies are, respectively: 1) tank switch, 2) kite while mixing the two types of spit, and 3) tank and spank. Now that's raiding excitement. Guide here.

3) New dungeon: normal mode drops Naxx 10-level loot, heroic drops Naxx 25-level loot. Trinkets are in normal mode, weapons on heroic. You'll be running this every day on every one of your alts. Heroic also drops Champions Seals, which were previously only available through Argent Tourney dailies.

4) Epic Gems: They have 4 more stat points than rare gems. You can get them by prospecting titanium, 10-20 heroism badges (depending on color), 10k honor, or an alchemy transmute on a 20-hour cooldown. My prospector's entire bank stocked with titanium is betting that prices will be INSANE for the next few days, so I hope you have some honor/badges saved up. Unless you are on my server. Then I advise you to buy gems at horribly marked-up prices. Patterns require quite a few JC daily tokens to get, so also expect patterns to be rare. If you need a non-traditional cut (something other than spellpower or strength, etc) then arrange for a JC guildie to pick up that pattern. Tell them they'll make money on the niche market while everyone else is flooding the AH with Runed gems. Guide here.

5) Badges, badges, badges MUSHROOM MUSHROOM: Everything in the game, from heroics on up, now drop only Conquest badges. The only exception is the new Coliseum raid, which drops a new Triumph Emblem which can be used on tier 9-level gear. No more heroism or valor, though you can still trade down for them at the vendors and all of that loot remains in the game. So now you can buy a selection of tier 8.5 by running just about anything. Once you have all that, trade down and buy some tier 7.5 with valor tokens. The daily regular dungeon quest now gives 1 Conquest emblem, while the daily heroic now gives two Triumph Emblems (so you can even get tier 9 without raiding! If you do dailies every day for two months! Yay...for...casuals? I guess?)

6) Respec your DK: All DKs got their talents reset today. Go blood or frost, depending on whether you want to dual wield or swing a 2-hander. Frost is now the Dual-Wield tree, so don't bother with it unless you have two decent, slow weapons for dps or 2 nice tanking weapons for...erm... tanking (though be advised that as a dual-wielding tank, your threat will be in the pooper because tanking weapons tend to be fast and Threat of Thassarian doesn't apply to Rune Strike). Since you can't use Rune of the Stoneskin Gargoyle on one-handers, your survivability should be similar with 2 tanking weapons as it is with 1 dps two-hander. Also, DK tanking got nerfed hard, particularly with Icebound Fortitude having its cooldown double to 2 minutes. Gone are the days of them being so OP that they are the only option for some of the Ulduar hard modes like Iron Council and Vezax (though they still may be favored for Vezax due to their free self-healing). Unless you are in love with dual-wielding, go Blood for DPS, mainly because it takes advantage of all the armor penetration gear dropping in Ulduar, the new raid, and the new 5-man. On top of that, Unholy is a complete mess right now, with DPS DKs actually dropping Scourge Strike in favor of Obliterate and stuff. I'd recommend you don't even bother with it.

7) Dailies (if you're into that kind of thing): I'm sick of dailies, so I'm not really up to speed on this one. The gist is that if you already have exalted with AC and every one of your faction cities, then you unlock even more dailies which allow you to pimp out your squire (in the sense that you equip him with upgrades, not the sense that you sell his innocence to pedophiles) and stuff. Unless you main is an engineer, this is worth doing on your main because it unlocks a mobile bank/mailbox/vendor. Guide here.

8) Professions: Speaking of engineers, you got buffed. Hurray! Start farming mechanical mobs in Storm Peaks for a butler recipe, and enjoy your AH in Dalaran. As for the rest of you, your profession bonuses got upgraded to match the new epic gems. JCs may need to resocket some of their Dragon's Eyes, as they are no longer prismatic. Alchemists have a new reusable arena flask to make. The rest of us probably won't have to do anything new.

9) Ret paladins: the rest of you can dismiss what I'm about to say as gibberish: use Seal of Vengeance/Corruption (Seal of Blood/Martyr has been deleted from the game), save your Art of War procs for Exorcism because they now make it instant cast (otherwise it has a 1.5 sec cast time now)

10) FINALLY implemented new feral forms and totem interface! Congratulations to all of your druids and shamans out there. You deserve it after suffering through tauren cat form and having to find bar space for all those totems so you can put all 4 out every time the group moves.

11) Dungeon ID extensions: Now you can extend your raid lockout for another week. You can do this as many times as you want. You decide on your own to do it, so you can't get stuck to an ID by a raid leader. You can even extend recently expired IDs before you get saved to a new one, or choose to un-extend a raid ID you already extended if you didn't do anything new in the instance that would get you saved to it! This is a really great change.

Enjoy the patch!

PS: Special Bonus: For a limited time, there are new orphans in Dalaran. Vanity pets, go!