Monday, September 24, 2012

Some thoughts for the day before the expansion

Call me cynical, but did anyone else read that the the latter two thirds of our next raiding tier would be available four weeks after the first one and think it was a bit too coincidental that this time period is almost exactly one subscription period. And besides, I thought they were trying to get away from that gated content idea...

Lots of people complained about the lack of explanation given for the events of the Theramore scenario, and I'm one of them. I think there's a big difference between the way I play "multiplayer" content versus questing content. In multiplayer content, I'm there for the challenge and flow of the game, so any story bullshit that interrupts it is highly annoying. In questing content, I'm just farting my way through a bunch of crap gameplay-wise anyway, so I prefer to have a narrative to follow on so I don't get bored. The gameplay found in the Theramore scenario was, as expected, much closer to the latter paradigm, but unlike questing I had no idea why any of it was happening, so playing it just felt kind of boring and pointless. I followed the icons on my map, clicked on anything clickable, and killed the things with red bars.

Apparently the new Challenge Gold armour sets have "procs" on them. I'm not sure whether it was MMO Champion guy that first incorrectly called them "procs", but seriously, a proc is something which happens on a random chance; these are just effects-- there is nothing random about them. Why are we reaching for obscure jargon words without needing to? The dumbs of the WoW populace probably are going to call these effects "procs" forever now that the term has been established, like what happened with Warlock summoning "stones".

I've decided to focus on three primary toons for Mists: my Warrior, Syrannia; Warlock, Coreus; and Shaman, Tashraal. Each is a character I'm quite attached to and a class which I really enjoy playing, as well as providing an even spread of group roles: tank, damage and healer respectively.

My only disappointment was not being able to include a Leatherworker in this group, as the new endgame profession model relies significantly on you actually playing the character you're crafting with, and these characters only cover Blacksmithing, Tailoring, Enchanting, Inscription and Engineering [twice]. I very briefly considered dropping Engineering from either Syrannia or Tashraal, but I'm unwilling to give up the Engineering conveniences on my most-played character, and being a master engineer is too central to the character of Tashraal [also I've spent too much time and gold collecting obscure schematics] for me to throw that away.

My Paladin, Judicas was my previous choice to fill the healing role [also with Leatherworking and Jewelcrafting professions], but I actually haven't been enjoying healing with a Paladin much recently. After thinking about it I realised that the reason I started healing with the Paladin class in the first place-- playing a melee healer-- has been completely patched out over the course of the expansion. Now I just feel like the healing rotation [because the Paladin resource system means you have a rotation-- does any other healing class have to deal with this?] is a bit too reactive and just feels clunky overall.

Shaman on the other hand feels very smooth and genuinely hybrid, with such a large proportion of the healing being indirect or smart healing, as well as having some really fun and powerful utility, which I suspect will be a pretty big deal when it comes to Challenge dungeons.

My long term goal is to get a full set of Challenge gear on each of these characters, as a representation of mastery of that class. No idea how viable this goal is, but I think that is what makes it a good goal; achieving something  I already know is possible doesn't prove anything. :)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A non-WoW post

I while ago a game called Journey was released to generally hyperbolic reviews and I felt compelled to purchase a PS3 to play it. Journey was an amazing experience, and afterwards I spent a few dollars on some other games I had heard about but previously had no means to play, such as Flower and Shadow of the Colossus-- and I also found a version of Lumines made specifically for PS3 that was still utterly subpar compared to the PSP version released seven years ago. Man, that game has aged well.

Um, where was I? Oh, but since that first week or so, I've barely touched our PS3, and our semi-permanent couch guest has become by far the primary user of the machine, which may be related to our lounge room having over time mysteriously evolved a stack of PS3 disc games. One of these games is Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, which I felt compelled to try out the other day, having heard enough about it from various sources to think I might enjoy it.

The art design is just amazing, the highlight of the package in my opinion. Ruined husks of skyscrapers have been overtaken by a jungle of lush greenery and the sun is always shining brilliantly. This is a post-apocalypse I can get behind-- a really refreshing take on what is usually such a depressing setting. I'm only at Chapter 8 or so and have met two characters so far-- Tripitaka is a bit of clich├ęd girly girl, but I love the enigmatic Monkey. I understand the characters were acted using performance capture [a la Avatar, Planet of the Apes, etc] and the developer has taken full advantage of this. I've been really impressed with the performances, and how much emotional nuance is conveyed non-verbally.

The game is concerned largely with jumping, clambering and various other feats of athletics, with a healthy dose of melee combat and smidge of shooter-ey stuff to break it up. The SO remarked that it looked extremely reminiscent of Assassin's Creed and Uncharted, but I haven't played either of those-- the gameplay reminded me most of Prince of Persia.

I admit I nearly stopped playing this game early on due to how janky the controls were and how often this can interrupt the flow of movement. Basically it's because the game wont let you jump unless it's already figured out where you are going to land. I assume this is to get rid of any annoying "leap of faith" trial and error gameplay [as this genre is usually rife with it] and it also works to prevent you from accidentally walking off a cliff, with Monkey coming to a screeching halt at the edge if you so much as try, but unfortunately no automatic distinction is made between bottomless ravines and two metre drops, and it can be incredibly frustrating when you just want to hop down from a small ledge but the game wont let you do so because that particular jump hasn't been programmed into the level.

Overall I just feel like the levels are a bit too scripted and linear, and traversing them feels unfairly restrictive. I was pretty disappointed when I found that the most efficient method of tackling the clambering sequences is just to spam my X button and waggle the stick around in the general direction I think I should be going rather than actually looking for the next hand hold.

I suppose this is true of all modern 3D games, but I never felt like I could see enough of the environment at once. There is no way to zoom the camera out, so when exploring an area I feel like I'm spending far too long just waving the camera around just to see what's around me. This level of zoom persists during combat as well, and though it's nice to have a clear view of the melee action, this means that any enemies which you are not currently hitting are completely off screen and once one is dealt with, you need to then slowly pivot the camera around to see the other which is about to attack.

The combat is what kept me interested though. I've never been a big fan of brawler-style games, but I'm glad I took the effort to learn this combat system. The enemies tend to be varied and each type needs to be dealt with in a slightly different way. I almost didn't mind the few occasions where the game blatantly threw wave after wave of enemies at me in a single area which I had to beat before the obviously visible exit door would display the context trigger that let me open it. Many areas are set up to allow you to bypass combat completely and but disappointingly this option is only present arbitrarily-- in other areas you will find another inactive exit door passively suggesting you go back and kill all the enemies like you were supposed to.


Maybe my memory is off but I always understood that the PS3 was a graphical powerhouse capable of high-end HD graphics. Playing this game I was immediately struck by how shockingly low-res it was, and the frame rate dipped regularly.  Have games themselves evolved so far since this console's release that 1080p is no longer possible, or was the PS3 never all it claimed to be to begin with?


That ended up a bit more like a game review than I intended. I hope I didn't sound too negative because I really am enjoying the game. I criticise because I love.

And I suppose I will award this game my highest score-- two stars. **

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pre-expansion limbo

We're in a weird limbo right now, we WoW players. Just about all serious play has ceased as people wait for the imminent expansion to drop.

I'm a bit baffled by the fact that I still see people farming Elementium and Whiptail. The sell prices for these materials have long since plummeted below all other types of metal and herbs, and they're about a week away from becoming practically worthless. I guess it takes a certain type of person to begin with to spend hours down in Uldum earning 1-2g per node. Maybe they're bots, I dunno. They could at least send their bots somewhere a bit more lucrative.

The hardest thing for me has been trying not to spend all my gold when prices are ridiculously low on just about every material I intend to use in the future. Silver lining to what is basically just a very slow sales period. I've been hovering at 5-10k liquid [non-earmarked] on my primary faction, which is far lower than I'm comfortable with. [My net worth including investments is still somewhere in the 900k ballpark, but actually selling any of it is a different story.] I've even stopped buying Tol'vir Hieroglyphics because I just can't afford them right now.

Mists will fix it all. The buyers will return en masse and all sorts of new opportunities for making gold will present themselves. I've pondered doing that thing where you stop spending gold for a while in order to reach goldcap. But that always struck me as just a pointless epeen thing. I'm more concerned with spending that gold on an entirely different pointless epeen thing which is having more mounts than Whateley.

Friday, September 14, 2012

More on Challenge Dungeons

Zarhym: "It may be helpful to think of the Gold medal armor sets as analogous to Gladiator mounts."

Watcher: "I can't promise that every possible composition will be able to get Gold... [but] every class should have multiple viable group makeups in which it can obtain Gold, assuming masterful play."

And I get a sudden burst of apprehension. Multiple CMs are talking about Challenge dungeons as if they were high-end arena PvP. I mean, I like to think I'm a good player, but I'm well aware of my shortcomings, and the idea of needing to min-max group composition is something I generally place outside of my level of commitment to the game. If gold medal times will truly be so unforgiving that this level of play is required, maybe they will in fact be out of my reach.

Or maybe the CMs are just posturing to keep player expectations in line. Really could go either way here. ^^

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The numbers are bad!

Been reading a bit of Warrior theorycrafting. The current numbers have Mastery valued just ahead of Dodge/Parry in terms of total damage reduction when Shield Block uptime is maximised, which is reassuring. Mastery in Cataclysm provided less overall damage reduction than Dodge/Parry, but was sought after more for its "damage smoothing" effect, and in the later tiers to completely prevent non-mitigated hits. Being on par for damage reduction as well makes Mastery even more of a wonder-stat for Warriors. In the situation that you're using Shield Block, anyway. ;)

What's a bit less reassuring is how stupidly overpowered Shield Barrier is at the moment. Sims are currently showing Barrier preventing as much if not more overall damage than Block even at L90, while also being a superior form of damage reduction-- Block only has an effect on melee hits, while Barrier stops AoE, magic, bleeds and special attacks like Impale. The reason this concerns me is that I'm certain the design intent is for Shield Block to be the primary mitigation tool, and if this has not been achieved, Barrier is probably headed for a nerf to keep it in line. I mean unless the T14 raid encounters have been designed to deal tank damage exclusively with melee hits or something.

I know, I know, gift horse. But a broken mechanic, even when it's broken in my favour, is still disappointing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Extremely hardcore

Our favourite Lead Systems Designer and spectral crustacean has a new twitter account and has been answering many, many questions with short and very sweet responses. This might be one of the best things to happen to WoW's community management in the past few years.

It's like forum posts, but the character limit forces people to get to the bloody point instead of rambling in a single page-long paragraph, or posting another fucking bullet point list of why their point of view is incontrovertibly correct; and forces GC's responses to be to the point without any of that pandering "we totally value all points of view even the retarded ones" bullshit. I don't think I've ever felt so satisfied reading developer feedback to player questions ever before.

I've glommed onto one particular comment which I found extremely encouraging:

"Challenge modes are extremely hardcore. Hoptallus may be harder than any raid boss ever."

Now that's what I want to read. It's been my suspicion for a while now that Challenge modes aim to match the difficulty of Heroic raids, and this practically confirms it. Un-nerfable content is still a concept which is a bit hard to conceive of for a long-time player, and to imagine that perhaps two years from now, when all the raids have been nerfed to the ground and we are farming Heroic Hellscream in our ilevel 600 gear, that a 5-man encounter could still be the hardest thing in the game is a tad mind-boggling.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Shenanigans!

Apparently there's been some shenanigans going on with people using the new cross-realm grouping in the game to farm rare spawns across multiple realms, mainly the new Darkmoon Rabbit world boss... which I would link to but doesn't seem to have a Wowhead page yet. I can, however, link to it's loot. This pet is currently listed on the AH my realm for 250k, which I doubt will sell, but I can't necessarily argue against that price considering its present rarity.

Hard to say if Blizzard will consider this worth fixing-- mainly because it's such a hard thing to limit without removing some functionality from the cross-realm feature itself. I think the least disruptive solution would be to give World Bosses specifically a special flag to prevent them from being engaged by off-realm players. Using this technique to hunt other rare spawns is a lot less overtly disruptive, but still a bit disheartening considering the amount of time I spent hunting then just on my own realm.

I am in love with the Warrior ability Shield Barrier. It really is the most beautiful, responsive, awesome-feeling ability. Damage comes in, you hit a button and wham, stop it in its tracks. Assuming the Protection buffs currently in beta make it through to live we are looking at a situation of having sufficient rage generation to maintain optimal uptime on Shield Block and still have leftover rage to use Barrier as needed to cover the gaps. The only wildcard is boss avoidance-- your rage generation relies significantly on your ability to hit the boss-- so I'm actually getting excited about reforging into expertise/hit again. The jury's still out on how theoretically optimal this will be, but in terms of my own playstyle I'm pretty sure I'll end up doing this. I guess it would make really good sense from a design point of view if stats that provide a benefit to the reactive rotation were more optimal than passive avoidance, but I'm less confident that the designers would bend over backwards to create this situation in the game.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Warrior...in'

We can no longer CTC cap. =(

This brings mitigation stats back to the forefront, especially with the brand new ability Shield Barrier. While tanking your major choice is between two spells: our old friend Shield Block costs 60 rage [lol totally called it] and makes you CTC capped for 6 seconds; Shield Barrier will consume 20 to 60 rage and grants you a damage absorption shield based on your Attack Power multiplied by the amount of rage consumed.

The obvious conclusion is that since Block mitigates a percentage of incoming damage and Barrier is a fixed amount*, there will always be a break point in incoming damage where for anything higher it is better to use Block, and anything lower to use Barrier.

[*though scaling with attack power means that incoming damage is a factor in the absorb size due to Vengeance]

My experience doing Dragon Soul this week has been for Barrier to "feel" better in most situations. The only time I felt like I needed Block was while tanking Warmaster Blackhorn. I attribute this mainly to overgearing the content, so incoming damage for the most part would have likely been below the aforementioned break point, not to mention the amount of mechanics in DS that deal magic damage [on which Shield Block no longer has any effect]. Banking rage to use Barrier in anticipation of large bursts of predictable damage feels amazing.

As I mentioned before, the inability to CTC cap makes mitigation stats relevant again. I swapped my Stamina trinkets for dodge and mastery, and changed a buttload of stam gems back to mastery and parry. Because any mitigation effects are applied before the shield absorb, gearing for mitigation makes Barrier even more effective for general use. I have to wonder whether Mastery will be less of a wonder-stat moving forward if its major benefit of smoothing damage can be replicated with intelligent Barrier use.

Yesterday I heard that Prot Warriors will be getting buffs to passive damage reduction, active mitigation by way of increased rage generation, as well as a minor buff to damage. Didn't realise we needed buffing, but happy enough to hear my class is getting more powerful.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Warlockin'

They made Warlocks easier to play I guess. But this is Blizzard, so you know they will add high skill-cap mechanics anywhere they can, and that's the only thing I find I can focus on.

Warlocks at the moment are all about generating resources and then spending them on high-damage abilities. The clever thing about the system is that it allows you to save your high-damage phase for when you need it, with a fair amount of wiggle room for doing so without losing any efficiency. So you can save it for a burst phase, or just hit it when your trinkets proc.

As mentioned before I quite like the way Destruction feels for single target fights. The mechanics are simple enough; generate Embers, aim to have close to four when Dark Soul comes off CD [or save for the burst phase] so you can get three to four Chaos Bolts in while that buff is up, otherwise spend Embers during your most powerful trinket proc.

Still getting a feel for Demonology. Switching in and out of Metamorphosis at will is a really cool mechanic with multiple uses. I really would like to see some better theorycrafting for Demo. Or I suppose I can just go do a bunch of dummy testing. What's harder to test, though is the value of Demonic Fury generation. Currently I only cast Doom and Touch of Chaos while in demon form, because I my understanding is that Soul Fire is more valuable as a Fury generator.

Speaking of theorycrafting, wtf is the deal with Noxxic. Those guys seem to just make assumptions based on the tooltips and present them as fact. I lost count of the number of times while reading their pages on both Warlocks and Warriors that they basically just rephrased the ability tooltip and followed it up with the most useless advice like "use this when you need AoE damage".

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Time may change me...

The hot topic for forum whiners this week is the recent massive update to WoW, including an epic hundred-page thread  [EDIT: now multiple threads] entitled "I didn't want a new game." By now I'm sure there are plenty of old hands who loved the game as it was, and change can be scary, but what they don't seem to acknowledge is the sheer number of players who have and will stop playing and move on to other things, were the game to stay the same.

In this past week I've seen guild names I haven't spotted on my server for years, not since they were a top raiding guild back in whatever tier. I think it's telling that they're back now, not for the content addition of Mists in one month, but for the mechanics update of the 5.0.4 patch. They are interested in the game they know being revitalised with modern gameplay mechanics.

It's easy to see the Blizzard forums as a single whining voice that can't seem to make up it's mind, but we need to remember that it's really just a throng of people with ridiculously different wants, and there is no change [or lack of change for that matter] Blizzard can make without one segment or another getting pissed off.