Farewell Mists of Pandaria, Hello Iron Horde!

October 14, 2014

A Paladin in her Glory.

With the 6.0 patch a day away it seems appropriate to reminisce about what I have enjoyed and disliked about Mists of Pandaria.

The good

  • Launch was pretty smooth, I had an enjoyable week off work, levelling my paladin to 90 on the first day and getting stuck into 5 mans the following day
  • The Halfhill farm was fun, its quests were interesting, and the ability to farm pretty much all the main trade resources was insanely profitable (if tedious to do on all your alts every day)
  • Learning to tank, incredibly stressful at times, but ultimately rewarding to become the go to person in guild to solo tank raid content. I still have a lot to learn in terms of being proactive about fight direction (still too much attention taken up just in ability use) and in communication with the raid group (being vocal about taunts for example)
  • Professions seemed reasonable, JC and enchanting continued to dominate the Auction House, but crafters had reasonable access to new patterns with each new tier, Scribe was underwhelming after the first tier and Engineering was its traditional gold sink. I made over a million gold, and then proceeded to give most of it away.
  • Flex raiding, a late introduction, this has become my preferred casual play with alts and mains, its provided a social guild experience, and means we can completely avoid LFR
  • Throne of Thunder, I found the zone to be fun, but the lack of resource nodes meant I stopped going there once I had hit exalted reputation, it was an interesting insight into how much fun being a miner is for my main toon
  • Timeless Isle, I think my main complaint here, is that the island felt too small to me, and some parts of the island were simply too dangerous for solo play. It was hilarious watching the Alliance kill each other when PvP flagged. Weekly quests certainly worked better for me than dailies, make some progress, get bored, go do other stuff and come back later.

The bad

  • PvP was awful, chain CC and zero health in a few GCDs, I did the bare minimum required for the legendary quest line, and never went back. I used to enjoy battleground PvP in TBC, but the proliferation of “kill the healer first” addons has changed the game experience to be a negative one for me. On the plus side, we didn’t lose an entire zone to world PvP, or have a raid boss gated behind PvP victory requirements.
  • Daily burn out at launch, there were too many factions, and you needed revered reputation with just about all of them to access raiding gear, I shudder to think of the agonies that some people went through grinding this out on multiple toons.
  • Failing to heal, I struggled to heal at raiding level with my Paladin, and I couldn’t find guidance from my traditional sources (many older advice blogs simply died off or deliberately stopped covering Holy Paladins)
  • Failing to DPS, like healing, I simply couldn’t put out the DPS required to be competitive in a raid, the gap between any DPS character I tried to play and the better players in my raid group was simply too big to warrant me investing time
  • LFR, simply too much of an unpleasant environment, filled with trolls, for me to put effort into gearing alts or mains through it
  • Black Market Auction House, after the first week, when I picked up a gear upgrade, I never saw anything else worth buying again.
  • BOAs not dropping off Garrosh, I have only had the tanking sword drop (twice) when what I really wanted was the shield.

The ugly

  • Burn out … I stopped raiding for several months, because I simply could not cope with the mechanics in Heart of Fear. The raiding environment as a whole is one almost unrecognisable from Vanilla/TBC raids, the Dungeon Journal is incredibly intimidating with the sheer number of mechanics to master in each fight, the amount of blue/purple death crap on the screen, against dark blue/grey backgrounds, the shrieking and wailing of addon alerts…
  • the legendary quest line was something you couldn’t not do as a raider, and it had large choke points that were not fun to work through, for me the PvP requirement was what killed any enthusiasm for trying to get this item on alts
  • the fate of Garrosh, after all the build-up, after 150+ wipes learning the fight, to have him taken prisoner and escape was a major let down
  • Watching raiders quit the guild due to lack of progression, which accelerated as the introduction of mythic raiding drew closer. The officers were in the position of either (a) not raiding at all or (b) accepting below par performance. While we put a lot of work into standards and expectations going into the expansion, we simply didn’t live up to them.
  • Going in to the next expansion without enough players to form a 10 man raid team. With a November release date, many people in guild will not be in a position to raid until January. While we have a pool of casual players who can be carried through normal mode difficulty, we have lost half of the heavy lifters in our guild.
  • Server population faction balance continues to worsen with every expansion.

Tier 14

  • Most liked boss: Elegon, after mastering the elevator boss this was an excellent fight for tank swaps and picking up adds.
  • Most disliked boss: Garralon, crap everywhere on the ground and a fight that was hard to see and hard to control. Heart of Fear as a whole was my most disliked raid instance of the entire expansion. My guild found it weird that it was the gate to Terrace of Endless Springs, when all the fights in TOES were easier than most of those in HOF.

Tier 15

  • Most liked boss: Jin-Rokh, one of the few fights my guild did on HM during this tier, I have often liked fights where the raid group has to split into two teams for part of the fight.
  • Most disliked boss: hard choice between Durumu and Dark Animus, with Dark Animus winning due to the sheer confusion and brutality of its opening sequence.

Tier 16

  • Most liked boss: Paragons, I liked the Klaxxi and this is a fight were I managed to solo tank the last third of the fight with most of the raid group dead on our first progression kill, so a good memory.
  • Most disliked boss: Garrosh, this fight was harder on normal mode for my guild than HM Spine of Deathwing was in Cataclysm.

Looking to the future

I am excited for the Warlords of Dreanor expansion. I am happy that there are no new classes or races, as I have long passed the point of diminishing returns from alts. It has been eight years, but I still love playing my Paladin. My list of things I am most looking forward to include:

  • more options for flexible raiding, while my guild has lost the option to do the hardest raiding content in the game, we are gaining more flexibility for raid group size and cross-server recruitment for all the other content types
  • the new approach to world zones, and the player housing garrisons, will give me the freedom to choose the content I want to engage in each night after work
  • Asharan, a world PvP zone incorporating cross-server population balancing is one where I won’t feel like a constant victim of Alliance numerical superiority
  • lots of small quality of life improvements (bag space, simpler gearing, being able to avoid accidental PvP flagging)
  • Ability pruning – I would love to take a task bar or two off my raid frames, especially after enjoying the 5-6 action limit in TESO. While I am losing some iconic abilities, I accept its good for the game, as you cannot keep adding to the ability list with every new expansion.

This time around I am only taking two days leave for the launch, but that gives me a four day weekend. The big decision facing me is this – do I just concentrate on playing one character as well as possible, or do I play all my current max level characters again for the economic synergy that will arise from having multiple Garrisons?

I will miss having a million HP on my tank. Yes, it was a bit silly, but it was a nice reaching the top of the mountain benchmark.

Some thoughts on the competition

No one else has been able to launch a subscription based AAA theme park MMO and maintain anything close to WoW’s player base. I am not sure anyone can while WoW continues to be what it is, as the major growth has been in free-to-play games and games focusing on smaller teams with a PvP focus. Blizzard’s cancellation of Titan is interesting, while done because the ideas didn’t pan out for fun, I don’t think they could actually expand the market with a second MMO without cannibalising the WoW player base. MMOs expand to fill available time and I have struggled to play more than one at a time with any degree of skill.

I now think that the 200+ hour levelling game, which must be completed prior to accessing the end game, is a trap for new MMOs.  I simply lose interest in the levelling game, fail to engage in social groups (it is difficult to find a group of adults from the same time zone as me), and then cancel my subscription after a few months. When a game is launched with significant errors (e.g. social chat does not work, or its impossible to log in for a month) it is hard to sustain interest even that long. The shift to arena format games like LOL and WOT is interesting, but ultimately for me they just don’t have the social aspect that WoW has given to my life.

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Traps, Tanks, and some other Things

November 15, 2011

Well, I’m still waiting for my copy of Skyrim to arrive, so I have some time to write about other things.

I am still having fun playing World of Tanks.  After researching all the upgrades for the KV I decided to muck around with Tank Destroyers and Self-Propelled Guns (artillery) for a while.  This was fun and educational, seeing the artillery interface made it clear why I had died easily in certain places on the map, and I gained a new appreciation for large rock outcroppings.  Actually playing artillery can be super-frustrating, you may be stone to the heavy tank scissors, but light tanks are paper to your stone.  The light tanks move too fast for you to hit, and the slow heavy tanks have too much armour for you to damage (I cheered when a shell hit a Tiger II and managed to inflict 2% damage) so you end up hoping wistfully for a medium tank to decide to park itself out in the open for the time it takes you to set up the shot.

Tank destroyers are a bit less frustrating in play.  Their low profile makes you hard to spot, so they are excellent if you have the patience to sit in an ambush position, or know where to go for a long-range sniping shot.  A Hetzer with a 10.5cm cannon satisfyingly one-shots many light/medium tanks and its the only tank where I have ever managed ‘top gun’ with seven kills out of 15 of the opposing team of players.  Without a turret though, its vulnerable to being flanked.

Still, when my dreams were filled with green targeting recticules, I decided I needed to wind back how much I was playing this little game.

Traps

The players in my tabletop game will be off doing a tomb crawling expedition soon.  So, naturally, there will be traps.  And undead monsters.  But its traps I have been thinking about.  There is one rogue in the party, who has invested heavily in trap detection and removal masteries, allowing him rerolls if he fails a spot/disarm check.  So having traps present is a payoff for how he has built his character, helps the team, and makes up for not being as good in combat as the combat focused characters.

I do wonder though, if the process of traps is too predictable.

Most of the time, in every new shift in the game environment, he announces he is looking for traps.  If he finds one, he tries to disarm it.  Trap disarmed, party moves on, rinse and repeat.  Partly I think its dull, because its action by just one player, while everyone else waits.  Without an external factor, such as pursuing guards, its not terribly exciting.  Low damage traps are also pretty much a waste of time in Dragon Age, as the party can just stop, take a breather, and regain 1d6+Constitution+Level Health Points, so with level 6 characters, traps doing less than 10 damage are just wet bus tickets.

So I thought a bit more about what traps are, and what else you might tie into their key purpose – defending a location.  As well as doing some sub-lethal damage (because, to be blunt, save or Die traps will just make my players cry) traps can also:

  1. Block movement in a particular direction.
  2. Channel movement towards a different direction.
  3. Split the party into two or more groups.
  4. Sound an alarm.  Could be silent, could be noisy, maybe the entire dungeon just starts quietly vibrating.
  5. Summon/teleport guardians to the location (Release the hounds!).
  6. Physically trap/pin/cage the intruders in that location (Sharks optional).
  7. Mark the intruders, like paint/dye/glowing goo.
  8. Attach a locator beacon to the intruders.
  9. Communicate information to the intruders (Achtung Minen!).
  10. Trigger a time delayed device (This dungeon will self-destruct in six cycles)
  11. Apply a debuff to the players (poison, disease, exhaustion, fear, etc) rather than just a few HP.

What I’ll try and do this weekend, is have some traps that require more than just one person playing with their lockpicks, the environment setting and situation should require another pair of hands or eyes I think.  Perhaps a slowly flooding dungeon, where once you choose to fall back, you know you’ll never get to the last chamber in the tomb.

Traveller World Gen

Thinking back to the random craziness of Traveller worlds, I begin to think that worlds might have fit better together if they had been designed in clusters, rather than just retro-fitted the explanations.

Terror Australis

I also mused briefly today about what an Australian themed expansion for World of Warcraft might look like:

  • A continent full of critters that are Level 100 Elite Mobs!
  • New Wombat Race!
  • Ford Falcon mount for engineers!
  • A rejigged economy where you sell minerals to the Chinese gold farmers!
  • New Class: Tasmanian Mutant!
  • Every monster has a poison attack!
  • Forests teeming with Drop Bears!
  • Legendary pavlova recipe!
  • Ozzie rules PvP, where damage can only be inflicted while jumping!

Grand Strategy Game at Buckets of Dice 2012

I emailed the pitch in for this today.  Not too far removed from earlier discussion here, but the next big chunk of design work will be in mid-February, after Canterbury Faire is finished.


October 24, 2011

I am in one of my phases where I write up some game mechanics, then delete them for being too derivative.  So while I am doing work on the “Xmas Game” I do not know if I will actually get one finished.  In the mean time, some notes on games I have been playing and games I am looking forward to playing.

Star Wars the Old Republic Beta

Not much I can say here due to the NDA. Bioware did a short beta test just for testing the Oceanic connections and I was lucky enough to get an invite.  I am not regretting my pre-order from Amazon.

Lord of the Rings Online

Over the last year I have slowly levelled up a level 30-ish Guardian character in LOTRO.  Its a free-to-play game, but I did spend some cash on a mount and opening some questing zones.  While the Lord of the Rings lore is good, its very, very grindy.  Two points stand out here: advanced combat abilities that are only learned after you have used a basic combat ability a few hundred/thousand times, and the crafting system, where you effectively have to relearn prior tiers of skill in order to master each new tier.  Tactically, the levelling game is more interesting the World of Warcraft, as failure is quite possible if you attack on elite mob or pull too many trash mobs.  I only tried an instance once, and the combination of inability to generate multi-target threat combined with rapid mob respawns turned me off trying again.  After playing the SWTOR Beta, I don’t think I’ll be spending more time in LOTRO.

Dragon Age (tabletop)

My once a fortnight tabletop campaign continues, with the players having reached Level Six.  In the last session, they ran into an interesting moral challenge and my amoral mage jumped a different way from that which I was expecting (he refused to take the Red Book of Monsters from the time-shifted Ebon Tower after a fragment of a God told the party the book could be used to summon monsters that could sunder the world).

Some quirks in the game engine are now becoming apparent.  By Level 10 a character will have at least doubled their health from Level 1, if not tripled it, as well as improving the ability to avoid being hit and to mitigate incoming damage … but their outgoing damage will only have increased by about 1d6 per round.  So against a similar group of “heroes” the chances are that a combat would take an entire game session to resolve.

The Rogue class is annoying, as in each and every combat round they have to make an opposed bluff check in order to gain an attack bonus and 1d6 damage.  Without the bonus damage the Rogue is not competitive in damage dealing.  The extra die roll each round is time consuming.

Mages are annoying, definitely glass cannons, which makes them either overpowered or vulnerable.  If an NPC mage uses a crowd control spell, they can eliminate a player character from an entire combat (which means a bored player), but in return solo enemy mages are not viable as foes – they simply cannot survive without a small horde of minions to intercept/disrupt the players.

My rough rule of thumb now, is that for an enemy to concern my players, it needs to do a minimum of 6d6 damage per combat round (after accounting for missed attacks and armour absorption), otherwise the fact that the party mages can pump out 6d6 healing per round means most combats end with the players on full health.  While I have given out the odd health/mana potion, I don’t think anyone has ever had to use one of them.

Still, the core engine still appeals to me and I am tinkering with reworking it into a SF setting – I am mucking around with ideas for Sidhe, Fomorians and Stargate style Egyptian monsters all turning Earth into a post-apocalyptic setting, with some bright ultra-tech human colonies out in space.

World of Tanks

This is an online “lobby” game, consisting of 15 minute player versus player matches in which each of the 30 players controls one World War II era tank.  Between matches you repair and research.  The tank capabilities and vulnerabilities seem faithful to history, although there are a few fantasy tanks in play which never got off the design board and onto the historical battle fields.  At the moment tanks are limited to US, Russian, and German designs, although I expect we will eventually see British and French designs as well.  The game has been sufficiently successful that we can expect to see World of Planes and World of Ships in a couple of years.

I chose to play Russian tanks, and have slowly worked my way up to my first heavy tank, the KV.  Unlike my previous tanks, its slow, really slow, and the turret is also a slow traverser.  Historically, it was a killer when it ran into German Panzer IIs and IIIs, but in WoT I am as likely to run into Tiger IIs and IS-4s, which I can’t really damage and which can one shot me in return.  Tactically, rather than moving constantly at max speed as you do with light tanks, the KV needs to work in formation with other tanks to avoid being flanked and also needs to skulk from bit of cover to bit of cover.  Out in the open its easily spotted and immobilised by artillery.

Overall, I find WoT to be a really good way to spend 30-60 minutes of spare time.  It also goes well with listening to some heavy metal music.

World of Warcraft – Firelands

My guild has lost two DPS players (rogue/hunter) but continues to raid.  We managed 6/7 boss kills before the content was nerfed, then 7/7 shortly afterwards and are now 1/7 for hard modes.  I’m not sure the content nerf was good for us.  We do not have the throughput in DPS/HPS for many of the hard mode fights, but now the normal mode fights are so trivial as to be boring.

What we tend to do now, is spend two hours wiping on hard modes on Thursday night, then clear up to 5/7.  On Monday we go back and kill the last two, and as we get better at killing Ragnaros we use our remaining time on Tier 11 hard modes.  On Sundays I lead a casual raid, but it is struggling as several of the players there simply cannot meet the DPS requirements – we need 15k DPS and they do 10k – the fights take too long and our healers run out of mana, or the time delay makes the wheels fall off and the fight becomes a train wreck.

I am happy with my Holy Paladin healing, I managed to rank sixth in class in World of Logs for healing the fat fire spider Beth’tilac in the second week of Firelands.  Considering how Paladins 1-6 were all in Tier 11 Hard Mode gear I was pretty chuffed with the accomplishment.  My Retibution Paladin DPS though … it sucks, hovering around 12k for most fights, although on a static tank and spank it can reach 18k.  Part of the reason the DPs is low is that because I do not enjoy it, I don’t practice it.  I’m not sure why I don’t enjoy it but there are two bits of the play style I struggle with: use of cooldowns and proc dependence.

It’s hard for me not to agree with Gevlon over at the Greedy Goblin, that the sheer complexity of the “Boss Dance” in fights is making raiding less fun.  This is especially the case for melee damage dealers in any fight with significant movement, as the loss of contact time on the boss reduces DPS.  It is a never-ending race, in which Blizzard alternates between buffing classes with new abilities, then upping the difficulty of new fights.  In patch 4.3 we are being promised a buff to melee DPS … but I have to say as a raid leader, I have no desire to recruit more melee DPS into the raid group because unless their player skill is exceptional.

Over at Blessing of Kings, a comparison of a Wrath era fight and a Cataclysm era was posted to illustrate this point:(http://blessingofkings.blogspot.com/2011/09/firelands-nerfs-and-difficulty.html)

Marrowgar:

  • One mob
  • Tanks stack on each other to split damage
  • Avoid fire
  • Dodge bonestorm
  • Kill bonespikes

Shannox:

  • Three mobs
  • Dodge traps
  • Burst one add with large spells
  • Heal one random target who takes high damage
  • Trap and kite one add until a stacking debuff wears off, failing this increases tank damage
  • Avoid aoe spear damage
  • Damage increases significantly as fight progresses

What I would prefer, is a few more fights that stretch my ability to play my class well, as opposed to how well I have memorised the exact dance steps for the special mechanics on a boss fight.  My own feedback on class design for the next expansion was “less is more”.

On the whole though, I think Blizzard made a serious mistake in Cataclysm by making two of the tier end bosses be recycled bosses from Vanilla WoW (Nefarian & Onyxia, and Ragnaros).  Yes, the fight mechanics are different … but it still felt like a failure of imagination to me by the Blizzard design team.

Upcoming Games

Games I am looking forward to include: Star Wars the Old Republic (December), Guild Wars 2 (2012), Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (11 November), and the Mists of Pandaria expansion for World of Warcraft (2012).

For information on SWTOR I recommend the http://torwars.com/ fan site.  My Sith PvE guild is now part of the Oceanic “daisychain”, a collaborative effort to ensure as many ANZAC players as possible all end up on the same starting server.

Guild Wars 2 is attempting to eliminate the holy trinity, so all characters will have heal/dps options.  Defences will include active dodging by the players, and if you “die” you actually get a different set of combat options while knocked down.  Could be a quality of life improvement, but it might be a much stronger evolution of the genre than SWTOR is shaping up to be (several press reviews describe SWTOR as WoW with lightsabres).

I preordered Skyrim after watching some gameplay videos, especially of combat versus dragons.  It looks like combat is very sandbox, many different ways to solve each tactical problem.  I enjoyed the other Elder Scrolls games, so this will fill the gap until SWTOR is released.

Mists of Pandaria will be an oriental themed expansion for WoW.  I know a few people have gone “WTF! Panda!”  but last time I looked WoW had already jumped the shark (the Goblin starter area has a quest involving sharks with laser beams mounted on them).  I’ll be happy with MOP if I can dress my virtual dolls in Samurai armour.

Probably the most significant announcement was a complete rebuild of the talent system, rather than spending points every few levels to boost power and access new abilities, many abilities will be granted with class spec, and talents will be a choice of one of three options every 15 levels.  When you hit 30, you can’t go back and choose a second Level 15 option, as each set of options will compare like with like, you are unlikely to be forced to choose between utility or survival or throughput.  I like the sound of this new system … fits with my “less is more” preference.

Wowhead already has a talent calculator preview available at: http://www.wowhead.com/mists-of-pandaria-talent-calculator


The care and feeding of mages

November 9, 2010

My cliff notes on the role Mages will play in raiding in Cataclysm.  I know Fire/Arcane the best, so I may have it all wrong for frost.

General Buffs

Time Warp at Level 85, a 30% haste buff for 40 seconds.  Arcane Brilliance, mana and spellpower boost.

Arcane
The Good: Arcane mages bring steady single target DPS and a phenomenal burst DPS that can be deployed in a bosses moment of weakness to make them QQ warlock tears. They bring a single target +3% crit bonus, and a raid-wide +3% to damage done.

The Bad: If they screw up their evocation, they lose a major component of their burst DPS.

How to spot a good Arcane mage: they have Mage armour equipped and glyphed and keep their mana at 85-100% until evocation/mana gem come off cooldown, then they pop the gem and go nuts on DPS for 10-20 seconds, then back to maintaining 85-100% mana.

Fire
The Good: a fun spec with good single target DPS and the potential for amazing AoE damage. Even stronger when the boss is below 35% health, just in case you were wondering who deserved the battle rez. Provides +5% spell crit chance for the raid.  Cauterise gives amazing survivability, and improved mobility will increase contact time. Better yet, you can go OOM and still do damage with a combination of mana free Scorch and mana free Pyroblast.

The Bad: Ignite is still buggy, and the spec is very dependent on crit (and luck) for damage. Living bomb only hits up to 3 targets, can be accidentally overwritten for major DPS loss and interacts with Impact procs in counterintuitive ways (impact spreads damage to adjacent mobs, see the 3 target limit for why this is a problem).

How to spot a good Fire mage: it’s all in the use of the Combustion cooldown, which combines all existing DOTs into one mega-dot, so a good fire mage will wait for all three of their DOTs to be rolling on a target before pushing this cooldown.

Frost
The Good: a permanent pet! Mana replenishment for the raid. Competitive PvE dps for the first time since A’lar in Tempest Keep.

The Bad: Frostburn can be too bursty, so some threat generation issues on pulls (yes, thats right, frost mages can now do too much damage, inconceivable!). Almost no useful off-spec talents to spend points on. Pet is so awesome it may have mana issues from doing too much damage…

How to spot a good Frost mage – they cast in the following priority list:
1.Frostfire Orb, if cooldown is up.
2.Deep Freeze, if cooldown is up and Fingers of Frost is active.
3.Frostfire Bolt, if Brain Freeze is active and Fingers of Frost is active.
4.Ice Lance if Finger of Frost is active.
5.Freeze, if cooldown is up, Deep Freeze cooldown is up, and Finger of Frost is not active.
6.Frostbolt.


10 Easy Ways to Fail as a Raid Leader

October 20, 2010

I have pugged a lot of 25 man raids during Wrath of the Lich King, and every week I seem to encounter a new way for pug raids to collapse into a frothing pile of rage and unrequited ambition. I have witnessed each and every one of these, usually more than once.

10. Ignore all questions asked in Raid chat.
9. Refuse to tell anyone who the tanks are.
8. Forget to set Master Looter, refuse to explain the loot rules when asked, and then attempt to change the loot rules half-way through the run.
7. Refuse to explain the fight mechanics when asked.
6. Fail to set the raid to the appropriate 10 or 25 man setting.
5. Order a healer to stay on the Lootship, but fail to tell a tank to stay to protect the healer.
4. Order the tanks to pull while half the raid is still AFK from the previously announced break.
3. Refuse to use vent, even when all 24 other raiders are in a vent someone has kindly provided.
2. Recruit only two healers for a 25 man raid, and then wonder why 80% of the raid died in the first trash pull.
1. Form up the full raid, then announce that “my little brother” did the raid earlier in the week, and drop from the group.

On the whole, I look forward to largely sticking with Guild 10 man runs in Cataclysm.