WotLK Beta Review: The Death Knight Tutorial

The Disclaimer

Before you read this entry, you should know it contains spoilers regarding the death knight starting area. The storyline here is so rich with lore I don’t want to ruin it for those who wish to avoid advanced information. However, as a commentator, I feel compelled to write and relate my experiences. Also, if you do not mind being spoiled, the videos and my account of the experience might be of interest to you. If they are, please continue reading after the cut. If not, stop reading now.

Also, it should be noted that Vimeo no longer supports gaming videos, so these will be deleted by September 1st. I expect this entry will be outdated by then, so I am going to go ahead and use Vimeo anyway for the streaming videos. Enjoy, until then!

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WotLK Video and Information

This past week, it appears Blizzard invited specific web sites to preview Wrath of the Lich King, meaning new footage and information is being released in abundance. I’m hesitant to say fan sites because GameSpy and Eurogamer are the epitome of all things corporate, though GameSpy has definitely professed its collective love for WoW before. In any case, I would suggest beginning with the 10-minute trailer Blizzard has released to go along with this press event. (Thanks to Boubouille from MMO Champion for posting it.)

The video shows more of Blizzard’s uncanny visual mastery. While they are indeed taking chances by including areas that aren’t either desolate or entirely covered in snow, it’s probably a good risk to take. Most MMO players have what I like to call Gamer Attention Deficit Disorder. I can’t imagine players would enjoy seeing nothing but snow, tundra and gray wastelands, even if it fits with the expected atmosphere.

Northrend is going to be larger in scale than Outland itself. That’s somewhat surprising to me, as I expected Northrend to be about the same size, considering Outland and Northrend each encompass ten levels of content. In fact, it’s so large that many of the zones include sub-zone like content, similar to that of Terokkar’s main forest and the Bone Wastes. I hope this means there will be more end-game 80 outdoor content, with a couple designed in the same grain as Quel’Danas.

The short clip of vehicle warfare was interesting. Essentially, it’s taking bombing runs to new heights, figuratively and probably literally.

As far as information goes, there is too much for me to address each and every interview and preview individually. So, instead, I will point everyone in the direction of World of Raids for a full summarization, as this is where I will be drawing quotes from in my commentary.

Story & Factions

Players will interact with Arthas for the first time at a relatively low level, around 71-74 in Dragonblight – the final encounter with him won’t be until the final patch of the Lich King cycle, some time after release.

If Blizzard can expand this concept and include more of it in WotLK, this next expansion will be more engrossing in terms of story than vanilla WoW and TBC. I definitely hunger for more Akama-style questlines with voiceovers.

They’re also advancing the Forsaken storyline, adding in uniquely Forsaken building architecture and giving the player more chances to help in their Wile E. Coyote-like quest to kill every living thing on Azeroth.

I actually dislike this story arc. Sure, they’re “secretly” sinister, but the questlines include Horde in this endeavor. So it’s very difficult to suspend disbelief when you’re a tauren helping some Forsaken agent brew a volatile cocktail of pestilence. If anything, I’d hope the primary Forsaken storyline involves their struggles with the Lich King’s control over the undead.

In Sholazar Basin, players will take part in a faction-reputation war between the Wolvar (sentient wolves) and Oracles (“the next evolution of the Murlocs”). A much lighter take on reputation gaming is promised here, with players actively encouraged to defect to the other side at will.

I’m curious to know exactly what they mean by “actively encouraged to defect to the other side at will.” As in player allegiance should be fickle and it will be easy to switch sides?

Inscription

• Every player will get a new spell book page to which they can add six glyphs – currently, four major and two minor.
• Major glyphs will be effective in combat – adding damage over time or stun to a physical attack, for example – while minor glyphs will give convenient or cosmetic improvements, removing the need for some spell reagents.

Sounds like an interesting concept. However, more proc CC sounds annoying. PvP is already somewhat of an RNG crapshoot as it is, with mace stuns, blackout, etc. So how about, when heals land, it has a chance to proc a PBAOE fear on the people surrounding the target of the heal. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Well, I guess it’s subjective, but I don’t think most people would find such mechanics too thrilling. I’d rather a priest run up and fear instead, as it is a controlled mechanic that requires skill. But if they want to make the game more about RNG mechanics, Blizzard might as well go for the gold.

The concept of minor glyphs is intriguing, because I don’t think I’ve seen a game where spell effects are customizable. Then again, I haven’t exactly paid close attention to every single MMO after 2004, since WoW has had me far too engrossed. I guess I can make my heals orange if there’s a glyph for it. Not that it’s majorly impactful. But the trivial amusement factor is one of WoW’s nice touches.

PvE, Dungeons & Raids

• During some of the boss encounters, players will actually free drakes to fly around the ring. Using the game’s new vehicle technology, players will be able to engage in free flight around the dungeon and use some of the drake’s abilities to take on some of the dungeon’s challenges.
• The new “vehicle” system will enable characters to “drive” an object around. One example Blizzard gave them: Players will fly over a human settlement being overrun with the Scourge, lowering a ladder down to pull up and rescue civilians. In one dungeon instance, players will be able to “liberate” some blue dragons that they can mount up and fly around, fighting their way up a massive tower.

Sometimes the class system gives WoW a myriad of limitations. We’ve seen the possibilities Blizzard can implement, given encounters like Vashj (orb tossing) and Teron (constructs). So more encounters that utilize mechanics outside of class restrictions will be key in designing refreshing and innovative PvE content.

Zero raid bosses have been designed at this point.

This is surprising. I thought they’d at least have one raid dungeon done by now. I think they should adjust their desired release cycle to two years, if this is truly the case.

All raid dungeons in Wrath of the Lich King will have both 25-person and 10-person versions.

Interesting. With the release of 2.4, I continually praised Magister’s Terrace for its ability to give casual players a taste of content relevant to the primary story being told through raid dungeons (namely The Eye). It was rather ironic that people would kill this second version of Kael’thas without potentially having seen the first, however. So I suppose this takes it a step further and fixes that issue at the same time.

I imagine many of my guildies are going to annoy me to no end when they start making statements about how “it’s really World of Casualcraft, now!” The 10-mans have their own separate progression path, in terms of gear and difficulty, so I don’t see what the problem is. It won’t cheapen the content in terms of the story. If anything, it makes it more accessible. And it’s amusing, because many MMO companies have considered this sort of move risky. However, I think it’s only risky if you’re trying to cater to anal MMO veteran who thinks MMO’s are only for the hardcore. And, if you do that, you simply aren’t going to make as much money as you potentially could. And I don’t see why it would diminish the overall enjoyment of the game, unless you have some sort of entitlement complex. Pardon me if you suddenly can’t enjoy the game at all when your life gets too busy that you have to quit raiding 25-mans.

25-person raiding progression is not dependent on 10-person raiding; players will not have to obtain keys or attunements in 10-person raids to participate in 25-person raids.

One of the biggest mistakes Blizzard made was in implementing attunement for Serpentshrine that required a person to kill Nightbane. It forced guilds minded on running 25-man dungeons to split their raid into two and progress through Karazhan. Or, otherwise, suffer setbacks. However, ironically, this is what caused my own guild to jump ahead in progression on our server. While we took Karazhan and attunement to SSC very seriously, a lot of guilds didn’t run two successful raids as often as we did. And they fell behind on attunement, as a result. And a server first on Hydross was the result of such efforts.

• 10- and 25-person raids both have their own, independent progression paths
• Players will receive more, higher level rewards for completing the 25-person raid dungeons over the 10-person version

Just quoting this for reiteration. I think it’s an important counter-argument to the hardcore whiners who will inevitably lament the increasing accessibility of the game.

Death Knights

Death knights will be available to all players with level 55 characters.

I’m wondering if they’ve scrapped the idea that a player could unlock the death knight class with a questline.

Players can create one death knight per realm, per account.

I wondering why it’s necessary to restrict people to one per realm.

• Death knights utilize a rune system as their resource mechanic
– Three different rune types are available: Unholy, Frost, and Blood
– These runes allow death knights to cast spells and abilities; spells can cost any combination of these runes
– Spent runes automatically refresh after a set period of time, similar to a rogue’s energy bar
– The death knight will have the ability to customize which array of six runes is currently available
• As rune abilities are used, the death knight also generates another resource called Runic Power
– The death knight will have several abilities that cost all available Runic Power, with varying levels of effectiveness based on total Runic Power spent
– Runic Power decays over time if it’s not spent, similar to a warrior’s rage bar
• The death knight has three different presences to use: Blood, Frost, and Unholy; each presence grants the death knight a unique buff that will allow him or her to fulfill different roles in combat

Given the complexity of ability cost-and-expenditure, it is going to create an intricate dance for Blizzard in terms of balance. In vanilla WoW, the sensitivity of the subject was seen in regards to rage generation, forcing Blizzard to normalize it. I can imagine similar problems will arise with this system, especially when you consider just how powerful their spells are on the surface. Take a look:

Death Coil — Depletes all Runic Power, dealing 600 damage to a non-Undead target, or healing 900 damage on a friendly target.
Death Grip — This is the Death Knight’s “taunt” ability. It also pulls the target to the Death Knight, forcing them to attack the Death Knight for a short amount of time. Yes, I said pulls the target; Blizzard is going to allow players to move mobs in the expansion both with Death Grip, and other knockback/pull abilities. This works on players too, so PvP balance ahoy!
Chains of Ice — Roots the target in place. When the spell fades, it places a snare on the target that reduces in potency as the duration runs out.
Raise Dead — Raises a nearby corpse to fight for the Death Knight for 2 minutes. If used on a player corpse, the player has the option to play as the ghoul for the duration — gaining access to the ghoul’s abilities.
– The ghoul has the ability to do the following:
— Leap to the target
— Rend for decent damage-over-time
— Stun target, and of course more
Death Pact — Sacrifices the raised ghouls to heal the Death Knight.
Death and Decay — Targeted, AoE Damage-over-time which pulses similar to the Paladin spell Consecration. Anyone affected by Death and Decay has a chance to be feared.
Frost Presence — Increases Armor by 45% and allows the Death Knight to generate 25% more threat. Only one presence can be active at any time.
Unholy Presence — Increases Attack Speed and Movement speed by 15%. Only one presence can be active at any time. This was described by Tom Chilton as the “PvP” presence.
Anti-magic Shield — Reduces the damage of the next magical spell cast on the Death Knight by 75%. It also converts the damage reduced into Runic Power.
Strangulate — Depletes all Runic Power, dealing minor damage and silencing the target for up to 5 seconds.
Summon Deathcharger — Allows the Death Knight to summon a Deathcharger mount. This mount is acquired through quests, similar to the Paladin and Warlock land mounts.

It’s interesting to note that many abilities deplete all runic power. Meaning management of this power will be unique compared to other ability cost-and-expenditure systems (mana, rage and energy, presently). However, I worry because the balance over these abilities largely relies on the rate at which runic power is generated, in addition to how long it takes for each rune to refresh. Certainly, the most powerful spells will need to have a high rune cost.

The concept of Raise Dead is absolutely, positively intriguing. So much so that you can potentially design an encounter entirely around ghouls and their abilities.

Frost Presence worries me. It borrows the armor modifier concept somewhat directly from druids themselves. However, the fact that they are not receiving a hit point bonus makes me wonder if feral druids will still have their place. And it is left to be seen what sort of avoidance they will be able to stack, as well. But it is certainly going to be difficult for Blizzard to balance this, given you have three tanking classes as it is.

Game Mechanics

Blizzard is going to allow players to move mobs in the expansion both with Death Grip, and other knockback/pull abilities. This works on players too, so PvP balance ahoy!

I can imagine this creating a whole world of pain for healers, unless people are given something to counteract it. The defensive mechanics most people utilize, afterall, is movement and escaping DPS, either by range or LOS. This type of mechanic will further complicate this issue, as it deals directly with people’s abilities to outrange and LOS various types of DPS.

Then consider the issues between healer and DPS balance as it is. In season one, healers were absolutely, positively overpowered. Why? Because our naked heals far outdid naked DPS. So, on the low-end scale of gear, it was easy as hell to survive a double DPS team. However, season three has shown that a CC-oriented team like a rogue/mage can compete on at a 2200 or 2300ish level of arenas. This would have been unthinkable in season one. So my concern is what this new type of CC will do to the later seasons in WotLK, if healers or the vulnerable classes are not given a basic defense against such mechanics.

Overall Conclusion

Overall, there are some great concepts here. However, many of them are risky, given the impact they can have on balance. I think Blizzard really needs to take its time testing and considering these new abilities and game mechanics. In my opinion, it was a mistake for Blizzard to claim their intention to adhere to a yearly release cycle. Creating a new class is too sensitive an issue for them to even consider the possibility. And while they did a relatively good job balancing new abilities in TBC, there were only one to a few abilities per class that could really break the game. And we’ve seen what a single ability can do to balance in the game. Heroism/bloodlust has almost single-handedly changed the game in general.

So Blizzard has to walk a fine line with death knights, as they are doing more than introducing a whole slew of abilities with a new class. That said, I await more information on destructible buildings, “vehicle” mechanics and the game in general. It looks like things are going in the right direction, other than my anxiety over balance-breaking possibilities.

Also, I’m guessing there will be even more information coming out in the next few weeks.