Regarding the Major Game Systems in Cataclysm

With so much information regarding classes and systems being revealed by Blizzard, it seems Cataclysm is pretty far along in terms of conceptual development. So I just wanted to take some time to briefly address what has been announced so far. I also want to take the time to express my hopes and desires for things that haven’t been announced.

Regarding Class Changes

It’s difficult to criticize or evaluate the changes coming to every class without really seeing how they compare and play against each other. So I’m not going to comment until we actually see the changes. I realize I already commented on druids, but I have since changed my mind, because the healing mechanics are changing too much. That said, I’d still like a new utility spell, even if its impact is incredibly minor.

Regarding PvE Information

The first of the refinements being made is that we’re combining all raid sizes and difficulties into a single lockout. Unlike today, 10- and 25-player modes of a single raid will share the same lockout.

We’re designing and balancing raids so that the difficulty between 10- and 25-player versions of each difficulty will be as close as possible to each other as we can achieve. That closeness in difficulty also means that we’ll have bosses dropping the same items in 10- and 25-player raids of each difficulty.

We of course recognize the logistical realities of organizing larger groups of people, so while the loot quality will not change, 25-player versions will drop a higher quantity of loot per player (items, but also badges, and even gold), making it a more efficient route if you’re able to gather the people. (Source)

The separation between twenty-five and ten-man raiding will still exist, though the disparity will be less severe and focused primarily around quantity of loot (which is important for any progression guild). This doesn’t give due credit to the fact that ten-man could be just as difficult, lest people have forgotten Sartharion already. Mobilizing a higher number of people is a challenge, but only if you’re comparing the effort of an individual trying to handle each version. Most twenty-five man guilds have multiple officers, however, so the difference is hardly striking.

If I were to consider TBC, Lunacy had between two and three people leading at any given time. From Karazan through the end of BT, we primarily had two people, though we did have a third person for a short while acting as a tie-breaker for loot decisions. During Sunwell, we definitively had three people leading the charge. I handled recruitment, interviews and keeping people focused. Silver handled strategies and keeping people calm. Siafu managed the guild bank, took interest in loot, and kept track of loot. All three tasks aren’t easy for a twenty-five man guild, but I do stress the work is spread out in this regard.

Now that Lunacy is merely a ten-man guild, it’s really just me leading things. I’ll admit it’s a lot less stressful than leading Lunacy’s old raid, but that’s not because of the smaller number we have to work with. The only reason it is less stressful is because our expectations are a lot lower and we don’t strategize to the same extent as we did when we were hardcore. If we were set on clearing heroic ICC10 with a fury, the work would be roughly the same. I’d be evaluating people more harshly and maintaining higher standards. I’d be promoting recruitment more actively. And I’d be pressuring people to improve more than I do. I’d also be keeping closer track of loot to ensure the distribution is more even.

There is a similar comparison with large and small businesses. At a small business, one person could handle business decisions, bookkeeping and ordering, while another person handles hiring, marketing and event planning. A larger company, meanwhile, would have a CFO overseeing all things monetary, a CEO to make major business decisions, a board to provide input, and then a bunch of individuals to handle tasks like hiring, marketing, and planning events. But in terms of the effort put out by an individual, it’s rather similar. That being said, I understand it also depends on the demands of an industry. So it’s considerably more accurate to compare a family-owned grocery store with the likes of Ralph’s, Safeway, or whatever major supermarket chain a given area has.

We do like how gating bosses over time allows the community to focus on individual encounters instead of just racing to the end boss, so we’re likely to keep that design moving forward.

I and the majority of my friends vehemently disagree. If the idea is to keep people from racing to the end boss, then simply put a gate before the end boss. Otherwise, the instance feels less epic when you’re forced to do it in small fragments. It’s like watching the first sequence of a movie repeatedly before finally moving on to a subsequent sequence, only to watch both of those sequences repetitiously until moving onto the third, etc. In the end, you’re left with an unsatisfying experience, which is why so many people will only watch a movie when they can view it in one sitting. Dungeons are experienced similarly, unless they are episodic in nature. And by episodic, I mean to say each gated wing would have a self-contained plot. That being said, I’m fine with gating the final boss for competitive reasons. But gating an instance to death bothers me for the reasons stated. And I’ve already made my argument a number of times.

Also, does it really matter if it’s gated if the ultimate goal for the hardcore guilds is clearing it on heroic?

Hero Points — Low-tier, easier-to-get PVE points. Maximum cap to how many you can own, but no cap to how quickly you can earn them. Earned from most dungeons. (most like the current Emblem of Triumph)

Valor Points — High-tier, harder-to-get PvE points. Maximum cap to how many you can own, as well as a cap to how many you can earn per week. Earned from Dungeon Finder daily Heroic and from raids. (most like the current Emblem of Frost)

This is basically the same as the current system, which I like. I would very much rather see the daily heroic ditched, however, if simply because there are some days I don’t have time to do a heroic. I’d much rather you be able to obtain valor points from seven heroics in a week, instead of a single heroic each and every day.

Regarding PvP Information

Honor Points — Low-tier, easier-to-get PVP points. There will be a maximum cap to how many you can own, but no cap to how quickly you can earn them. Earned from most PvP activities.

Conquest Points — High-tier, harder-to-get PvP points. There will be a maximum cap to how many you can own, and a cap to how many you can earn per week. Earned from winning Rated Battlegrounds or Arenas. (currently called Arena Points)

I like having a two-tier system that motivates people to continue competing. I also like how rated battlegrounds will be a secondary option to arenas, considering I much prefer battlegrounds.

That being said, I do have my hopes and reservations about how rated battlegrounds should be supported. Simply put, I hope to be able to run fully-organized groups once again. The excitement involved in organized play is simply too good to pass up, and it will be the thing that keeps me playing in Cataclysm, should other areas of the game falter.

Release of the Lich King, Expansion Transitioning, and Changes

(Edit on 9/24: I have a quick disclaimer about this post to add. You can read it here. Essentially, this post is not meant to be a “review” of Wrath of the Lich King. There’s still a month and a half to go.)

Wrath\'s release date up on Wowhead.

Over a week ago, anyone surfing Wowhead would have noticed this curiosity on their splash page. I was almost in disbelief, myself. Then I asked why Wowhead would ruin its reputation and relationship with Blizzard by fabricating a release date. Obviously, they wouldn’t. So I realized Wrath of the Lich King would be hitting shelves on November 13th. And with the launch of this ship, the landscape of WoW will change both literally and figuratively.

The Transition from 1.x to The Burning Crusade Serves to Remind

Many WoW players have already experienced the release of one expansion and how it can reshape the general atmosphere of WoW dramatically. The Burning Crusade was game changing in many regards. One need only consider what concepts TBC introduced to understand how dramatic the changes were. These include:

Tack on new spells and abilities, new talents, improvements to some existing spells and abilities, and people’s roles suddenly shifted. Shamans were the premiere raid healers come TBC, whereas in 1.x they were probably the weakest of the healing classes. Druids suddenly switched from spamming healing touch on the tank to spamming HoTs on the tanks and all around. Shadow priests were suddenly useful as mana batteries. And so on.

So too will Wrath of the Lich King provide these shifts. But to what degree? And for better or worse?

What Will Wrath of the Lich King Change?

Typically when a company commits to a release date they feel confident in the underlying concepts and ideas behind the product. It also indicates a point of no return, where most of the concepts and content in the beta will reach or at least affect the live version of the game in some manner. That doesn’t mean they won’t be tweaked or changed post-release, however.

With that in mind, let’s consider what we know is coming:

  • Death knights,
  • 10-man versions of all 25-man dungeons,
  • Inscription and glyphs,
  • A new vehicle system,
  • Destructible buildings,
  • Combined +heal and +dmg into “spell power,”
  • Combined physical and spell versions of crit, haste and hit,
  • Homogenized and redundant buffs and abilities,
  • New server architecture allowing Blizzard to individualize experiences (called “phasing”),
  • And a slew of minor changes.

Wrath of the Lich King will also introduce new abilities and talents, as well as reinvented ones. The idea of redundant buffs falls into this category, but they deserve special mention because of the concept’s unique effects on game balance.

The Minor and “Flavorful” Changes

There are some changes people will note I have not explicitly listed. This is because these new systems or features have only a superficial impact on the game.

Barbershops will allow people to change their characters’ hair, facial hair, earrings, etc. They are nice additions to the game, but they will not directly impact PvE or PvP game play.

Achievements

The achievement system will record and allow people to view their random accomplishments in the game. It is an interesting addition, but ultimately superficial. I feel Blizzard could have done more with the system, but I suppose there is a limit to just how much people should be required to invest in their characters. So the rewards do not extend beyond tabards, titles and viewable achievement records.

Passenger mounts are also a flavorful change, though they have the potential to become much more. But that potential is perhaps realized with the vehicle system.

Death Knights, and New and Changing Abilities

The Burning Crusade introduced momentous shifts in raid and PvP balance with new and changed talents and abilities. Wrath of the Lich King will also feature new and reinvented class design elements, while further complicating the matter by introducing an entirely new class: the death knight. Already, I can imagine what anti-magic zone, hysteria, and improved icy talons may bring to raid design and balance. Meanwhile, there are a myriad of abilities and talents that will have a major impact on PvP and where other classes stand in general. Death grip, for example, brings in a new concept: the ability to literally pull someone off your teammates in PvP. It is especially powerful when you can use chains of ice immediately following a death grip.

Anti-Magic Zone

Racial abilities are also changing. For example, shadowmeld will be usable in combat. However, it will also be receiving a two-minute cooldown, and from a PvE-standpoint it will result only in a temporary drop in threat. Hardiness, one of the orc racials, will only reduce the duration of stuns. Previously, it increased the chance to resist them entirely.

Considering the other new and changing abilities and talents, people’s roles and placement on the scales of balance will change for both PvE and PvP.

10- and 25-Mans for Every Raid Dungeon

One exciting new feature in Wrath of the Lich King is that all raid content will be available as either a 10- or 25-person dungeon with completely independent progression paths. Both the 10- and 25-person versions will be the same dungeon; the look, layout, and design of the dungeon will remain the same. However, each will be adjusted, tuned, and balanced for its respective player size.

This is a major concept coming in Wrath. If the same feature was included in TBC, there would be 10-man versions of Gruul’s and Magtheridon’s Lairs, Serpentshrine Cavern, Tempest Keep, Mount Hyjal, Black Temple and the Sunwell, and they would have their own progression path independent of the 25-man versions.

However, the 10-mans will be lower in difficulty and offer gear lesser in quality than the 25-man counterparts. So I doubt this will affect the most die-hard of raiders in any way other than providing them with new options for supplemental gear.

The Chamber of Aspects

The prospect of experiencing content with the same storylines is probably exciting for many who find 25-man raiding too stressful or time-consuming compared to 10-man raiding. For this reason, I imagine there will be more 10-man raiding guilds than there are now, especially because Karazhan and Zul’Aman provide a rather shallow experience with a broken progress line. Certainly, I think some 25-man guilds will fall apart over this change. Already there are rumors of a major guild on my server failing because a couple of their leaders are leaving and some people are considering 10-mans to be preferable.

I think the dissolution of some 25-man guilds is a small price to pay for an increase in accessibility to the game in general. Furthermore, it means I will see less players of poorer quality applying to my guild simply to see Illidan or Kil’jaeden and satiate their lore-driven desires. It’s not a bad thing people are into lore and want to see some of the most storied characters in the game, but I always have a difficult time explaining to a friend why I can’t take them to Kil’jaeden. 10-mans will offer them this opportunity without requiring them to endure the heightened raid difficulty of 25-mans.

Inscriptions and Glyphs

GlyphsWrath offers a new craft called inscription. The impact inscription will have on the game far exceeds that of what jewelcrafting had in TBC. This is because the glyphs produced by inscription change many core abilities dramatically. For example, glyph of regrowth increases the spell’s front-end heal by 50% on anyone who already has the heal-over-time portion of the spell. If I had this glyph right now, my regrowths would be landing for over 5K on anyone already with my regrowth HoT. This is particularly interesting when I consider how tanks in many situations are never without it.

Not only will Blizzard have to balance classes’ talents and abilities, but also their glyphs. Consider how a balance druid with both the starfire and moonfire glyphs will see quite a large increase to their overall DPS potential. Without recasting moonfire every 12 to 15 seconds, a druid can work in several extra moonfires during a six-minute fight while doing more damage with moonfire overall. For example, our balance druid on the last Brutallus he DPS’d for did an average of 3077 damage with his starfire and an average of 473 damage for every tick of his moonfire’s DoT. The fight took 5 minutes and 25 seconds to defeat. If he were to have the starfire and moonfire glyphs, I estimate he could cast at least seven more starfires and do 75% more damage on his 95 ticks of moonfire. That’s approximately 55240 more damage, or 170 more DPS, bringing him up to 2090 DPS from 1920.

The New Vehicle System

The vehicle system is not really a new idea. There have been mobs used in the pet system a character “possesses” while the actual character is banished or stationary. Some examples of this include:

The difference between this existing system and the new vehicle system is simply that a vehicle carries the character with it. That said, Blizzard has taken the vehicle system seriously and made some major refinements to the concepts of controlling something other than a traditional class. They have implemented new UI elements to compliment the system. And they have implemented targeting systems specifically designed to work with the vehicle’s different weapons and abilities. For example, area-targeting with cannons, catapults, etc. show the parabolic route your projectile will travel, instead of the typical circular area involved in targetting with spells like hurricane, blizzard and rain of fire.

Furthermore, some vehicles have different controlling mechanics. Some can’t strafe. And some can’t move backwards. This further separates vehicular movement from traditional character control.

The reason this system will have a major impact on the game is because Blizzard plans to use it in a lot of new content. Already, it plays a major role in the world PvP zone Lake Wintergrasp, and the new battleground Strand of the Ancients. Blizzard has also stated it intends to use the system in raid and instanced PvE content, as well.

Destructible Buildings, Siege Engines, Wintergrasp, Strand of the Ancients, and PvP in General

I’ve waited four years for siege engines and destructible buildings to make their way into WoW. Prior to WoW, I played Dark Age of Camelot, where siege engines and destructible doors have been a part of the game since its release in 2001, and where destructible buildings have been a part of it since New Frontiers was released in 2004. There was nothing more epic than battling for a good hour or two trying to break down a door and storm a keep or pummel it into the ground with trebuchets and catapults.

Personally, I thought Blizzard did its customers a disservice by not taking our desire to have siege engines and destructible buildings in Alterac Valley seriously. It was not a new concept amongst MMO’s, afterall. And I think by failing to seize the opportunity early, Blizzard has delayed the refinement of such a system. I doubt the system will reach full maturity before 2009, because of this. Blizzard could have had the system introduced in 2005 and refined by 2006. This would have come over two years before the release of Warhammer and established the feature as one of WoW’s strong points well before the impending competition. Furthermore, I also think an earlier development of the system would have given Blizzard a better idea of just how popular siege warfare really is amongst the MMO crowd.

That said, siege warfare will provide people with new opportunities beyond the usual fare of standing next to or clicking on flags and nodes. Halaa took one step towards unique concepts, but failed to deliver given that it did not reset nor provide ample end-game rewards beyond a unique resilience gem.

A skirmish in Wintergrasp.

However, the changes coming to PvP in general, beyond the arena and honor systems, is extremely limited. Arenas still dominate PvP in terms of offering rewards, because the gear you obtain requires you to increase your arena rating. Essentially, this means everyone is forced to play one style of PvP to get the best rewards. To crowds like the one I am a part of, this is extremely disappointing. I hate arenas. They foster an atmosphere of composition and counter-composition to succeed in long-term settings like seasonal ladders (tournaments are a different matter, since they are short-term). And the strategies involved are limited based on team compositions and what is typically successful against each. For this reason, I prefer Warsong Gulch, Lake Wintergrasp and Strand of the Ancients by far. And I would prefer rated battlegrounds over arenas any day. And I know over half of my guild is in the same boat. OVER HALF! And, of course, there are also people who prefer arenas over battlegrounds who would rather not have to step foot into any of them to obtain their belts, bracers, necks, etc. So it goes both ways.

So while Wrath offers us a new option for arena point farming in Wintergrasp, a new battleground in which to farm honor points, and siege warfare to increase our enjoyment of such tasks, the arena and honor systems remain fundamentally the same. Siege warfare will excite a lot of people, but the lack of changes to the PvP rewards system will disappoint a lot of people unless something changes before November 13th.

The Homogenization and Redundancy of Some Buffs and Abilities

The homogenization and redundancy of buffs really should be an issue to discuss in its own entry. I have a lot of negative things to say about this change. But I will try to keep it short and sweet in this entry to give you an idea of how it will reshape the landscape of raiding for Wrath.

As it currently stands, most classes and specs provide unique buffs no others have. Blizzard plans to change this. Unfortunately, it will also have dire consequences on certain classes and specs based on what they provide in comparison to others. Quite simply, there will be certain combinations of class specs that provide all of the necessary raid buffs while taking the least amount of space in the raid or producing the most cumulative DPS

Shadow priests have been hit rather hard with this concept. Misery has been changed to provide 3% hit, but it will fail to stack with improved faerie fire. Shadow weaving has been removed as a debuff and affects only the shadow priest’s personal DPS. And vampiric touch is changing to put a buff on the raid which produces a flat amount of mana regeneration, regardless of the damage done. This buff will be shared by survival hunters and retribution paladins. This means the only raid buffing shadow priests provide is 3% hit and mana regen, both already provided by other class specs. So unless shadow priests do more personal DPS or provide more utility in many fights than do moonkins, survival hunters and retribution paladins, I doubt you will see them in raids that have an extreme min-maxing mindset. Regardless of how skilled the shadow priest is, because most guilds look only for specific classes and then trial players to find talented players in those roles.

Of interesting note, our current shadow priest is a draenei, meaning he also loses symbol of hope to gain hymn of hope. Previously, he would just expend a global cooldown to cast it and then provide a good 900+ mana to his group. But after 3.0 he will have to drop shadow form, stop DPSing, and channel holy hymn for 8 seconds to return a smaller amount of mana to his group than did symbol of hope.

To generalize my point: for classes and/or specs that do not retain some or enough of their unique buffs, if their general performance does not compare to other classes, or if they don’t bring the tools you need to succeed given specific combinations of classes and specs, they will be tossed aside in favor of what’s best for min-maxing.

I say this as a raid leader who plans to do this. While I will not just toss aside people I know to be talented players, you can bet I will discuss with them the possibility of rerolling or respeccing when the expansion comes out if we perceive their current spec to be weak in terms of raid synergy or potential performance. And you can guarantee that when I recruit new people I will have my preferences for which class specs to recruit. I have further opinions on this, but I will abstain from relating them in this entry. I merely seek to provide some perspective on the huge impact the homogenization of buffs will have on the game.

Combining +Heal and +Dmg into Spell Power

When 3.0 is released, people will discover that +healing and +dmg is no more. Instead, there will be one universal stat called spell power. I suppose this is meant to homogenize the gear of damage casters and healers. And, personally, I think it’s a great change as sometimes there is some crossover to be had. With that said, however, I worry it has affected the design concepts of the itemization team. Already, I’m seeing the first tier of the druid healing set include crit.

Despite the inclusion of living seed, crit is a stat restoration druids won’t need. We rarely use healing touch, and we will rarely use it even in Wrath simply because it takes to long to cast and causes us to become “out of step” with typical incoming damage. What I mean by this is that if a mob hit for 8K every two seconds and has the capability of also doing a 10K spell between swings on occasion, our 3-second heal might not land before our assigned target is dead. So only swiftmend, regrowth and nourish are spells we might use that benefit from crit.  But swiftmend is on a 15-second cooldown, and nourish is highly inefficient, so they will be infrequent. This means regrowth becomes the standard for our crittable heals. But specced restoration, regrowth already has a high crit-rate. So I’m certain druids will want to stack spell power, spirit and haste instead.

That said, there are some items designed perfectly. And these work well as both healing and damage gear in some cases. So the homogenization is welcome. But I think this change will also cause early item sets to be poorly designed.

Caster and Physical Crit, Haste and Hit Combined, While AP Affects Spells for Some Hybrids

Wrath will be combining crit, haste and hit into the same stats for both casters and physical DPS. This will have no affect on pure physical and pure damage casters beyond the refinement of the general mechanics for how spells resist and abilities miss. However, it will have a rather large affect on hybrids that do both physical and spell DPS. Enhancement shamans, retribution paladins and death knights are the major players in this change. Furthermore, attack power will also begin to affect the damage some classes do with spells. This is a concept that already existed for retribution paladins, but the concept is being expanded beyond them such that different levels of attack power will supersede spell damage and vice versa.

New Server Architecture: Phasing

Blizzard has been working on new server architecture that allows individual characters to view the world differently from others based on what they have and have not done in the game. For example, if you have done a quest that charges you with capturing an enemy town, you would see this town in your own faction’s hands after completing the quest. Other characters would still view it as under the control of the enemy. And to prevent any breaking of immersion, characters in this area who have not completed the quest will be invisible, or “phased out” to those earlier or further in progression of the questline. This technology did not fully exist in TBC and the original version of WoW.

An example of phasing.

This new architecture has a high potential for changing the way the game is played, especially in outdoor zones. Already, Icecrown borrows elements from the system and allows you to do quests which progress the advancement of the armies fighting against the Scourge. One quest has you acting on behalf of the Knights of the Ebon Blade to capture a Scourge stronghold within the zone, turning it into a quest hub complete with a flight point after you have completed the task. It is, however, a little more limited in Icecrown than I’d like, but that might be because it is unfinished. But it is there and somewhat interesting.

The architecture is best used in the death knight tutorial zone. And one can read my prior report of the experience to get an idea of just how impactful it can be for Wrath and in future expansions.

Is Wrath a “New Game”?

Blizzard has stated in the past they wish to approach the development of each expansion as a new game building upon the underlying concepts of the old. I think Wrath certainly achieves this to some degree with the introduction of new zones, new instances, a new battleground and a new outdoor PvP zone. But in terms of offering a new game with new or changed fundamental systems, Wrath primarily offers:

  1. Siege warfare,
  2. Death knights and the rune system,
  3. 10-man parallels to 25-mans, and
  4. New server architecture that allows changes to the game’s setting for individuals.

However, I think three of these changes need refinement. Furthermore, I believe Blizzard isn’t taking the same risks it took in TBC that provided the game with sweeping changes to its fundamentals.

  • Yes, they are adding a new class, but it is something they already technically did in giving the Alliance shamans and the Horde paladins.
  • Yes, they are adding siege warfare, but they are not supporting the new style of PvP to the same extent that they have supported arenas all throughout TBC.
  • Yes, they are adding new server architecture that allows individualized experiences, but general improvements to the playability of the game is something I expect.

Offering 10-man parallels to every 25-man is a very solid paradigm shift, however. When doing the 5-man version of Kael’thas in Magister’s Terrace, I realized how cool it probably would be for those who were unable to see or kill him in Tempest Keep. So to make such characters and lore accessible to more casual players is a great change.

But there are issues Wrath does not address. These include:

  • The imbalance between the Horde and Alliance on some servers.
    • Proudmoore has an estimated 3:1 ratio of active Alliance to Horde, and it is only increasing now that people can transfer from PvE to the PvP ruleset. The buff for an outnumbered faction in Wintergrasp will help, but I doubt it will be the turning point if a faction is overwhelmed three to one. It dissuades them from even trying. Something fundamental needs to change for such content to be entirely successful in the future. Be it a third faction to foster temporary alliances between overwhelmed factions or something more than just a buff.
  • The desire for a large amount of the playerbase to have better supporting systems for a variety of PvP.
    • The honor system provides top-end rewards, yes. But it’s the plain and simple fact that you have to do both arena and battlegrounds to get all of the best PvP rewards that is concerning. Some people loathe arenas. And some hate battlegrounds. But both have their difficulties and limitations separate from each other. There’s no reason different PvP systems can’t offer the same level of rewards, so people can choose to participate in the style of PvP they prefer.
  • The spell-casting and melee systems are generally the same as they were in 1.0, with some minor tweaks made to rage normalization and spell pushback.
    • Death knights offer an entirely new system underlying their spells and abilities. I think it is perhaps time to consider new systems for existing classes. The mana, energy and rage systems have proven to be limiting for some classes in raid and PvP balance, afterall.

I don’t have answers to these problems, currently. They are incredibly complex and it is not the intention of this entry to provide suggestions for them. But I felt it is important to note what Wrath of the Lich King will not change, in addition to what it will.

Wrath does offer some exciting new content and systems, despite the outstanding issues. And I do not want to ignore any positives:

  • The inscription system is intriguing.
  • Death knights are fun, even though they still need balance and polish.
  • Some class specs have great new talents and abilities, even though others still need work and improvements.
  • Having 10-man versions of 25-man dungeons is a great concept in general and will help even raiders fill their time.
  • Lake Wintergrasp and Strand of the Ancients are enjoyable on a basic level, even though I think we could use better faction balancing and rated battlegrounds.
  • The daily system has been expanded and there are plenty to choose from.
  • The lore in general surrounding death knights, the Argent Crusade, Icecrown and Storm Peaks is top notch.
  • A lot of the new zones are great fun, especially Icecrown and Storm Peaks.

This expansion’s story will also offer revelations to surprise people. And perhaps some that are to be expected. Tirion will wield a weapon of great power and continue to increase in his role as a leader of the mortal races against the Scourge. More Scourge will break free from the Lich King’s control, but we will also discover why. Someone thought to be dead will actually be alive, and he will turn up in an odd location. And there will be some major struggles amongst the oldest races of Azeroth.

Wrath of the Lich King takes the style of lore seen on Quel’Danas and expand upon its principles. And with it Blizzard creates a more involving experience. Admittedly, it is one that still sometimes fails the ideal of self-containment, but it better presented than the Sunwell.

It’s Time to Prepare

With all these changes in mind, people can now begin preparing for the impending release of 3.0 and Wrath of the Lich King. How you prepare will be dependent on the research you do and what you plan to do with your time once 3.0 and Wrath go live. I do have some advice, however:

  • Level your alts, if you want options for leveling to 80.
  • Reserve your death knight’s name with a level 1 character.
  • Stockpile low level herbs for leveling inscription or profiting off the mad rush to 375 when 3.0 comes out.
  • Sell all of your mats and items that will become defunct.
    • Spend all your heroic badges on epic gems and sell them before they are worthless.
    • Sell all your scryer signets and your aldor marks.
    • Sell all your excess primals and enchanting materials.
  • Get your epic flying mounts, because you don’t want to be doing Storm Peaks or Icecrown with 60% flight.
  • Don’t stockpile honor or arena points, because they are going to reset when Wrath is released.
  • Start making plans for rerolling or respeccing if your class or spec has major weaknesses.
  • Start making plans for your guild if you are an officer or a leader. The last thing you want is to be caught with your pants around your ankles.

And, lastly, prepare to enjoy yourself, but don’t forget you might meet some frustration along the way.

PvE to PvP Server Transfers an Overdue Policy Change

Providing a smooth and enjoyable experience for all players is always a priority for us, and we are continually re-evaluating our policies and programs to do so. As the state of the game has matured substantially since the inception of Paid Character Transfers, we will now be allowing PvE-to-PvP transfers on a full-time basis to provide players with more mobility and freedom to easily play with their friends.

The ability to transfer unrestricted from a PvE to PvP ruleset is a welcome change to Blizzard’s character transfer policy. It took a few years of near continuous argument against the elitists in the PvP community to force a shift in Blizzard’s stance. It was the tiresome rebuttals against the few problematic circumstances that had long become obsolete as the game has progressed in its design that encouraged a change I feel is best for the community as a whole.

Consider the situation in its entirety.

  1. Anyone who had originally rolled on a PvE server and misjudged the ruleset’s potential had to re-roll if they wanted to switch to a PvP server.
  2. Anyone on a PvP ruleset had to decide whether or not it was worth the one-way ticket to a PvE ruleset if they wanted to trial for a raiding guild on a PvE server.
  3. Any guild that wanted to switch from a PvE to PvP ruleset had to convince many of their members to ditch their old characters and re-roll entirely.
  4. Anyone on a PvE server couldn’t transfer their existing characters to play with friends on PvP realms. And anyone on a PvP server had to decide whether or not locking themselves to PvE was a good sacrifice to make with the risk that their friends could quit WoW or find no time to play with them.

On #1: People’s Original Expectations for Optional PvP on the PvE Ruleset Were Not Fully Met

Proudmoore is one of the original servers of WoW. Many people who rolled there did so in a time when the atmosphere of the game and its design were much different. When the game was released, it was fresh and people focused on envisioning its potential moreso than considering its reality, choosing rulesets based on Blizzard’s plans, rather than WoW’s actuality.

When battlegrounds were finally released, people like me discovered they weren’t what they had imagined or expected. Considering my experiences with Dark Age of Camelot, I had high expectations for PvP systems. I hoped Alterac Valley would include things like siege warfare, doors to break down, players having range bonuses on top of buildings and towers, etc. But I was disappointed with the final outcome, even though I found its first couple incarnations enjoyable.

Also, once battlegrounds had become the best place to farm honor, I realized world PvP on a PvE server would become non-existent. So I was disappointed in the realization of Blizzard’s plans, and I began to second-guess my original choice of rolling on a PvE server. This drove me to re-roll a druid on Azgalor so I could PvP and raid with my friends on Horde. When that didn’t work out how I planned, however, I came back to Proudmoore, finding a niche in raiding.

I serve as an example of someone who originally rolled on a PvE server hoping for an optional PvP experience that was better than what I actually received. And when it came time to consider a change of setting, I had to re-roll and set aside my previous investment. In talking with friends and other players, I know I am not the only person who suffered such a dilemma. And had not I found joy in raiding on Proudmoore, my overall experience would have only resulted in frustration.

By opening these transfers, anyone acting on a change of mind can do so knowing they won’t have to endure the pain of trying to re-establish an entirely new character for the sake of swapping out the scenery.

On #2: Raiders on PvP Servers Were Dissuaded from Transferring to Raiding Guilds on PvE Servers

I saw several guilds fall apart during the progression push on Sunwell. Each time, I tried to capitalize on the opportunity of recruitment by offering these people a trial with my guild. However, my offer was often declined with the stated reason being they didn’t want to leave the PvP ruleset, as they would be unable to return should they ever decide to.

The real issue is that raiding guilds on PvP servers are generally just as good at raiding as those on PvE servers, if not better. The top five guilds in the world are all on PvP realms. So there’s no incentive to transfer to a PvE server just to join a raiding guild, because it’s nothing PvP servers don’t already offer.

By allowing paid transfers to PvP servers, people no longer have to fear getting locked to the PvE ruleset. Should they fail their trial, the guild disband, or they decide the guild isn’t a good fit for them, they can transfer back to a PvP realm to try their hand at a guild there or to simply enjoy a different ruleset.

On #3: Switching Rulesets for Entire Guilds Was Complicated and Risky

There have been very few guilds which have re-rolled entirely from PvE to PvP. Juggernaut perhaps serves as the best example of this accomplishment. However, most guilds don’t survive this transition, and I suspect Juggernaut would not have if it had not been a top 20 U.S. guild prior to its decision to re-roll. This is because a portion of the players in guilds on PvE servers usually have minimal interest in PvP, and some people actually dislike the risk of getting ganked while trying to farm for raids.

So the only positive some people saw in re-rolling to a PvP realm with their guild was to retain membership. This was then weighed against the negatives to be had in the requirement of ditching past character investment, past friendships on the old server, on top of sacrificing the conditions for farming these people might actually prefer. By allowing paid transfers, ditching prior investment no longer plays a factor, meaning there are fewer negatives to dissuade people from making the change.

On #4: Allowing PvE to PvP Transfers Lifts the Limitation on Playing with Friends

I have a friend who plays on a PvP server. Before PvE to PvP transfers were allowed, he always hesitated to transfer to mine or his other friends’ servers. This is because of a combination of two conditions:

  1. He would prefer to play on a PvP ruleset if he couldn’t play with his friends.
  2. There was a risk of his friends quitting WoW and moving on to different games, or not having the time to game with him.

While I asserted I would not be quitting the game anytime soon, I did warn him my obligations as a guildleader could prevent me from PvPing or gaming with him frequently. And as his other friends were fickle about the games they played, he decided not to transfer to any of their servers. So he stuck with his old PvP realm, so as not to risk the inability to return should I rarely have the time to play with him, or his friends quit the game (which is exactly what most of them did, by the way).

Then consider the problem where people playing on PvE servers couldn’t transfer to play with their friends on PvP servers at all. Playing with your friends was the only incentive to counter the negatives of sacrificing an established character.

Are There Problems with This New Feature? And Do They Outweight the Benefits?

The PvP elite is correct in asserting the change allowing PvE to PvP transfers will create a few problems.

Certainly, people playing for the first time on PvP realms won’t be entirely familiar with the social dynamics that occur in the upper echelon of each server. And the difference here is that they can potentially be fully geared before they understand the social complexities.

Also, people will be able to farm heaps of gold and mats without fear of being ganked before they transfer and flood their targetted PvP realm with a pile of wealth, causing shifts in the server’s economy.

However, the question is whether or not these problems outweigh the benefits of allowing PvE to PvP transfers. Personally, I think the economic impact is the biggest concern and I believe the assumed impact of fresh faces unfamiliar with common PvP trends is overblown or grossly erroneous. Regardless, these potential problems don’t outweight the following benefits:

  1. It will increase the recruitment pool for all guilds, on both PvE and PvP realms.
  2. It will allow people to transfer and play with their friends without limitations beyond the normal transfer cooldown.
  3. It will allow people and guilds to switch from PvE to PvP realms without sacrificing prior investment.

The Impact on the Economy Won’t Be As Large as People Think

Talking to the friends I have on PvP realms, they say they make most of their money by running Karazhan, ZA and heroics. In doing so, they purchase epic gems and make their money this way. And typically they find enough lulls in PvP spats on Sunstrider Isle to get their dailies done. So while there is a difference in the amount of money they can earn over time, it is not nearly as large as most people assume.

Most People Have Misguided Concepts of Who “PvPers” Are on PvE Realms

There are some people who generalize the PvP playerbase of PvE servers based on their experiences with world PvP. Rohan of Blessing of Kings cites incidents involving players who feel the need to kill people accidentally flagged or AFK outside of instances.

Having played on a PvE realm primarily for nearly four years, I can condidently say most of the people who randomly gank flagged people do so purely for the sake of seizing an opportunity that comes maybe once every few weeks. And those who boast? They are no different than any jackass who likes to corpse camp lowbies in Stanglethorn (or Hillsbrad, back when that was the hotspot for world PvP).

Pretty much half of the best PvPers on Proudmoore are in my guild. Yes, they sometimes kill people flagged outside of instances. Again, however, it’s because they see it as a rare opportunity to be seized and enjoyed. Particularly when the Horde fights back. And I rarely see anyone boast about any accomplishments related to such acticities, regardless of guild or faction. Furthermore, all of the decent PvPers in my guild already have alts on PvP realms. So many of the best PvPers on PvE realms aren’t actually new to the ruleset. So I view the concern as a result of gross generalization.

In the end, this is a great change all-around and one I think people will realize when they see the results. And many people’s fears will go unsubstantiated.

Kil’Jaeden Is Dead; PvE Competition

I’m of course late on this news, but this is more of an outlet for opinion than news. For those of you who haven’t heard, SK Gaming brought down Kil’Jaeden on Monday. So far, nine guilds have managed the feat (not including those who have not been updated on WoWProgress). SK has already posted a video of their kill. Nihilum came in third, losing their crown as the top raiding guild. And some members of Nihilum are a little bitter about it. I suppose that’s to be expected when you’re trying to retain sponsorships.

Reading Grandeath’s opinion, I agree with some of it. But there are also some points of contention.

“Failing Sucks”

[Nihilum] as a guild aim for world firsts all the time. And this time we failed – and it sucks! Just like it sucked for Jesse to fail with his car project. And I for one would love to take a minigun and pump the Sunwell full of bullets until there’s nothing left but a burning corpse.

This is akin to my guild having lost the server first to Illidan after achieving server firsts on every single boss in SSC, TK, Hyjal and BT, except Lurker and Illidan. What was so disappointing was the fact that we were so far ahead on our Archimonde kill, too. Lurker was no big deal. You could do the bosses in SSC in any order, except for Vashj. So it’s no surprise someone beat us on at least one boss in there. However, Illidan was rather a big deal. But then we considered exactly how we killed Illidan. Basically, the story goes as follows:

We had a good amount of practice on Illidan and felt we could achieve a kill that very week. It was just a matter of when we would obtain it. The second-place guild was also close to a kill, so it had become a race. One of our warrior tanks had become burned out on tanking and WoW in general, so he was unavailable to tank for us. That left us with three possible tanks: a protection paladin, a protection warrior, and a feral druid. The fact that we decided not to recruit more tanks while we were still pushing attunements a couple months before left us in a problematic position when it came time to push Illidan.

What compounded the problem, however, was that our paladin had stated that he would be crittable in his FR gear. And we believed this would have been certain death for a flame tank (especially because paladins hadn’t received their stamina buff yet, at the time). So what did we do? We decided to have him tank Illidan. At this point, while a protection paladin had tanked an Illidan kill before, none had tanked a guild’s progression kill before.

So we had some frustration regarding tank death on transitions between demon and human form in phase 3/4/5 (the “human/demon” and then “human/demon/trap” phases). The most problematic transition was that at 30%, when everyone is put in a bubble and all HoTs on the tank drop. This caused Teckbot to die a few times, due to a lack of last stand, LoH being on CD, etc. So the result? We lost the server first. We were beaten by an hour. However, we did obtain a world first by achieving a progression kill with a paladin tanking.

That said, after the kill had been accomplished, we realized Teck forgot to factor resilience into his crit calculations. So he actually would have been uncrittable as a flame tank. And this would have allowed us to use a protection warrior as the optimal tank for Illidan. And I’m rather confident we could have obtained the server first on him had we done this. But we didn’t, so this error in judgment and caused us to become the server’s second best guild at the time.

The above was not the only mistake we made, however. We also allowed poor players to retain their position within our raid. And we made some errors in our approach to recruitment. We should have recruited more people before ceasing our attunement efforts, giving us more bodies to allow us to persist all the way through the end of the content. We should have immediately gone back to TK and SSC when one of our tanks expressed a declining interest in tanking, instead of waiting until after Illidan was dead.

However, when I look back on it in retrospect, this fact runs through my mind: We were the first known guild in the world to achieve our progression kill with a protection paladin tanking. And this was back when paladins didn’t have as much stamina as they do now. That’s a big fucking deal! So, yes, failing sucks. But you should be able to come out of an experience with at least some positive notes.

“Like Butter Scraped Over Too Much Bread”

I see what you did there. A quote straight out of The Lord of the Rings.

From the first day Sunwell was released until Kil’jaeden was dead it took exactly 2 months. And how long did it take exactly to kill the bosses? It took 11 days total for all 6 bosses to go down for the first guild. 1 day to kill first three, 2 days to kill Twins, 4 days to kill M’uru and 4 days to kill Kil’jaeden. 11 days. 11 days of progress spread out over 2 months. A very dissapointing and boring experience. And as I’ve said before to the guild (and I know others feel the same): if the gate system or anything similar will be a part of future high end instances then I will go casual. It’s simply not worth it.

I agree that the gate system was unnecessary. The only fathomable reason I can devise for the gates’ existence was because Blizzard wanted to reduce the impact RNG mechanics of loot can have on a raid’s performance. Imagine a guild obtaining nothing but DPS gear for every single kill in their first weeks of Sunwell raiding. No doubt, if the guild was skilled and driven enough, they would have had the best shot at killing M’uru first. However, even with the gate system, the effects of RNG will still play their part.

The only way Blizzard could absolutely eliminate the effects of RNG is if bosses dropped the same loot every single time they died. This would likely mean a full-out token system in every regard. But reducing the looting system to nothing but tokens would likely cause the metagame factor of loot to be diminished. I know all of my healers get excited every time Memento of Tyrande drops. But, at the same time, it would likely cause the highlight of PvE to become the content itself, instead of loot. Blizzard seems to have compromised on this issue, and I’m not really sure which is better than the other.

Regardless, I think the gate system was unnecessary. RNG mechanics will factor in regardless, whether it’s loot, lag, or simply players having bad nights.

“The Hardest Instance So Far”

Even though they are hard and they have new mechanics or elements not seen before, how challenging were they really? While bosses get harder, guilds get better as well. Kil’jaeden went down in 4 days for the first guild, 6 days for Nihilum. Even though it’s a hard boss I can’t say I’m impressed. Also I’m dissapointed since I was hoping the fight would be more complicated, but even though it has multiple phases, it’s a pretty simple encounter. There’s only one phase in the fight that is really hard. Trust me, that phase is hard. :) But if you ace it, you basically win. Just as with other Sunwell fights like M’uru and Twins, everyone in the raid needs to ace his performance. One death most likely means a wipe. To sum it up, Sunwell is indeed a hard instance, but still a very dissapointing experience.

My opinion is the exact opposite. Not that I have fully experienced M’uru, and I certainly haven’t experienced Kil’Jaeden at all. But I’m speaking as someone who considers himself to be a good player in a great guild, however not as someone in a guild that spends nearly as much time as SK Gaming or Nihilum does on progression. I don’t raid sixteen hours a day until something is dead. Rather, I raid five hours for four days a week. That’s twenty hours a week total. We did add one Tuesday to our schedule in the first week of Sunwell’s release, but that’s been it so far. We might do that again when Kil’Jaeden is close to dying, but it’s too much to ask for certain key members of the guild to do it more often.

So, basically, my guild raids each week for about as much time as SK Gaming and Nihilum does in less than two days of progress. The equivalent of the four days spent for SK Gaming is about three and one-fifth weeks for my guild. And that doesn’t include the fact that we have to kill the first four bosses of Sunwell three more times to do that. Nor does it factor in the skill difference between SK Gaming and my own guild, which is more than likely very large. So that four days for SK Gaming actually turns into several weeks and several repeat kills of earlier bosses for us. So while it’s butter scraped over too much bread for a small handful of guilds, it’s certainly not for us. And that leaves me with an actual feeling of satisfaction, rather than disappointment. While Nihilum waited nine months for a short amount of content and the loss of their number one spot, my guild waited six for what has been, thus far, an extremely exciting and rewarding experience.

And regarding the difficulty, let’s consider insanely difficult console games. A small handful of players will play and play and play until that final boss is finally defeated. But most others will likely give up and simply obtain satisfaction merely in having tried. But the key point is that the decision is made to give up and move on. The root problem is that WoW isn’t a console game, and Blizzard can’t treat it like one. When a player gives up in WoW, it’s very bad news for Blizzard. It means a loss in revenue for server upkeep. It means Blizzard will have to eventually utilize manpower and resources to merge servers and downsize the operation of WoW, as players give up and leave. And you have to consider the fact that there are already guilds falling apart merely over the Eredar Twins. And while I don’t think they should be nerfed, I think it would be a mistake making encounters absolutely impossible for all but, say 0.01% of the population. At least Blizzard shouldn’t do so until they consciously decide the game is reaching the end of its life cycle. Not all guilds can ace encounters as well as those that have now killed Kil’Jaeden.

The only justification I can then see for making insanely difficult 25-man fights is the fact that the raid content will also have 10-man versions in Wrath of the Lich King. Instead of the 10-man instances being entirely different and separate from 25-man, there will be both versions for each raid dungeon. Defeating such content and experiencing the story is much more manageable, as it’s considerably easier to put in extra time on 10-man content for a 25-man guild. And Blizzard can choose to simply make the 10-man versions easier. But the 25-man content could still potentially frustrate some guilds, so you have to question whether or not its worth it. But I do think Arthas should be slightly more difficult than the avatar of Kil’Jaeden.

“Blizzard vs Raiders”

9 months of nothing after Black Temple and Sunwell is what you deliver… Very dissapointing from the endgame raider’s point of view. 6 bosses. Compare that to when MH/BT were released – 5 bosses in Mount Hyjal, 9 bosses in Black Temple, 14 bosses in total, more than twice the amount of Sunwell.

The quality of the encounters in Hyjal and BT was relatively diminished compared to Sunwell. For Sunwell, it seems to me that five of the six encounters are top notch (I don’t like the Twins, so I’m not going to include it; though K’J is just a guess). For Hyjal and BT, I think only Archimonde, Teron, Gurtogg, Shahraz, and Illidan come close to being high in quality. But in terms of difficulty? They don’t come close to Sunwell. I think Brutallus is more difficult than Illidan. Hell, I think the first killable version of Kael’thas was more difficult, even. So Sunwell, as a whole, is of much higher quality, in my opinion. Better I wait nine months for that than six months for another Hyjal and BT.

I think the fact of the matter remains that raiders are going to defeat content faster than Blizzard can simply produce it. And faster production lowers the quality. It would be similar to asking Nintendo to put out a new Zelda game every six months, because players beat each in the first week or two. It’s just simply not going to happen. And I’d rather have a quality experience every nine months than a terrible experience every few. I know some people will disagree, but it’s funny considering people complained how BT was relatively easy and called for something more difficult. And now that something more difficult and higher in quality has been produced, people are complaining about the time it took to produce it. It’s a huge cliché, but: “You can’t please everyone.”

Some people might say that this is QQ from elitist raiders, that Blizzard is right about caring more for the majority of players that don’t raid Sunwell and spending time on developing for them instead.

Damn straight.

But in my opinion the top raiders are needed in many ways. There’s a strong culture around it. There are a lot of players out there who might only do low end instances but are interested in top guilds, look up to them and hope that one day they can join a top guild.

The keyword is hope. There’s how many spots for how many people? Very few spots for tons and tons of people. No matter how easy or difficult the content is, people will always look up to the top guilds, regardless of who they are and who quits. When Death and Taxes ceased to be number one, people started looking up to Nihilum. And just as Nihilum is no longer number one, people now look up to SK Gaming. When and if SK Gaming falls apart, people will find a new top guild to look up to, regardless of who at the top quits or becomes frustrated.

If Blizzard destroys the competitive high end PVE culture in WoW, they will destroy more than they think and indirectly they will lose more players than the minority that does high end PvE, trust me.

I don’t think there’s anything they can do to destroy it other than to make every single instance as easy and boring as, say, Molten Core. As long as the content is at least somewhat decent in quality and there’s a guild willing to go the distance to be number one, it will never die. People might note their surprise and disappointment about how quickly the content was defeated, but the fact of the matter is that people will still follow whoever the top guild is through that content.

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.