ToGC, and Hardcore Raiding in Wrath of the Lich King

I apologize if this entry seems rushed. That’s because it is. With the release candidate up on the PTR for 3.3, I feel I need to provide criticism well before Tuesday, on the chance we could see 3.3 hit the live servers next week. I feel there are things Blizzard has not considered carefully enough.  Things that have driven some of us away from a part of the game we used to love. So there aren’t any links to help clarify terminology, and explanation is minimal.

To be fair, I think the raiding game is much improved. I like how raiding has become much more accessible with the separation of difficulty between normal and heroic versions of each boss. I like the way Ulduar was designed in terms of the presentation of its story within the dungeon. I love the artistic atmosphere of Ulduar. I originally thought I wouldn’t like it, because I’m not a fan of the old god storyline, but it took me by surprise. I also thought some of the hard modes were well-designed (even if some of them needed to be re-tuned).

But then ToGC was released, and it was like taking one step forward, then a few steps backward. I honestly like that the normal and heroic versions of the instance have separate lockouts. It allows you to experience the normal content, without ruining your ability to attempt the harder versions of each boss. It also promotes a more linear progression route, without hindering a person’s ability to experience the (potential) beauty of a dungeon and the resolution of its various story arcs. And on a very basic level, I actually like the design of the heroic versions of a few bosses. However, everything else I dislike.

I dislike the concept of limited attempts on heroic. Creating an artificial pacing mechanism that limits the time people want to put into various areas of the game is a mistake. And the mechanic also turns what would otherwise be well-designed encounters into frustrating experiences. I dislike how rushed the instance feels. Not artistically, as I don’t actually care that most of the dungeon is just an arena in which to face bosses, but how the encounters were buggy and poorly tuned at release. I also dislike how poorly the Anub’arak storyline concluded, which contributed to a feeling that ToC was rushed.

Some of these issues I think Blizzard could stand to further evaluate. With Icecrown Citadel (ICC hereafter), they’re removing the separation of heroic and normal versions, and I feel that’s a decision that has its ups and downs. They’re still planning to use attempt limitations. Sure, they are making it so your available attempts go up as time passes, but I think they should have explored other options for heightening competition. That said, we are at least taking some more steps forward. It appears ICC will have the most epic storyline presentation for a raid instance to date. And the artwork and atmosphere is comparable to the likes of SWP and Ulduar. What’s more, Blizzard has recognized the fact that achievements like Insanity and Immortality have potential RNG components that could be frustrating for various content, so they are shying away from putting emphasis on them.

But there is, in my opinion, a better way to implement pacing mechanisms that challenge top guilds while allowing mid-level hardcore guilds to do what they want to do on their own time. There is also, in my opinion, a good way to separate normal and heroic versions of the instance without ruining gear pacing for heroic progression. And these are things I feel we, as a community, need to discuss and debate.

Limited Attempts

Imagine you’ve just picked up a new Zelda game. You’ve got the week off, and you’re ready for marathon sessions to beat the game. Like the good gamer you are (yeah, right), you’ve refrained from buying the strategy guide. A few hours into your first playing session, you hit the first boss in the first dungeon and you’re ready to begin figuring it out. The first time, you die because you’re not sure what to do. The second time, you die because there are a couple subtleties you missed. The third time, you die because a new phase takes you by surprise. The fourth time, you die while trying to figure out what to do in the second phase. And the fifth time, you die because of the subtleties of that final phase.

After the fifth death, the game bumps you outside the dungeon. When you try to re-enter, a message pops up on your screen sayng, “You’ve exhausted your attempts at clearing this dungeon. Better luck next week!” At this stage, most gamers experience a sense of disappointment. Being unable to play a game on your time can be frustrating. This is the way I felt whenever we’d run out of attempts in ToGC. You’re not stopping because you’ve exhausted your raid schedule. You’re not stopping because you’ve cleared the instance. You’re not even stopping because the content seems impossible for your guild. You’re stopping because an artificial pacing mechanism forces you to do so.

Limited attempts can also ruin encounters that would otherwise feel well-designed or enjoyable. For example, if attempt limitations were removed, I would probably enjoy the Twin Valk’yr encounter. I think, on a basic level, the RNG component to orbs is what makes it a challenging fight to defeat. It’s similar to the way the RNG components of Kil’jaeden and Archimonde were what made those fights challenging, as well. But when a random situation generated can potentially ruin your attempt count, I find the encounter annoying. When you have to stack for battle rezzes just to have a decent shot at Insanity every week, I cringe. When you have to wait for various cooldowns just to limit the loss of your attempts, so you can progress on Anub’arak, I get annoyed. Without limited attempts, and attempt-based achievements, these feelings disappear.

I understand the desire to heighten the competition for the top guilds in the world. But even people I know in Might (who ranked number two in the world on Immortality), who are former members of Lunacy’s raid, dislike the concept of limited attempts. While it definitely separates the skilled guilds from those who merely brute force their way through content with insane raid comps, bloated raid schedules, or a combination of the two, it has the very detrimental effect of forcing people to stop raiding the content they want to raid and return to content they’ve already exhausted and find boring. Some even choose to simply stop raiding for the rest of the week.

This isn’t at all good for mid-level hardcore raiding guilds (those ranked between 50th and maybe 200th in the U.S.). Most people at this level find normal modes uninteresting and nothing more than content that serves to supplement gear. Their enjoyment is obtained primarily from progressing, and the majority of their progression time is spent on the heroic versions of the newest dungeons. But there’s nothing more anticlimactic and disappointing in a given week than having your attempts run dry. If the first time you reach Anub’arak, you have two days left in your raiding schedule, but only five attempts, it’s quite disconcerting. You want to put in time on that content, but you can only put in so much because you have limited attempts. As a result, people lose a lot of the enjoyment they obtain when raiding such content.

I’d rather Blizzard not risk the well-being of mid-level guilds for the sake of a group of players that don’t even comprise 1% of the raiding population. Who cares if a guild wants to spend 16 hours a day to be number one in the world on an instance clear, when it means mid-level guilds could be happier overall. Some of the guilds that don’t spend as much time as those that do to achieve high rankings often don’t care whether or not they rank well in the world, anyway. And you can still have achievements Immortality, anyway, without limiting the attempts a guild has in a given week. You can still reward guilds for clearing an instance without wiping, without limiting others’ attempts. And there are other mechanics and accomplishments that can heighten competition for guilds, without limiting the raiding time for others who don’t care about such competition and only care about personal progression.

I’d rather see Blizzard overtune bosses initially, then slowly nerf them by doing something like decreasing their health and damage done by 1% each week, instead of limiting attempts. (Obviously, you’d have to set a floor per encounter to keep it from falling over dead by default, and to prevent it from becoming too easy, however.)

Insanity and Immortality

Personally, I’m okay with the inclusion of Insanity and Imortality-based achievements, so long as the raiding community can decide whether or not such achievements are major progression points. I think Immortality is too RNG-based to really be a basis for ranking guilds sequentially, even though accomplishing the achievement is definitely a testament to a raid’s skill (and composition). But because RNG can contribute to failure in that area, it is not something I believe you can use to make a distinction between the first and second place guilds. One guild could have had vortexes during the downtime between each mass orb spawn in their first week of seriously trying Immortality, while the other could have had vortexes during orb spawns that same week. The high-end community is typically smart enough to recognize these realities, and it is usually reflected on sites like WoWProgress.

I definitely think people shouldn’t be rewarded with gear for achievements that are highly dependent on RNG, in any case. A mount for Immortality is fine. But I’d like to see more rewards for other, clear-cut testaments to skill. I would much prefer people get an extra piece of loot for doing a speed kill of a heroic boss. I’m also fine with rewarding guilds for not losing anyone on a specific fight. This would give guilds multiples ways of exhibiting their skills and heightening competition, while minimizing potentially frustrating situations that individual encounters can often create. I’m not saying Insanity falls into the category of RNG, I definitely think the achievement is doable nearly every week, because you can counter the RNG with things like battle rezzes and raid comp. But Immortality definitely has a very high RNG component to it. But less emphasis on rewarding achievements susceptible to RNG is needed.

The interesting thing is, however, that you would need to separate achievements based on whether or not you’re doing the normal or heroic versions of an encounter. For example, a speed kill achievement of Yogg-Saron exists. However, that requires you to forego doing the heroic version of Yogg-Saron. So this why I also advocate putting the normal and heroic versions of a boss on separate lockouts. Or, alternatively, they could change the parameters of an achievement for each version–that way, you still get the achievement, without having to sacrifice your ability to do the heroic version if that’s what you would prefer. Such deserves more discussion in the “normal and heroic difficulties” section.

Heroic and Normal Difficulties

I’m a very big fan of the concept of having normal and heroic versions of each boss. By doing so, you can make raiding accessible at the normal level, and allow casual players to witness the development of various storylines, while maintaining the ability to challenge guilds with a hardcore disposition and creating more enjoyable content for them through heroic modes.

There is, however, an issue of how you separate these difficulties. Yogg-Saron I think was an interesting case, having five different levels of difficulty, each progressively more difficult than another. This is in and of itself an interesting design, and I honestly really loved the way Alone in the Darkness played out in terms of challenge and enjoyability. I know caster classes might disagree with me, but it was definitely fun and interesting for me as a healer accompanying the illusion room DPSers and then healing through the crazy damage in phase three.

But I also like the idea of putting normal and heroic versions on separate lockouts. By doing so, you make the heroic content more linear, and this creates a more intriguing grounds for competition, as people can’t skip ahead to other bosses and snipe realm firsts. I suppose you could still have different levels of difficulty even if you separated the lockouts of normal and heroic, though. Yogg4 would be in the normal version, while Yogg0/1/2/3 would exist in the heroic version. And having variable difficulty levels for final and optional bosses is something I support.

But I think in order to make this a reality, you need to design gear with lockout separation in mind. Otherwise, gear inflation becomes a problem. The obvious way to address this issue (to me) would simply be to make gear obtained from the normal version of an instance the same item level as the gear obtained from the heroic version of previous content. The same, likewise, for the heroic version of gear obtained from the 10-man. Gear in and of itself is a big issue, though.

Gearing

I think one of the things I find frustrating is that you often have to go back to older or easier content to get items that are BIS (best in slot). If you want to have a full set of BIS gear for a moonkin, for example, you need the GVH trinket, 2PT8 from Ulduar, and a ring from ToGC10. 2PT8 should no longer be requisite in 3.3, though I haven’t done any spreadsheeting to make sure that’s really the case (and probably won’t, because spreadsheeting moonkin DPS accurately is difficult, as our rotation doesn’t have a solid pattern).

Blizzard really should make every item in a 25-man heroic a direct upgrade from 10-man heroic, and also do the same for the normal versions. This way, 10-mans wouldn’t be requisite for hardcore competition, though they would still provide a way to supplement gear.

The way I see it, item level progression should have gone as follows:

  • 213: Uld10 Normal
  • 226: Uld10 Heroic, Uld25 Normal, ToC10
  • 239: Uld25 Heroic, ToC25 , ToGC10
  • 245: ToGC25

This in and of itself has its flaws, of course. Blizzard wants people to feel compelled to upgrade their gear each time new content is released, so this wouldn’t compel people to go from Uld25H to ToC25 to do so. So some separation between the previous heroic and the new content’s normal version might be called for. But then time spent in the previous heroic might seem wasted, because the normal versions are typically so easy you can PUG them, which is why I advocate the normal version of new content dropping gear that’s the same item level as the previous content’s heroic gear.

Class Raiding Balance

For the most part, I think Blizzard has done a decent job with class balance in Wrath. Yes, some classes have been, at various points, overpowered or underpowered. But more attention is being paid to the issue than was being done in both vanilla and TBC. They don’t always make the right decisions (4PT9 and pestilence remained situationally overpowered for DK’s in raiding all throughout 3.2), but they at least make decisions with much more frequency that before. And that’s more than nearly all other MMO companies out there do these days.

The Raiding Game Overall

Overall, I like the increase in accessibility to raiding. During TBC, a lot of the content in raid instances was exclusive only to a small amount of players. Even after 3.0, the number of people who actually got to see Kil’jaeden was still relatively small. People can surely go back to Sunwell nowadays, but it doesn’t come at all close to the experience of doing it at level 70. The look and feel of the Eredar Twins room holds much less important if people just barrel through the content without even blinking. So the increase in accessibility is a cool thing.

I also think the “gear reset” that happens with new content is a good thing. Back in vanilla WoW, you had to essentially guild hop just to meet the requirements for guilds running Naxxramas. For new players to the game, this was a rather arduous task. So having decent gear readily available to help prepare people to enter or re-enter hardcore raiding I also consider a decent concept.

The basic concept of heroic versions of a boss is also good. Yes, admittedly, it does make the experience a tad cheapened when you’ve already seen the boss and its fundamental mechanics on normal. But I still really enjoyed defeating Yogg0 for the first time, and heroic modes are a great way to accomplish the increase in accessibility I also like. And nothing says Blizzard can’t design the heroic mechanics to be completely different from the normal version, while still maintaining the same artistic and story-based elements that exist in normal. That’s something Blizzard could certainly consider.

But the raiding game needs tweaks–some serious, some minor. I think limited attempts need to go, and better concepts need to be employed. More consideration in hardcore content needs to be given to mid-level guilds.

ToGC’s failures and the resulting frustrations of people need to serve as an example on which the raiding game can be improved. While I am no longer planning to be involved in that part of the game, it’s still important for the game’s overall health. Let mine and others’ frustrations, criticisms and praise serve as something for Blizzard to consider for the future development of WoW. By voicing out opinions, we can help Blizzard design Cataclysm to please as many people as possible.

Post-3.0.2 Analysis

This past week was rather interesting, to say the least. Last Tuesday, 3.0.2 was introduced. It is the precursor patch to Wrath that introduces most of the expansion’s talents and mechanics in preparation for its release.

My guild and I spent Tuesday downloading the patch and fixing our mods. We also endured lag, server crashes and restarts.

On Wednesday, a small group of us cleared Karazhan before our Sunwell raid. It took us a total of 50 minutes.

  • Attumen seemed like a trash mob.
  • Moroes died before his first vanish.
  • Maiden died before her first repentance.
  • Our tank was the target of little red riding hood and just tanked Big Bad Wolf through it.
  • Curator died well before his first evocate.
  • Illhoof died during the first weakness.
  • Aran lasted something like a minute.
  • Netherspite died during the first beam phase.
  • Prince died so fast he didn’t even enfeeble the raid once.

Out of all the encounters in Karazhan, chess took the longest. Following this, we had our typical Wednesday Sunwell. Well, typical in that we usually start it on Wednesday. Not so typical in that we cleared it in three hours total.

  • We defeated Kalecgos during the first portal rotation.
  • Brutallus died in less than three minutes.
  • Felmyst died right after her first flight phase.
  • We wiped to the Twins twice. Once because someone fell off the balcony, and once because a hunter botched the MD because they weren’t used to having a shorter range. Then we aced it.
  • I think we had two waves of humanoids on M’uru. The tanks were never in danger of dying during phase one. And we killed Entropius before heroism dropped.
  • We also one-shot Kil’jaeden with ease, though we almost botched it when our melee brought Kil’jaeden down close to the next phase before the warlock adds from the 85% phase were dead.

We followed our Sunwell clear with the first three bosses of Black Temple. We then called the raid an hour early, so people could get an early night.

On Thursday, we finished up Black Temple. We also killed Al’ar, Kael’thas and Vashj and again called it an early night. Some interesting notes:

  • We killed Shahraz without shadow resistance.
  • Illidan never once reached his demon phase. We brought him down to 30% with five seconds to go on the first timer. This reset the timer, and we brought him down to zero before the second.

In any case, we cleared all of Sunwell, Black Temple, the two most difficult T5 bosses, and Al’ar in a total of about seven hours. We could have done it faster if we hadn’t approached the raids in a relaxed manner.

Were the Nerfs Too Much?

I’m not going to view 3.0.2 in a negative light. At some point, guilds stuck indefinitely on content need the be thrown bones shaped like dead bosses and epics. And to have micromanaged the changes on each encounter of TBC would have taken too many resources away from development of upcoming content.

I am quite positive there are guilds disappointed about how easy M’uru or Kil’jaeden are now post-patch. Especially if they were close to killing either of them pre-nerf. On my own server, Risen was in line to become the third guild to defeat Kil’jaeden. Parn, Risen’s leader, posted this in the progression thread after this post-nerf kill:

Risen downs Kil’jaeden.

Patch came 1 week too early. Sorry about the cheapened victory, guys. But we would have gotten him regardless.

Thanks everyone for every effort they have made.

My own guild had the same thing happen to us with Gruul. We had him down to 5% pre-nerf and we were certain of his death the very next week. This would have made us the only guild on our server to kill him legitimately pre-nerf (Ruined killed a bugged version). But then they nerfed him and we came back and one-shot him during what was supposed to be our warm-up attempt. It was an anti-climactic end to the hard work, consumables and gold we had thrown at the encounter.

However, for all the disappointment, it would not have been worth it to micromanage the changes to raiding. With only a month left in TBC’s lifecycle, it would have been a mistake to push 3.0.2 back a couple weeks for the sake of making the encounters easier, but still challenging. Especially considering those encounters will become obsolete at Wrath‘s release.

It’s Too Difficult to Predict What’s to Come Using 3.0.2

I originally stated that I thought Blizzard would do well to prolong the introduction of 3.0 for the sake of benchmarking class performance in raids and PvP. However, I ended up changing my mind just before Blizzcon for these reasons:

  1. Encounter difficulty was going to change with new concepts and mechanics in place.
  2. The encounters weren’t designed with the new talents in mind.
  3. We are missing ten talent points and new abilities that we will have at level 80.

Tack on the additional nerfs to raiding that Blizzard introduced, and there’s very little point in using 3.0.2 as an environment in which to test a class’s viability. And the same could be said for arena. Without an official ladder going on, a lot of people are using this opportunity to simply test new abilities and specs. But optimal team composition and specs for level 80 will not become evident until Wrath‘s first season.

I Hope 3.0.2 is Not a Precursor to 25-Man Raid Difficulty in Wrath

One of my colleagues, Matticus, had this to say about the current ease of 25-man raiding on live:

Don’t assume that things will be this easy at level 80, because it’s not going to be. You get yourselves new bosses, new mechanics, and new challenges to toy with.

To some degree, he is correct. Malygos is not nearly as easy as raiding in 3.0.2 is currently. However, conventional wisdom and statements made by the developers leave me to disagree on a level more subtle. Afterall, the developers did say they thought Sunwell was too hard during Blizzcon’s raids and dungeons panel. So I’m not about to assume that the 25-man version of Icecrown Citadel will be as difficult as the Sunwell.

Having worked my way through Sunwell well before 3.0.2, and killing M’uru before his first nerf, I have a keen understanding of just how difficult raiding can be. And while, yes, slogging through that content was at times frustrating, I am retrospectively appreciative of just how difficult both M’uru and Kil’jaeden were to defeat. As I said some time ago, downing them provided two of the most satisfying gaming experiences I’ve ever had since picking up an Atari controller when I was three.

So I personally worry I will never have that experience again in WoW. In fact, I would be upset if the 25-man version of Icecrown only stood at the difficulty level of Black Temple. Afterall, one of the very reasons I thought 10-man versions of every raid dungeon were being introduced was to provide an alternative, more accessible form of the content people might find too difficult in a 25-man setting. Getting stuck at the 25-man level will result in a lower impact on morale when people can simply form up a solid 10-man raid and experience that same content in an easier and more accessible environment.

My Advice for Guilds Clearing or Deep into Sunwell Pre-3.0.2: Tighten Your Recruitment Standards

If you were clearing Sunwell level pre-3.0.2, I would say you shouldn’t use the time to recruit new people unless they come from an extremely solid and verifiable raid background.

As it stands, it is currently too difficult to trial someone in the difficult aspects of raiding you will see re-introduced come Wrath.

  • For Sunwell-clearing guilds, Felmyst won’t last more than one ground phase on a perfect attempt, meaning you will have limited opportunities to use the encapsulate as a situational awareness check.
  • Sacrolash dies so quickly, there will be a low chance for your new DPS recruits to be the target of conflag on the Eredar Twins.
  • Since bosses have had their melee damage reduced so dramatically, you won’t have ample opportunities to challenge your healer recruits.
  • Furthermore, because bosses hit so weakly, you can’t challenge your tanks to accurately time their cooldowns to mitigate awkward damage bursts.
  • Also, for tanks, positioning plays less of an important role when you don’t have to worry too much about avoiding gravity balls on M’uru, or creating an optimal pattern of flame patches on phase two of Illidan.

That said, if people coming from top guilds are applying and their skill level is already verifiable, it might be worth it to take a chance on them now. However, if this is not the case, I would advise taking a pass on them until you can incorporate them into level 80 raiding.

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.

O 3.0, Where Art Thou?

I understand Blizzard shouldn’t rush the release of a patch as complex and game changing as 3.0. There are still many elements of the expansion’s design that have yet to be fully considered and refined. But the release 3.0 is impending, this much we know given Eyonix’s statement from over a week ago.

With the release of Wrath of the Lich King approaching, we wanted to provide you with some important information. In preparation for the expansion, we will be issuing a new content patch in the coming weeks. Much like the patch made available shortly before The Burning Crusade’s release, this content patch is designed to bridge current game content with that of the expansion and will contain some exciting changes and additions.

Doom and Gloom?

There are people in the WoW community who believe 3.0’s release spells doom and gloom for the remainder of The Burning Crusade, especially raiding. And certainly the precedent set by 2.0.1 would suggest people are likely to give up on TBC raiding to bide their time, just as they did for vanilla WoW when 2.0.1 was released. However, people are overlooking one obvious condition that existed at the time of the TBC content patch’s release: it was the holiday season, and TBC was scheduled to come out merely two weeks after the season’s end.

Every guild I’ve been in has never been able to raid during the latter half of December. Last year, my guild didn’t raid at all from December 16th to January 1st. The release of 2.0.1 in December of 2006 merely aggravated the annual problem. By the time most people had returned from vacation, there was only two weeks remaining before TBC was scheduled to hit the shelves. Tack on the facts that a flat honor PvP gear system was an entirely new concept, providing means for people to easily obtain items better than even some of their PvE gear, and that guilds needed to downsize with changing end-game raid sizes, it’s no surprise many guilds decided to simply halt raiding altogether.

I think people fail to realize 3.0 has the potential to be released under very different conditions than 2.0.1. The concept of honor and arena-based gear is no longer fresh. Most of the people looking to obtain gear from PvP have already achieved their goals. 3.0 could potentially be released before the holiday season, as well. If 3.0 goes live in early October, and Wrath is slated for release in early December, I guarantee some people will return to test the new talents in both raid and PvP environments for a little while. People won’t have to worry about Christmas or finals, so why shouldn’t they return? And why shouldn’t they return if 3.0 may provide the tools to better succeed in raiding content they haven’t successfully cleared?

An early release of 3.0 would be highly beneficial to the game. Certainly, it could possibly create a few major short-term problems, but it would be a small price to pay for thoroughly testing the changes and creating an expansion that has more polish and stability than TBC. Why? Because I don’t think the Wrath beta or the PTR will provide Blizzard with the fully-developed perspective needed to accurately assess the possible consequences of the changes they’re making. Especially when it comes to the viability of certain specs and classes in raids.

3.0 Should Be a Prolonged Bridge to Wrath

Well there will be raid beta testing in the Beta, but don’t forget the upcoming PTR will allow even more testing prior to changes being made live. I do 25 and 10 man raids myself and believe me I know full well what the changes will mean for a Holy Priest. But until players are able to test them in a raid environment, then it really is only theorycraft; which is of course still valuable and often very accurate.

So said Wryxian on WoW’s European forums.

Anyone who’s played through WoW’s three betas and muddled around on the PTR’s knows the fallacy in this statement. Using the beta and PTR phases as the only forms of testing doesn’t always produce a patch that is entirely polished and stable. Certainly, it worked well for Sunwell. But consider the time and conditions of Sunwell’s testing phase. Illidan was first killed in June of 2007. Being relatively easy, Black Temple had been put comfortably on farm status for several months by hundreds of guilds.

When 2.4 hit the PTR in February, my own guild had been clearing BT for four months, bringing down the weekly time we spent on it to merely one night. And we did this as a guild that didn’t even place in the top 100 for Illidan kills in the U.S. So there were literally over a hundred guilds in the U.S. alone hungry for new content to conquer, and many of them took advantage of 2.4 on the PTR to satiate their appetites by testing the Sunwell. Guilds like Vis Maior exemplified this desire masterfully.

The situation now is much different, however. My guild only just defeated Kil’jaeden less than a month ago. We don’t have Sunwell comfortably on farm. And it takes us most of the week to clear it. Furthermore, the gear requirement for Sunwell is much tighter than it was during the days of Black Temple and Hyjal. So using previous instances to supplement gear for skilled recruits puts a further dent in some guilds’ schedules. Certainly, there are guilds out there who do clear Sunwell in merely a day or two, but these are mostly the top guilds in the world. So it is a far fewer number of guilds now in a situation similar to one that existed when 2.4 hit the PTR.

I also feel people will be far less inclined to test raiding on the PTR when there will be no new instances introduced in 3.0. I know I won’t even bother, even though I did test the Sunwell.

Also consider that many people don’t have their entire guilds on the beta right now. Even if they do, I doubt they have enough people leveled to 80. There’s a good amount of people from my guild on the beta, but I am the only person who has come close to 80 (and I stopped at 79 because I wanted to wait for Storm Peaks to reopen). Another member is quickly making his way there, but so did others before they stopped altogether. And while I realize premades were just made available on the beta, they are decked in PvP gear, which will give people only a limited view of the possibilities of some specs and classes in raids.

That’s not to say I don’t think there won’t be any raid testing done in Wrath’s beta. I think a few guilds will at least try to form a loose alliance to attempt some of the raiding content. I know if I had the time I’d possibly join a pick-up raid just to see what’s up. But I don’t see the extent of testing going any further than it did during TBC’s beta. I imagine most of the 10-man version of Naxxramas will be cleared, but I expect only the first boss or two of each wing in the 25-man version to receive any attention from beta testers.

It is for this reason I believe Blizzard needs to use the live version of 3.0 as a prolonged bridge to Wrath, providing opportunity to further recognize the problems that might be less obvious during the beta and PTR testing phases. I also hope Blizzard aims to release it some time in early or mid-October, well before people become inundated with finals and the impending rush of the holiday season. Had 2.0.1 been released well before the holidays, or had TBC’s release been pushed back slightly, some discrepancies in talent and game design would have perhaps been noticed before TBC’s release. Not all, of course, but enough such that TBC would have been more well-rounded at release.

That said, they shouldn’t rush its release if they aren’t confident in the changes they’ve implemented for the beta and the PTR.

3.0’s Possible Effects on Raiding in TBC

There’s no doubt the patching of 3.0 on live servers before Wrath’s release would have both positive and negative effects on the remainder of raiding in TBC.

How Can 3.0 Help Raiding in the Short Term?

As it currently stands, the end of Sunwell has been a rather daunting obstacle for most guilds’ ability to “win the game,” or rather to clear TBC’s raid content before it’s “over.” And many guilds that have already defeated the content are looking for a fresh approach that could change the way they farm it. Just take a look at the ratios of prior boss success to each new boss kill:

  • 1.4:1 for Kalecgos to Brutallus.
  • 1.5:1 for Brutallus to Felmyst.
  • 1.3:1 for Felmyst to Twins.
  • 2.4:1 for Twins to M’uru.
  • 2.8:1 for M’uru to Kil’jaeden.

Notice the ratios are roughly similar for the first three comparisons. Then, suddenly, the ratios spike for the final two. This suggests guilds have likely fallen apart or hit walls at both M’uru and Kil’jaeden. My own guild hit a wall temporarily on Kil’jaeden, even though we did swimmingly on M’uru. And the the exact opposite happened for the number two guild on my server, which hit a wall on M’uru and then took Kil’jaeden down with ease.

With this in mind, I think another bone needs to be thrown to people still raiding. My guild killed M’uru way back in early June, placing 40th in the U.S. And despite the fact that M’uru received a huge nerf after this, still only 221 U.S. guilds have killed him (as of writing this article). So 85 days have passed since our kill, meaning only two or so U.S. guilds kill him each day.

Personally, I think there are a lot of tools 3.0 could bring that would prove beneficial to defeating the later boss encounters. I’d love to be able to pick up flourish, gift of the earthmother, genesis, and living seed. Flourish alone would be awesome for when the raid collapses in a clump during Kil’jaeden, just to cite one example of how 3.0 could benefit the raid.

In terms of pure DPS potential, there should be an overall boost. Even if some classes worry they won’t measure up to others, most should still be receiving talents and new abilities that increase their DPS. Even though Blizzard is attempting to make certain buffs redundant, meaning battle shout and blessing of might wouldn’t stack with each other, the fact that many buffs will become raid-wide, where previously they had been group-exclusive, should counter the problem. So too should new buffing talents.

Furthermore, some specs and classes that were previously “weak” in some situations will undergo a general increase in viability. So guilds will also have more tools to create optimal raid compositions with higher regularity.

How Can 3.0 Be a Detriment to Raiding in the Short Term?

There are some mechanic changes that are a little concerning for TBC raiding that 3.0 would bring. As one example, some of the tools used for tanking by specific classes will be revamped entirely. Warriors will now have a shield block that lasts only 10 seconds on a one-minute cooldown. As anyone who has done Illidan knows, this means shear will need to be changed. Since the ability needs to be countered by blocking, dodging or parrying it, and the cooldown on the warrior ability that ensures this as possible is currently higher than the cooldown on shear, warriors would be unable to tank Illidan reliably. This would leave the job to protection paladins if shear were to go unchanged.

That said, Blizzard has stated they are cognizant of the problems 3.0 could create for existing encounters. Bornakk said as much in a response to people’s concerns about shear:

Changes can be made to encounters if we feel they are necessary to allow the fight to work right. That said, the release of the patch isn’t tomorrow, it’s sometime in the coming weeks, so you still have time to work on the raids. Good luck on Illidan.

Personally, however, I worry Blizzard will miss at least a few needed changes, making some encounters temporarily impossible or extremely difficult until they are hotfixed.

But it’s the more subtle and sweeping changes that worry me most. The adjustments to threat and threat generation particularly come to mind in this regard. For one, blessing of salvation will no longer produce a flat 30% reduction in threat generated. Instead, most threat reduction will come from using reactive abilities targeted on individual people, reducing their current threat by a small percentage with each use (on top of existing reactive abilities). Of course, some of the disparity could be well-countered by providing tools to tanks that increase their basic threat generation. However, I know warriors will require strength to really see a substantial boost in their threat scaling, and currently their tanking gear has virtually none.

So while DPS generally receives a boost, I worry people will reach the threat ceiling easily in TBC, which would render the increase to DPS moot.

The heightened restriction on the use of drums and potions could also introduce new problems. As it stands, many classes rely on chain-chugging potions and using drums to improve their performance. But a raid-wide vampiric touch, new class specs providing mana regeneration, and general improvements to talents and abilities could counter these problems. Then again, the inability to downrank creates another mana problem. So Blizzard would certainly be taking a risk introducing these new concepts to existing content.

How Could 3.0 Be Beneficial in the Long Term?

Regardless of the detriments 3.0 could bring to TBC raiding, I think the benefits are too good to overlook. Despite the fact that there will be a difference of ten talent points, ten levels, and gear, releasing 3.0 at least a couple months before TBC’s “demise” will at least provide Blizzard some context to use for further development and polish of Wrath. And I believe this is important to better ensure a smooth release of Wrath.

That Said, Don’t Rush It

Even writing about the importance of testing Wrath concepts by using the live version of 3.0, I don’t want Blizzard to rush the patch. Obviously, I want the company to fully consider where it wants to take the game generally with Wrath before its concepts are dumped on our heads. So, although I’d love to see 3.0 on live servers by mid-October, I wouldn’t if it was unfinished and buggy, with concepts that have only been preliminarily evaluated.

We’ll see what happens, I guess.