Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Most Hated Class in WoW

Everyone has their own prejudices about that one class in World of Warcraft that they don't particularly like. Before the expansion this prejudice was concentrated on the shaman and paladin classes since both could only be played by opposing factions. This allowed the strengths of both classes to be viewed as overpowering by the faction who couldn't use them. However, now that we have the new races the horde knows paladins shields only extend the inevitable and the alliance knows that shamans leak mana like spaghetti strainer.

Thus the calls for nerfs on these classes have decreased and the title of most hated class should now swing evenly between everyone. However, this is not the case since there are still classes that receive more nerf calls then others. The main driving force behind these calls seems to be the different experiences a player has with a class in PvE and PvP. In general players tend to like classes that are bad at PvP but perform well in PvE. The forums often reflects that since certain class and talent combinations can severely limit a class's utility in a dungeon while granting them the extra burst damage which turns the tide in PvP.

Based on these trends I tried to highlight what I believe the five most hated classes are in World of Warcraft. Remember that I'm treating each talent tree as a separate class and that these are just generalizations. Also some of you might be wondering why feral druids and retribution paladins aren't on this list. The last patch chased away most of the PvP feral druids and most people feel they have been "balanced". Retribution paladins can still heal non-heroic dungeons and continue to not kill people fast enough in PvP to be hated. In fact the only reason paladins might be on the list right below arms warriors is because of bubble hearth.

5) The Arms Warrior: A very old target of the nerfbat and now left mostly alone in the forums this class dominated the most hated class title for a long time. The reason behind this was warriors received the most benefit from gear upgrades so there was often a huge boost in power gained from end-game content. Combined with the ease in getting a high base damage 2-hander the warrior became the most played class for quite awhile. However, a string of nerfs targeting rage generation and secondary abilities reduced their numbers till by the time the expansion came out the main tank class was actually rare.

4) The Elemental Shaman: Elemental shamans are not thought to be as overpowered but they still get some attention from the nerf threads. This is mostly because of the utility of their totems in PvP combined with instant shocks that do high damage. Shocks while slightly mana inefficient in PvE are devastating when used correctly in PvP. In particular earthshock can destroy most healing classes while frostshock is particularly useful on melees. Shamans also have a harder time trying to heal while not healing spec then the paladin class so often receive more complaints. In general though nerf threads tend to target their lightning bolts and shock spells.

3) The Fire Mage: A newer target of nerf calls but now approaching a moderate level of unpopularity. Fire mages sacrifice the ice block ability which groups love so well in favor of squeezing some more fire based damage out. In general non-experienced mages already have a problem controlling aggro and the thought of a mage gaining more damage just makes most tanks cringe in terror. Plus add in the new Dragon's Breath talent which seems to be the only true AoE crowd control ability with high damage and you got a class that earns many an enemy on the battlegrounds.

2) The Rogue (aka The Rouge): No matter how a rogue chooses their talents they are still pretty good at dealing damage. However, some recent changes have raised the hatred for the class more then all the lame stealth ganking on boats. One change is cloak of shadows which has created a situation where rogues can still win a battle against casters without having to get a successful ambush. Warlocks and Priests are particularly mad since they are the most common targets of rogues in world and instance PvP. Add to this the overwhelming use of Cleave and AoE spell damage in the Outlands and the overall PvE usefulness of a rogue has been seen as dropping. The next patch's change to cleave better guarantee rogues take less damage in dungeons or else they might start to get warlocks a run for their money.

1) The Warlock: The class has consistently been the most targeted by players for nerfs since the beginning of the game but has always managed to dodge the nerfbat for a majority of reasons. One reason is that fear's utility in PvE can't really be increased so the developers feel okay in letting it be overpowered a bit in PvP. Warlocks are perhaps one of the rarest classes so Blizzard will always be slightly cautious about nerfing them. They do have great PvE utility with banish and charm but most players trying out the class tend to stick with the PvP side of the game. When a new warlock who has been focused only on PvP crosses over into a PvE group it can often be a disaster on scale with Chernobyl. Unfortunately this is how they tend to be remembered and the stereotypes becomes reinforced.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Do Heroics Hit Melees too Hard?

Based on a series of posts I've seen on blogs and the WoW Forums I sensing that a lot of people agree with my take on Heroic dungeons. Namely that melee dps classes are being overly penalize by the heavy use of area of effect abilities. These abilities while annoying on normal mode can become instant death in the majority of heroics. It's especially dangerous on boss mobs who have had their damage increased 5-10 times on AoE attacks. This is in stark contrast to the boost on their normal single target attacks which are often only 2-4 times as damaging.

I believe that mobs were redesigned in the Outlands to have more area of effect abilities to compensate for the increased availability and improvement of healing gear. It was quite easy for healers to gather Physician and other types of green healing gear that made healing one target in a dungeon easy. Thus I think the developers decided to make more use of area of effect abilities so that healing was a more appropriate challenge. This is especially seen in Hellfire Citadel by the heavy use of Rain of Fire and Cleave. In fact Cleave has become a staple of all warrior based dungeon trash.

Clearing trash on a Heroic dungeon is supposed to be dangerous and wipes are too be expected. But I'm noticing that a lot more partial wipes occur because melee dps classes are getting hit by a lucky string of area of effects. The 360 cleave is perhaps the worst but spell based AoE still serves up a large amount of damage. This is very noticeable on the boss fights: Omor from the Ramparts and the Hydromancer from the Steamvaults. Both do a high damage AoE that requires quick movement on the part of melee dps. Still no matter how fast their reflexes, chances are they will get hit by one tick of the spell. This one tick on Heroics usually does around 5k damage.

Changes are in the works to change mob Cleave, which is the most common overpowered AoE. The current mob version of the ability has a 360 radius and about a 5-8 yard range. Tseric has confirmed that both the radius and range will be changed to something more similar to the player version of the ability. This should allow melee dps classes to stand behind mobs and avoid getting hit. This will greatly improve the survival rate of rogues who were suffering the most from Cleave in the Heroic dungeons. Other melee dps classes with higher ac gear were having better luck against a critical strike on Cleave.

Still all four melee classes have the problem of massive AoE spell damage which occurs in Heroics. These abilities are usually centered around the very target they have to be near which makes melee dps basically stop. This allows range classes to really outshine melee dps since they continue to do damage while melees are doing the hokie pokie. It wouldn't matter so much except that Heroics often come down to the wire and you need to squeeze out as much dps as you can on some fights. Hopefully, Blizzard will realize this and retune some of the Heroics so that melee classes are just as useful as their range counterparts. In general it has been hinted that many of the Heroic dungeons are going to have their difficulty nerfed in the future.

Upcoming Cleave Changes

Friday, March 16, 2007

MMO Math Madness

If you've read my blog before then you know I tend to gravitate to lists and logical explanations about game mechanics in MMOs. I enjoy the min/max challenge of a MMO and gaining new equipment to change my stats to see the result in combat. However, even people who aren't necessarily number or logic oriented also seem to get a kick out of the mathematical emphasis most MMOs have built into them. Discussions between players always seem to be about stamina, crit ratios and the most efficient use of talent points. Its like every player of a MMO is a fanatical expert at statistics.

The best comparison I have for this trend is how sports fans memorize the stats of their favorite teams and players. Some of them even play games like fantasy football which are based on the stats of the dream teams they choose. It seems the trick to turning anyone into a expert at number crunching is simply to attach the numbers to something they enjoy. A pure numerical algorithm by itself is too abstract for most people to get excited about. But if that algorithm is about how to best maximize spell damage or calculate a batting average then you got an audience.

The positive side of this is that in general a person's math skills tend to pick up once they start playing a MMO. Every time you get an upgrade you have to compare all the numbers to your old equipment and make sure its better. You also learn a bit of subjective reasoning during the process since different stats have different values. Thus even though +5 str is less then +8 attack power the str is still better since it provides more then +8 attack power.

Pretty much all the lessons you learn in college statistics/algebra are included in the background of most MMOs. The best part is that since its entertainment to the people playing, the math just sort of seeps in. People tend to scoff at the use of virtual worlds for teaching children but some visionary educators see the potential. After all how many times are kids told that learning is fun then been forced to read the same type of textbooks that have existed since the 1950's. The truth is that the best way to make learning fun is to put it into a game.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Mysterious Opt-Out Option for the Armory

There's been rumours going around that certain guilds were being exempted from the armory and that their talents and gear profiles were being hidden. Most accusations revolve around the guild Fires of Heaven which was the old stomping ground for Furor and Tigole back in the EQ days. This connection to the lead developers is always used whenever a really juicy conspiracy theory is posted. Though the guild did do some beta testing for WoW a while ago they really aren't that involved in testing cutting edge content anymore. There is a lot of hate for the guild though because of the guild's status of a cross-game hardcore guild and the tendency of their members to be outspoken aka assholes.

Investigating the claim I was able to find the guild roster of Fires of Heaven in the armory and inspect their member profiles. Some people suggested that the armory had just been buggy and someone mistook poor Ajax programming for an in-game conspiracy. Still there has been some fanning of the rumours spawned by cryptic forum moderator responses. Netherea is on record as saying no one is exempt from the armory but that some options might be included later on due to player suggestions. The exact meaning of this is a mystery but a lot of theorycrafting has suggested that guild rosters and talent builds might soon be able to be hidden.

While most people are happy with the armory it seems that people are still coming up with really wild scenarios to sway Blizzard to do away with it. I just heard someone recently complaining about factions being visible in the armory. They were apparently afraid that someone could see that they were scryer faction and be asked not to roll for the Fel Armaments that drop from the Shadow Labs. This situation is unlikely for a number of reasons especially since high selling items like armaments and tomes are almost always treated as vendor trash with everyone rolling. Still it seems as if the paranoid can't help but think of the worst case.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Adding another member to the Class Trinity

If you are familiar with a MMORPG then chances are that you're familiar with the idea of the class trinity. Back in the 70's when the creators of D&D were laying down the framework for pretty much all fantasy based RPGs they originally came up with only three roles. These were the infamous tank, damage, and healing roles that are still used today as the basis of any class oriented MMO. Over time more classes that fulfill these rolls have been created but very few improvements or differences in the classic roles have been made.

Current MMOs have been using the class trinity system for so long that things have become a bit stagnant. Numerous attempts have been made to abandon it and go with something a bit more free form like a skill based system. However, games based on free form skills usually come across as unnecessarily complex to average gamers and have limited appeal. Most MMO companies have instead adopted several ideas over the years to modernize the class system and try to add some freshness to the fantasy combat genre.

Ideas that have been added to the Class Trinity

Hybrid Classes:
Hybrids were created to try to blur the roles and allow players to be able to fulfill more then one role in a group. However, developers quickly found out that idea of hybrids didn't really work out as intended because of the imbalance in class popularity. Hybrids that could deal damage would often stick with that role over their other options simply because most people found it more fun. Hybrids that could heal were often pigeonholed into that role since the pure healer role was so unpopular.

Crowd Control Classes:
MMO developers have always had a problem designing complex encounters and usually fell back on just including more mobs to make a fight more interesting. A couple games introduced crowd control classes like bards or psionists in an attempt to give groups a chance at these harder encounters. This slowly caused crowd control classes to be required by groups at the higher levels and caused group formation times to increase. One of the best design decisions World of Warcraft made was to give every class a limited amount of crowd control.

Buffing/Debuffing Classes:
The idea of the buff class was to provide an additional role to the class trinity which would augment the abilities of fellow players while limiting the abilities of their foes. Classes meant for this role were usually given a wide assortment of spells but had limited survivability (armor and hp). Often the class was given a pet to allow some solo utility when not in a group. Most modern MMO's have since turned this idea into a pure damage class with some limited abilities to buff or crowd control.

You can see how these three ideas have changed the class system since the early days of table top gaming and early text based computer games. However, within the last five years not much has been added to the class system. World of Warcraft has introduced perhaps the biggest change by allowing almost all of its classes some hybrid and crowd control functionality. This was done more as an attempt to achieve a fair pvp system then to increase popularity of the class system but has seemed to pay off for the company.

My own ideas for introducing something fresh into the class system revolves around a class which would handle threat or aggro. Basically they could produce some threat themselves but their main area of expertise would be taking it from others and giving it to the tank. This would allow a unskilled group a chance at higher end encounters as long as their Threatmaster was skilled at partitioning off the aggro produced by heals and damage. Plus if the game allowed the class to view how much threat he was moving in numeric format it would give much the same sense of accomplishment as causing giant damaging crits.

While the class would have some greifing potential it would be a great boon to a casual oriented MMO where players often find themselves grouping with people of differing skill levels. How many times has a group you've been in had its damage classes pull mob aggro by either accident or through bad luck? In such a situation the mob usually ping pongs back and forth and settles on the healer if not taunted off. A threat based class would be able to prevent such situations and thus could guarantee large groups of mobs would stick on the tank. Tanks might not losing the threat management aspect of their class but at least this is not a class that would compete directly with them.

Anyways I'm sure there are many other ideas out there for making a completely new class or even introducing a new role into the class trinity. Either way leave your suggestions in the comments and try not to include any ideas that might have been used in EQ, AC, DAOC, DnD, or VG.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Why would anyone want to play Vanguard?

I started to see a couple blogs and forums referring to a incident in Vanguard where characters were losing experience when they crossed into a different zone server. The bug was rare but rumours started circling that a couple of bans were passed out when players discovered they could regain the lost xp by re-zoning back. Apparently a GM simply noticed the 9% jump in experience and thought it best to simply ban the player for cheating. Some are using this incident to try convince the few people who play Vanguard to abandon ship. One post I read asked with all the bugs, errors, and lag why anyone would even want to play Vanguard?

It made me think a lot about what reasons I might have for picking up the game. While I did beta test Vanguard for awhile, I have yet to pick up a copy. This is mostly because I saw how unfinished the game was three months ago and doubted they would have it ready in time for January. Despite this the game does have some things going for it which have definitely peaked my interest more then the other MMORPGs which are releasing this year.

4 Reasons Vanguard Peaks my Interest:

1) Its Large
Vanguard is huge from what I have seen and has more square footage in it then any game I've played since classic Everquest. Now while most of this area is bland wilderness it at least allows room for the developers to expand. In the future they could allow player towns, new dungeons, or farms to be placed in these areas. A lot of MMO's don't like to plan ahead by including areas for future growth which is why they are always having to introduce newly discovered continents.

2) It has a higher Barrier of Entry then WoW
While I'm not a hardcore player I do miss the playerbase of classic Everquest sometimes. The barrier of entry for World of Warcraft is so low that anyone can cross on over. This has had a profound effect on player skill levels, guild loyalty, begging, and the general stupidity that is general chat. A lot of players think they are entitled to being run through a dungeon, given money, or given information for free. Basically, they treat everyone else as a NPC and themselves as the only "real" player in the game.

3) Its focused on PvE
Too many developers think they need to implement a PvP system but underestimate the amount of work it takes to integrated it with the rest of the game. Often this causes a near constant state of nerfs and buffs based on issues where the PvE and PvP side of the game overlap. A MMORPG needs to be balanced for one or the other and not yanked back and forth depending on who whines the most in your forums.

4) It has more Classes and Customization
The nature of class based games is that the complexity of group interaction depends on the variety of classes. A lot of the newer games such as Lord of the Rings and Warhammer are trying to stick with a small amount of classes in hopes it makes balance easier to achieve. However, I believe this will have the effect of squeezing too many players into classes they might not like. I predict much higher burnout in any game with under 7 classes to play as players might have problems finding one that fits their particular playstyle.

Honestly, at the moment I'm simply waiting for the developers to finish debugging Vanguard and fill in some of the empty spaces. I still have a lot on my plate with the Burning Crusade which has a decent amount of content left for me to play through. The way things currently stand I see myself being done with the Heroics and Kharzhan around the beginning of the summer. Since I don't plan on rejoining the full time raiding circuit I will probably pick up another MMO then. Here's crossing my fingers that Vanguard becomes a game worth playing by then.

Difficulty Ranking of the Level 70 Instances

I had a comment on my last post asking about the relative difficulty of the level 70 dungeons and it got me thinking about making a list. In general its easy to follow the order of the earlier Outland dungeons since the levels of the mobs tell you if its easier or harder then the last one you ran. However, once the mobs start being around level 70 the difficulty is set more by bosses and the size of the pulls in the dungeon. As a result people can often set their sights a little high and end up getting stressed out by repeated wipes.

My ranking of the 70 dungeons is based on the number of mobs in each pull and how hard hitting the boss fights are. Some boss fights have a trick to them that might cause you to wipe until you learn it but aren't actually that hard. Without providing too many spoilers I am including a single sentence explaining why the dungeon got the rating I gave it. If you check out the raid and instances forums you'll see that there are most people agree with the relative ordering.


Old Hillsbrad Foothills: Very easy to run if you just heal Thrall who is basically an extra warrior for your group.

Steamvaults: The first boss has a very damaging and sudden AoE which is wipe-tastic. The other bosses are easy though there is a trick to the last one.

The Mechanaar: Very short and easy dungeon, just use polymorph or mind control in the final hallway and avoid the elevator bugging on your group.

Botanica: Almost all of the bosses summon adds. Most of the larger pulls were recently nerfed so the death and decay ability shouldn't wipe groups as often.

Shadow Labs: T pulls start to get tough here with a couple of 5 mob pulls. Bring 2 CC classes and watch out for a assassins who love to spawn at the beginning of a pull.

The Arcatraz: Most pulls are a single mob but have abilities like a mini boss. Watch out for AoE Gouge, Meteor and Incubate. Take two healers for the final boss.

Shattered Halls: Pulls are insane with many of them numbering around 6 all of which can hit hard. The 2nd boss can't be taunted and he aggro dumps so have a strategy to keep your healers and dps alive.

The Black Morass: Constant fighting where one death can often force you to reset the instance. The second boss needs to be dispelled or your tank needs to be able to block all special attacks until the healing debuff wears off.


While the 70 instances are difficult they are not impossible for most groups. Just make sure you have an advantage in one of three areas: gear, PvE talents, or vent coordination. You don't even need to have all your group members have the same advantage since different classes work better in the three areas.

Tanks tend to profit the most with a gear advantage allowing them to survive longer and handle the bosses that love to throw on burst damage. Guarantee your tank a gear advantage by running the highest level instance you can until some defensive plate gear drops.

Healers tend to profit the most from having PvE talents which allows them to conserve mana better and produce less threat. Asking your healers spend their talents only on PvE usually keeps them from being able to quest effectively though. As a result you might want to make sure that your healers know they can call on you to help for their questing or grinding.

DPS and crowd control classes tend to gain the most benefit from having a leader call out targets over a voice server. Coordination is usually good at making sure that dps classes only take damage from AoE effects and avoid aggro. Having your main tank use the raid markers is almost as good as a voice server though it does add extra effort on his part. Doing damage is perhaps the easiest role in WoW but doing damage without pulling aggro is perhaps one of the hardest.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Relmstein graduates BC Dungeon Running 101

This weekend was big for me in that I finally beat the last couple of level 70 instances with my small guild. We've been farming The Mechanar and Shadow Labs for about two weeks now and managed to get some serious upgrades for our main tank. The two zones we've been having problems with before (Shattered Halls, Black Morass) have become relatively easy with a tank whose defense rating is fast approaching our druid's +healing. Also being full protection has enabled him to get several tricks that work well against multiple mobs and getting rid of the -healing debuff used by Temporus.

Besides the tank being upgraded our other players have learned to play their classes much better. Our mage uses frost nova to stop our healers from dying and ice blocks regularly when he has aggro. Our shadow priest is ungodly and often keeps us all healed with just vampiric embrace while doing massive damage. Also his mind controlling of mobs tends to make him the highest on our damage meter. Our paladin while retribution has a large enough mana pool to assist the healing of vampiric embrace and clear most dungeons. Our rogue always has some blinding powder ready and has become a master of kicking casters in the shin when they try to cast.

Its a combination of everyone improving and gear upgrades that allowed us to finally beat Shattered Halls. The dungeon had been taunting us with constant wipes ever since we tried it soon after hitting 70. Thinking back, it really was a poor choice for our first level 70 instance but we had just stumbled upon the key quest and were cocky from clearing Setthek Halls repeatedly. We would have avoided if we knew what it was like inside but we had no idea of the relative dungeon difficulties. Anyways we'll be doing a lot more runs of Arcatraz and Shattered Halls to gear out our people but we are already eyeing Heroic Ramparts. If we recruit a few more people I'm sure we'll even be seeing the inside of Kharzhan since about 7 of us are attuned already.

Friday, March 02, 2007

How will the Armory change WoW?

The recent outcry over privacy violations about Blizzards new character information tool are slowly starting to be outpaced by praises for its utility. Not all the suggested uses for the tool's utility are positive though since the information provided could be used against players in certain situations. However, most of these situations are rare and actually only involve revealing when a player might be lying about their spec or gear. The positive uses for the Armory far outnumber the negative and could go a long way to providing guidance on gear and talents to newer players.

The Main Arguments against the Armory

1) Increases Guild Control:

The main and most powerful argument against the armory is that it allows guilds to know the talent builds and gear quality of their members. A lot of the more hardcore guilds have policies which limit members to only having talents points spent to fulfill their raid role. These policies usually aren't enforced too much and oftentimes guild members can simply lie to avoid being harassed by guild officers. However, with the addition of the armory it would be very easy for officers to track member talent points and make sure they follow policies. Hybrids and healing classes would suffer the most since they often take damage talents to help in solo fighting but are expected to have only have tanking or healing talents.

2) Prevents Casual Gamers from getting into Groups:

The next most common complaint with the Armory is that allows players to very quickly check a player's gear and could effect invite decisions. For example when a Pick-Up-Group is forming the leader could easily check a player's gear to determine if they would be owned by a dungeon. So if a 70 warrior wanted into a Shadow Labs run the leader could bring up their gear and find out they were wearing mostly level 66 greens and only had 10pts in protection. What do you think the leader would do? If you said not invite the warrior then you get a cookie. (mmm cookies)

Now that I described the situation I need to clarify that there are two groups of thought about it. One group thinks that this is a bad situation and that the warrior could be a very skilled player who would miss out on an invite. The other group thinks that this helps prevent wasting two hours of your life finding out that even outland greens can't keep a noob alive in the Shadow Labs. And lets be honest here the average PUG player in WoW breaks out into something like the following.

50% chance of being undergeared
20% of not understanding basic tenets of their class
20% of being both
10% of being omg you rock, have my babies

So if I can have a tool that makes my PUG sessions have a 70% better chance of success by early filtering of the severely undergeared then I'm all for it. Even if it means I might skip over the rare gamer who kicks ass but is geared like your retard cousin who wears herod's helm despite being level 60.

3) Allows Spying on Super Secret Specs:

The third most common complaint is that talent point combinations are unique enough that people want to protect their own spec. Some people honestly think they might be copied and their talent selection could become a new cookie cutter build. Realistically the only ones at risk of this happening are the top leaders in arena brackets and raiding guilds but most of them are going to be using cookie cutter builds anyways. The only valid worry is that arena teams gain a slight advantage by studying the talent builds of their opponents. Though as long as their is no opt out option for the armory then the advantage is shared among all the players with enough smarts to plan ahead.

These are the major arguments against the armory I found on the forums though I'm sure they're numerous variations of the three. All of them are knee jerk reactions to worst case scenarios in the three areas of World of Warcraft: raiding, grouping, and pvping. This means this is one of the few issues that won't simply turn into a hardcore vs. casual argument though casual raiders might be the most anti-armory. Still I hope this doesn't force Blizzard to include an opt-out option since I think that would slowly force most players into removing their profiles. After all if people can hide their profile then allowing yours to show would just be a weakness if you ever seriously started pvping. This would destroy a lot of the actual utility of the armory and would just make it into the new pvp ranking page.