Monday, April 30, 2007

Karazhan: The roadblock to modern raiding

Karazhan is the first raid zone in the new expansion and actually requires very little effort to get attuned. You simply talk to the NPC outside the tower and then complete some level 70 instances. The last part of the attunement requires a succesful Black Morass run but that isn't as hard as it used to be for most players. The reason Karazhan is a roadblock is not because of the attunement or the difficulty of its bosses but instead with the fact that its the first raid instance in the new expansion.

The difference between the gear requirement for normal level 70 dungeons versus the first 25 man raids is simply too great. Guilds have to gear up in Karazhan if they wish to advanced to any of the large raiding content. However, since Karazhan is a 10 man raid with a week reset timer it slows down the gearing process unless multiple raids are formed. This is impractical for the most part though since the top players in a guild tend to stay together for a single raid. Leftover players often form 2nd or even 3rd raids but often have problems clearing anything after the Huntsman due to class balance.

Thus a lot of guilds have fractured because of the gear imbalance caused by trying to organize multiple teams. In a perfect world a guild would rotate well geared players among the different raid teams so that all of them could finish the zone. However, the varying class balance requirements for each boss in Karazhan makes rotating people a nightmare. Its been suggested that Karazhan be moved to a three day timer like Zulgurub but that would cause even more problems. The reset timers for each team wouldn't necessarily be on the same day and would cause even more of a headache.

Some other factors also lead to Karazhan being a bad "first" raid zone for the Burning Crudsade:

1) Bosses that require unique class balances for an average guild to be able to beat.
example: Range DPS for the Maiden, Melee Interrupters for the Shade

2) A couple areas of fast spawning trash before a hard boss.
example: large groups of undead before Monroes, mana feeders before the Shade

3) Loot often set for primary raid specs only
examples: Fury Warriors, Retribution/Protection Paladins. DPS shamans and Hunters have very little loot in Kara.

A better introduction to raiding would have been to make a slightly easier zone for 25 people as the first raid zone. At the moment as soon as a guild wants to raid in TBC they have to split themselves up into separate teams for Karazhan and farm for a month. This really hurts some of the camaraderie of the guild especially if the "A Team" has a lot more success then the others. An easy 25 man encounter before Karazhan would provide a nice weekly event where the entire guild got to participate in a victory. It would also help distribute the loot out better since multiple Karazhan teams would be participating.

Friday, April 20, 2007

How to Make an Old World Heroic

I've had this sitting around in my notes for awhile and decide to post it today. Its a little rough around the edges but I think it gives a good outline how a old world dungeon could be turned into a heroic one. It takes less time to make a heroic version of a dungeon then it does to create a new one from scratch. Thus while in-between expansions releasing new heroics would seem to be the quickest way to get a more steady stream of "new" content out to your end game population.


Mob Upgrades:

Scorpions: Made into level 70 non elites with poison similar to carnivorous bite from the ramparts

Bats: Made into level 70 non elites with AoE silence + dmg ability

Troggs: Made into level 70 elites and grouped in threes or fours. Warriors would be able to enrage and gain 50% damage. Shaman Troggs would make use of earthbind and fire nova totem.

Earthen: Made into level 70 elites whose attacks would hit comparable to other heroic mode casters

Stone Golem + Earthen: The Golem would be linked to the earthen and have to be destroyed first else the earthen would respawn from it

Shadowforge Dwarf (shadowcaster): Made into 70 elites which would use the improved Soul Drain found in the Botanica

Shadowforge Dwarf (melees): Made into 70 elites which would use mines and grenades with a silence component

Boss Upgrades:

The first boss in Uldaman with two adds could be a fight structured much like the Watchkeeper in the Ramparts. In the case of Ravelosh I would recommend that instead of charging the 2nd person on the hate list he would throw a boulder and stun that person for 2 seconds instead. His adds would also heal him so they would have to be dealt with first.

The second boss in Uldaman should play out like a mini Maiden of Virtue fight. Give her a consecration ability and the paladin ability to put one person to sleep. If you want to get real creative give her a large aoe lightwell like ability that will heal her unless the main tank pulls her off of it. This ability would be much like the shadow well ability the large voidwalkers in the Arcatraz have.

Galgan Firehammer:
This dark iron dwarf needs a few more tricks to be challenging. I suggest giving him the ability to drink some whiskey and do a dragons breath type attack. Give him some more hunter like abilities like a burning net that does damage and scattershot.

Obsidian Sentinel:
The perfect way to make this boss fight heroic would be for him to summon a group of eathen whenever he went down 25% in life. He could be structured like the giants in the Outlands so that he got smaller after each group. At the end the earthen he would be a little tiny stone golem. If him summoning a full group of earthen makes the fight too hard then simply have him spit out two or three instead.

The King of the Troggs already has some nice abilities on the non-heroic version. To make him a true terror though I suggest giving him the mind control totem that Jindo uses in ZG. That combined with his little basilisk friend should make things interesting especially if you gave him the ability to cleanse crowd control effects.

This guy was already impossible for most groups of mid 40s to kill. Still would need something special to spice the encounter up for an heroic run. Just to be demented I think he should be able to channel a spell on the earthen which stuns them for a couple seconds then explode for AoE fire damage. He can even shout out something nice like "Return to the Makers and take these trespassers with you". Add in a increased spawn rate on the earthen statues so that two come to life at the same time and you got yourself a nice hard end boss.

All boss mobs should have improved blue loot that have stats comparable to heroic Old Hillsbrad. Also make sure that some of the loot has off spec stats so that every class will want to come. One of the worst things about Karazhan is that almost all the loot is focused on raid spec builds only, examples: Prot Warrior, Holy Paladin.

Each boss should have a chance of dropping an epic gem. While the final boss should always drop an epic item, and two of the blue loots from the previous bosses. A major frustration with dungeons is when a boss refuses to drop that one item you need. By making the final boss also drop blues which could be from any of the other previous bosses you reduce this frustration a little bit. This loot system might not work in the smaller 3 boss instances of the Outlands but in the bigger old world dungeons I think it makes sense.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How to drive your Healers away to another MMO

Step 1: Make sure that only specialized healing sub-classes can heal end-game content.
Check: Have you met a shadow priest/retribution paladin/feral druid who could heal black morass or arcatraz?

Step 2: Make sure these same specialized healing sub-classes can't solo.
Check: Being a healing specced class is like being in Kintergarden again, your not allow to do anything or go anywhere unless you have a buddy.

Step 3: Make sure healers have to constantly watch health bars because of insane burst damage.
Check: In Heroics/Raids just pretend every class's health bar has only two states: full life and almost dead.

Step 4: Make sure end-game healing requires intense concentration and provides no graphical stimuli to the player.
Check: Yup, still just looking at health bars in raids. Maybe I should reroll a dps class so I can actually see content while in a raid.

Step 5: Buff a healing class while ignoring the crappy holy priest talent tree.
Check: Well priests have lightwell so lets give paladins something just as good, "How about free mana on all crits?"

Step 6: Nerf the same healing class a few months later while ignoring the crappy holy priest talent tree.
Check: The priests have all been forced to specced shadow to feed paladins mana and now they can't use lightwell. Well we know what to do.

Step 7: Issue a major nerf patch to your now primary raid healers right before the release of a new PvE centric MMO.
Check: Hey where they hell did all our healers go and how did LOTR get 1 million people into their open beta?

While I don't believe Lord of the Rings is that much better then World of Warcraft it has a couple of things going for it which are going to make it stand out. The first thing is that because of its focus on PvE its classes are going to be a lot more stable. As it stands now each set of WoW patch notes oftens causes a class to have to change their primary raid role or start collecting a new primary stat.

While change is good, it shouldn't affect the current work a player has put into their character. Frankly at this moment Blizzard depends too heavily on releasing content way overpowered then nerfing it until it fits the current game balance. This "we can nerf it later" methodology is getting old and isn't a good idea when decent competition exists. Every nerf causes resentment against Blizzard and makes a fresh, new game look more and more likea good idea.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Upcoming Casual Content probably not instance based

The In-Development page for World of Warcraft was updated recently to reflect some previously unknown content in the next major patch. The update also gave some new details on the druid epic flight form and the netherwing drake mount. These have been hinted at previously but very little information had actually been revealed. The surprise content on the update page is definitely the addition of three new areas which are being advertised as solo and small group content. The descriptions on the webpage for the three areas make them sound more like quest hubs then new instances but interpretations differ.

The Three New Areas:

Ogri'la: An ogre based area with new quests and a new faction based in Blade's Edge Mountains. Supposedly has epic and rare item rewards though details are scarce on how you earn them. Since this is a confirmed new faction I'm going to guess that you have to do repeatable quests and perhaps an instance to grind to get your reputation with them to exalted.

The Etherium Prison: A prison for one of the outcast ethereal clans which is apparently owned by the Consortium faction. Since this is already an established faction with many quests I think this one has the highest chance of being a world dungeon filled with elite mobs.

Skettis: The resident bird people of the Outlands have a grand city in the mountains of Terrokar Forrest which is already in the game sans quests. Apparently the area is somehow associated with the yet unrevealed flying mount which is looking more and more like it will be the owl/crow model the Arrokoa use for pets.

The descriptions for all three state themselves as content for solo and small groups. The Skettis and Ogri'la areas state that they have new 5-man bosses while that part is missing in the Etherium Prison description. Its very doubtful that any of the new areas are complete dungeons like the ones that currently exist in the Outlands especially since those take awhile to develop. I'm guessing because of the time factor that the developers most likely implemented these new areas according to number 1 below though I like to dream that three new group instances were about to be put into the game.

Most likely ways the new areas will be implemented:

1) Quest Hubs with new chain quests which eventually result in having to fight a 5-man boss. This would be very similar to the way most quests are structured in Netherstorm and Shadowmoon valley. I would expect Ogri'la quests to give reputation while quests for the other two areas might give tokens in a manner similar to Halaa. This is because Ogri'la is the only confirmed new faction thus the epic rewards can be locked behind exalted status.

2) Quest Hubs which require you to go to a non instanced area filled with elite mobs. In a couple places in the old world a cave or a dwarven fortress would be filled with elite mobs with several quests requiring you to go into them. Since the rewards for these areas were usually sub par people ignored them. However, if good up to date rewards were given then I can see these being popular except on PvP servers where the most populous faction will constantly hold them.

3) The least likely but one I hope for the most is that each area has a single small instance which has group content inside but single person quest objectives outside. Think of the way the Wailing Caverns is set up in the barrens and you can picture how such an area would work.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Blizzard cuts upgrades on Heroic Instances short

If you are familiar with Heroic Instances in World of Warcraft then you know the main concept behind them is one of Risk vs. Reward. Choosing to do an instance on Heroic mode raises the risk since it makes the mobs hit insanely hard and often gives the bosses extra abilities. The room for error in such places tends to be close to zero since most mobs can kill anyone not wearing plate gear in one or two hits. However, the rewards for a heroic instance are on par with items from Kharazhan so they tend to be very popular.

Normal bosses in heroic instances drop improved level 70 blue items while the final boss also drops one epic item. This makes heroic dungeons a nice way to gear up which is equivalent to raiding Kharazhan. The only difference being that Kharazhan requires twice as many people and is perhaps a bit easier then some of the heroic instances. However, as casual players slowly started completing all of the heroic instances reports came in about non-improved loot tables. Its seems if the level 70 instances do not improve in loot on heroic mode except for the final boss which drops one epic. Of course all the trash mobs and bosses in the heroic version still have their difficulty increased.

This means that these instances still require a group to make almost no mistakes but don't reward players until the final boss. This can be especially frustrating since the one epic drop from the final boss can be of a type that no one in the party can use. Even the blue drops off the final boss in these instances are from the old loot table and have very little chance of being an upgrade for anyone. The logic behind this is so mysterious that some speculate that Blizzard simply hasn't created the upgraded blue items for these instances yet. Some however think that the old loot tables were left in on purpose to keep non-raiders from gearing up as quickly as raiders.

If you look as the epic items from most of the Heroic dungeons its easy to see they are equivalent to most of the low end raid gear from Kharazhan and Gruul's Lair. However, raiders are starting to conquer Magtheridon and Serpentshrine Caverns where the gear upgrades increase exponentially in quality. While Blizzard never hid the fact that raiding would get a player the best gear in the game, they did promise us less of an inequality between raiding and non-raiding gear. By not including upgraded blue items in the 8 highest heroic instances they increase the time for non-raiders to gear up.

At the very least Blizzard could have included blue items from the earlier Heroic instances that way players would have a chance to get items they might have missed. I know I've killed the Heroic version of the dragon in Hellfire Ramparts a million times and have yet to get the blue item I need from the chest. Instead the developers at Blizzard decided to provide basically no reward unless a group could clear the entire dungeon. This makes no sense in some instances like heroic mechanar where the Nethermancer boss is much harder but provides no upgraded items. As result people often simply skip her since a single badge of justice is not worth the effort of the fight.

Farming the higher end dungeons for the reward of a single epic item that according to Murphey's Law will probably be for the one class you didn't bring, is not my idea of fun. In fact its such a slap in the face to non-raiders that it makes the tier 0.5 questline look like free epics. I wouldn't be surprised if the same developer responsible for the 0.5 money sink I mean questline is the same idiot who told everyone "Ok, No more new blue items after Old Hillsbrad". I even have my suspicions who this person is .... cough Tigole. Still I can't think of a quicker way to alienate your hardcore audience who has limited time to raid. I truly hope that Blizzard patches in some improvement in the high end heroic reward system otherwise people could interpret it as a "Go Raid" message.

Heroic Instances with non-upgraded loot tables:

Setthek Halls
The Steamvaults
Shadow Labs
Shattered Halls
Black Morass
The Mechanar
The Botanica
The Arcatraz

Update: The Addition of casual content and new quest hubs might do a little bit to offset heroic instances running dry on loot at the higher levels. Check the In-Development page.