Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Why I Love the Daily Battleground Quest

I must say the introduction of the new daily quests have had a huge impact on World of Warcraft. A lot of people seem to like the cooking one and I already see people running around with the "Happy" buff from the new cake recipe. The heroic daily quest also seems popular with groups actually using the LFG tool. I almost died of surprise when I got invited into a heroic group and found out they weren't doing the Mechanar. The normal dungeon daily quest is a lot less popular on my server and I usually only see one group forming in LFG for it. I'm guessing the reward probably needs to be adjusted a bit or perhaps people are unfamiliar with the purpose of the etherium prison keys.

Despite that one small set back Blizzard more then made up for it with how they implemented the daily battleground quests. The reward of 400 honor and 11 gold is nice but what I really enjoy is the effect its had on queue times for my battlegroup. Basically after the patch all battlegrounds in my battlegroup are being played equally. Even during the Eye of the Storm holiday not a single queue had over a 10 minute wait time. Plus the rewards for the daily quest seem to be influencing the drive to win in most battlegrounds. This weekend I didn't hear a single person shout out the Alliance motto of "Just let them Win". It seems a decent percentage of people in each of my battlegrounds also had the daily quest and thus needed to win.

The next part of this post is conjecture but I believe its probably similar to how Blizzard actually assigns the daily battleground quest in each battlegroup.

1 Battlegroup = 10 Servers = 20 factions
20 factions / 4 Battlegrounds = 5 factions per Battleground

If you have noticed, everyone on your server and faction will have the same daily battleground quest that day. This was probably done to encourage forming pre-made teams but in reality its helping each faction in another way. Its basically guaranteeing that people play that games to win rather then try to farm honor. Since battleground teams are form from different servers chances are that at least some of the people in your group have the quest requiring them to win. This was just the encouragement players needed since some people had very negative outlooks on being able to win. Nothing worse then spending a entire game guarding a flag only to lose and gain little honor. This is why just farming honorable kills became standard practice.

I honestly don't think the daily battleground quests would have had the same effect if Alterac Valley wasn't changed at the same time though. Both sides now use a much stronger defense in the game and as a result usually only the captain and the first few objectives are destroyed. Choke points have become widely used and every game I've been in but one has had victory decided by reinforcements. This makes the game about whose defense can hold off the attackers without dying. Unfortunately in this new Alterac Valley having level 61-66 players on your side becomes a huge disadvantage since they tend to explode against level 70s with epics.

However, while all of these changes make this battleground tougher on the lesser geared side it does have the effect of discouraging the farming of Alterac Valley. If Alterac Valley still gave bonus honor just for killing elites the alliance probably would not have dispersed to all the other battlegrounds even with the new daily quest. This is great news since I am seeing less people leave in the middle of the other battlegrounds because their AV queue popped. With the win/loss ratios getting better in the other battlegrounds the honor rate doesn't seem to have changed as much as I was worried about. Now whether the new system will continue to work after everyone has bought their Season 1 arena gear I don't know. But at the moment the battleground system seems to be working like a well oiled machine.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Class Systems and Player Identity

After playing a couple rounds of Arathi Basin last night I came to the insightful conclusion that every class but my shaman was overpowered. My constant deaths were in no way related to me only hitting 70 last month and everything to do with the developers favoring other classes over mine. I mean sure enhancement shamans got buffed but that was a "just reward" for being under utilized in raids for so long. We're still the only class without any crowd control and .... It was about midway through this thought that I realized that I had somehow switched over from my paladin concerns and was now a full time supporter of shaman rights. It's amazing how quickly you can be sucked into the viewpoint of the class you play.

I think one of the strongest draws for a class based system has to be the strong connection players start feeling towards their characters. Sometimes this can cause problems as players become very touchy over balance changes to their class but in general they keep it on the forums and out of the actual game. Plus the positives for using a class based system seem to outweigh the negatives. For one its an established system with documentation going way back to the beginning of Dungeons and Dragons. While its not the most innovative system it does allow the introduction of whatever new combat or spell systems you might want to introduce. Take a look at Guild Wars or Dark Age of Camelot to see an impressive assortment of classes which stray from the standard mold.

Skill base systems on the other hand are a little more vague in defining a role for a player. This tends to give you more freedom in deciding how you want to play the game but can often leave people adrift in a sea of choices. Also its very hard for a skill base system not to penalize new players. Eve Online which is probably the most popular skill based MMO out right now and its very brutal on players choosing the "wrong" skills when starting out. Often this results in new players being obvious to recognize and easy pickings when they venture out into PvP space. Plus until a new player has joined a corporation (guild) they don't really have an identity they can associate with their character.

In most class based games a new player who is familiar with the Internet can find the official forums and just ask for advice on being new to a class. In most cases they will get a plethora of real information and useful advice in addition to the standard troll bait. I think this has to be one of the main reasons why we see so many class based games out right now. MMO's are still a young industry and we're continually getting new people who are unfamiliar with how an online RPG works. Classes provide an easy way of organizing information for new players. How many people do you know who are experts at all 9 classes in World of Warcraft? It much easier to compartmentalize and focus abilities in groups so that you play the game without information overload.

Still you want a little information overload for those players who want the freedom to slightly change how their class is played. Its because of this reason that World of Warcraft has talent trees which work like a mini skill system. It makes balance a little bit harder but adds a degree of complexity that actually allows customization. I think the talent system combined with the very distinct classes in WoW contribute a lot to its popularity. It may not be the main reason behind its success but I do like it better then the Alternative Advancement points of Everquest or the limited class abilities of LOTR.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Effects of the 2.3 Spell Damage Bonus for Healers

In the upcoming patch its been widely touted that healing gear will also start providing a partial bonus to spell damage. This change is intended to offset some of the woes healers had when trying to experience any other part of the game besides grouping. Having no damage output is a serious handicap when trying farm, grind, quest or simply survive on a PvP server. Most healers still have access to some damage spells when they are heavily holy/resto but their gear simply has no effect on improving their dps. What use is it to have a full set of Karazhan epics when it still takes you four minutes to kill a level 68 mob?

Now with patch 2.3 coming out one third of all +healing bonuses will also give spell damage. This means that a lot of healers will be getting a serious boost to their offensive spells. This should make it more easy to quest without having to spend a large amount of gold on talent build changes. Also as a side effect it should reduce the number of gear arguments between healers and dps classes. Since healers are required for raids they often gain DKP points a lot faster then other classes which sometimes results in epic fights, especially over weapons.

For an example of how the change to +healing gear will effect an average healer I'm going to use the stats of my paladin.

1450: Healing Bonus
224: Healing/Damage Bonus
1226 Pure Healing Bonus

On average my holy shock spell does a minimum of 660 damage and I believe its base is around 540 damage

660 Average Damage done by Holy Shock
540 Base Damage of Holy Shock
100 Damage applied to Instant Spells

Based on my 224 Damage Bonus I can assume around 45% of it is applied to my instant cast spells. Since paladins don't have any damage spells with a real cast time I can expect this bonus to be the same on all my spells. Of course spells with longer cast times get more of the Damage Bonus applied to it. Healers like Shamans and Druids will see a much higher increase on their spells like Wrath and Lightning Bolt.

Since my healing gear will give 1/3 spell damge I'll end up with an increase of 409 spell damage. Thus my paladin's new spell damage should be around 633 after the patch. Applying 45% of my new spell damage to my instant cast spells mean that I can expect my holy shock to hit around 825 after the patch instead of 660. This means that the change increased the damage of my offensive spells by about 25%. In general expect healers to be hitting about 25% harder then they used to before the patch. This could be especially important in arenas where healers will often throw out instant cast damage spells on stunned targets.

Calculations for New Base Damage
1226 / 3 = 409 Increased Spell Damage
224 + 409 = 663 Total Spell Damage
633 * .45 = 285 Instant Spell Damage
540 + 285 = 825 New Damage on Holy Shock

Calculation for Overall Increase
825 - 660 = 165
165 / 660 = .25 (25%)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Will the Alterac Valley changes hurt the Alliance?

Alterac Valley has long had a reputation for favoring the Alliance with geographic advantages that give an edge in conquering the Horde's graveyards and bunkers. In reality the edge is very small but it became exaggerated in player's minds over time until it became an accepted fact that the Alliance would win a majority of the Alterac Valley games. This mentality of losing started to affect the Horde and a lot of players begin to use AFK bots and simply hung out in the starting cave until the game was over. This further contributed to the Horde's losing record and the queue population for AV became unbalanced resulting in long wait times for the Alliance.

With the introduction of the AFK reporting feature in the last patch the queue for Alterac Valley has become more balanced between Horde and Alliance resulting in reduced wait times. The Horde now get a full forty active players on their side which has greatly increased their win/loss ratio. Despite the increase in Horde wins the Alliance continues to favor Alterac Valley over the other battlegrounds. This would seem a bit counter-intuitive but can be explained by how honor is distributed in the other battlegrounds.

Warsong Gulch, Arathi Baisin, and Eye of the Storm all award bonus honor directly based on competition with the opponent. The more you kill your opponents and take the flag the more bonus honor you get. Alterac Valley on the other hand rewards bonus honor based on how many elite NPC's your side has killed and how many bunker/graveyards they own. In general only the graveyard closest to the offense is well guarded thus allowing the Alliance to back track and recapture them after the main Horde offensive has passed.

Now why do the Alliance prefer to not directly compete with Horde to get honor? In general its simply a matter that the gear of the average Alliance is a lot worse then the average Horde player. Mainly this is a result of the difference in queue times with the Horde having near instant queues in most battlegroups because of unbalanced populations. This has resulted in the Horde being able to gain battleground gear at a much quicker rate then Alliance. Now other factors such as organization, maturity, and racial abilities get thrown around a lot when discussing the Horde's pvp abilities. But in truth these probably only matter as much as the terrain does in Alterac Valley. These factors may cause a slight disadvantage for the Alliance but most of it's in the player's head.

Now the changes to Alterac Valley on the PTR make it more like the other battlegrounds with a scoring system called reinforcements which will act a lot like the battle points used in Eye of the Storm and Arathi Baisin. This scoring system is directly impacted by players dying in the battleground thus you can count on gear inequality greatly effecting the amount of bonus honor awarded. Now in general if you are going to award items for PvP in battlegrounds it make sense to encourage direct competition instead of the race to kill elites that Alterac Valley had become. However, the current changes on the PTR could turn the battleground into something similar to Warsong Gulch where the out geared side loses with little bonus honor and very few honorable kills.