Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Quickly getting a good 2 hander in WotLK

So far in Wrath of the Lich King I'm not having a lot of luck upgrading my 2-handed weapon. With Titan's Grasp you would think that Blizzard would ramp up the number of big 2-handers in the game, but it still seems hard to find a decent weapon. I remember this was also a problem when people first started raiding in the Burning Crusade. There was such a lack of weapons that a lot of raiders participated in the arenas just so they could save up points for one. Blizzard didn't like this and eventually added arena ratings to all the PvP weapons. I know a decent weapon can make a big performance difference on a character so I really can't fault Blizzard for wanting to make them a bit harder to acquire.

Dungeon crawling is the primary way I've been looking for upgrades and four of the twelve single group dungeons do offer a 2-handed weapon. Utgarde Keep offers a good entry level axe off Ingvar the Plunderer that is about equal in dps to the arena season two weapon. After that it dries up a bit until a midlevel dungeon called Drak'tharon. Here you can get a nice 2-handed sword called the Troll Butcherer off the first boss. Its a very easy fight though the first couple pulls in the dungeon can be a pain. The other two 2-handed weapons from the non-heroic dungeons are found on the high level 80 dungeons. Both the Occulus and the Culling of Strathholm offer decent upgrades. However, if you're like me you probably want an weapon upgrade before getting to level 80, especially if you need to defend yourself on a PvP server.

Thankfully, there are a couple other ways that you quickly earn a decent a 2-handed weapon in Wrath of the Lich King. There are at least two quest chains that aren't that hard and provide decent upgrades. The first one is called Last Rites/Hellscream's Champion and can be found in the Borean Tundra. It may require the help of one or two people on the last part, but it can be done in the low 70's. If you're using something worse then the first arena season weapon then you probably want to do the quest. At 75 if you have a decent group, you can visit the Ring of Anguish in Zul'drak for another upgrade. This questline works just like the Ring of Blood did in Nagrand and there's even an achievement for doing both.

The Ring of Anguish 2-handers are probably the best available to you until the level 80 dungeons or some of the low end heroics. However, if you don't mind leveling by grinding reputation then you have some very nice options open to you. A couple factions like the Knights of the Ebon Blade, Argent Crusade, and the Kalu'ak offer nice weapons at revered and exalted standings. The easiest one to level up is the Kalu'ak faction since you can get quickly get to Honored by doing thier quests. The Kulu'ak have quest hubs in the Borean Tundra, Howling Fjord, and the Dragonblight. What makes it even better is that they have a system of giant sea turtles that link each quest hub together so its easy to do their daily quests. At revered you can land a level 78 polearm which is better then the Ring of Anguish reward. And if you are a master fisherman you can get a pretty sweet level 70 fishing pole with great dps, though it can't be used for special attacks.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Plate Classes: Overpowered for how long?

There's an interesting experiment being conducted in Wrath of the Lich King at the moment involving class balance. As Tobold pointed out the main tanking classes have all recently gotten bonuses to damage dealing in the last couple of patches. Normally the tanking classes are handicapped on damage dealing because of their high survivability. However, for some unknown reason Blizzard decided that it was imperative that they reverse this design trend. As a result warriors, paladins, and death knights are showing a remarkable ability to kill mobs in the expansion with very little risk of death. I've even noticed that these classes also seem to have the advantage in PvP at the moment. I know while leveling I've pretty much been attacked by nothing but Paladins and Death Knights.

So why did Blizzard decide to reverse a policy they've stuck with for four years and release a swarm of armor plated gankers into the game? Well, the main reason was probably the lack of tanks in the Burning Crusade. Blizzard made major improvements to paladin and druid tanking abilities, but still couldn't encourage players to specialize in that job role. It was too much of a pain to switch talents and collect two different sets of gear. Healers suffered from similar problems, but the change to the +healing stat helped them solo a little bit more effectively. Also the mobs in the Burning Crusade were tuned for classes wearing protection gear and having tanking talents. A lot of dps casters like druids, shamans, and priests could switch over to a healing role without changing out talents or gear. Yet dps plate wearers often ran into problems trying to fill in as a tank.

It looks like Blizzard has learned from the last expansion since the Wrath of the Lich King dungeons have less stringent requirements for tanking. I know my level 72 paladin was able to wear all retribution gear and having nothing but retribution talents and still tank the Nexus. In my opinion this pretty much means any plate wearing class can tank the non heroic dungeons without having to change out talents or gear. This effectively raises the pool of available tanks in the game and avoids a lot of issues the Burning Cruade ran into. However, this doesn't mean that plate wearers will remain top dog forever. Eventually, as more and more people hit level 80 the pressure to open up the new PvP season will build. Once that happens the plate wearing classes are going to stick out like a sore thumb.

I wouldn't be surprised to see that the first PvP season of the expansion goes live along with a major nerf patch. Something specifically designed to make sure tanking classes don't keep survivability along with their new found dps powers. The nerfs don't even have to be that major. I've already seen Blizzard announcing a couple in the forums and being quite honest about them. One example is that druids are scheduled for a change to how their armor class bonuses are applied to jewelry slots. It's a very small change, but the high amount of armor class on some rings in the expansion makes it important. The other tanking classes should also expect similar adjustments to any ability that raises survivability without requiring points in protection.

It's just conjecture on my part, but it seems that Blizzard wanted to encourage as many people as possible to level up a tanking class before balancing them for actual PvP. I know a lot of people hate that a PvE oriented game is balanced around a few PvP activities. However, I don't think Blizzard really has a choice. Maybe if they designed for PvP in the initial game they could be like Warhammer and have each ability work different in PvP and PvE. Now it would just be too time consuming to rework everything. Thankfully, I think the dual talent build system is almost done and I expect this to alleviate a lot of our problems. Plate classes shouldn't be able to survive a nuclear blast and keep up with a rogue on the dps meter. However, they should be able to freely change between the two.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Does WoW use PvP as filler between expansions?

I've noticed with the recent release of Wrath of the Lich King that a lot of people have started changing their minds about World of Warcraft. The game had been getting negative criticism about lack of innovation and poorly designed PvP systems. Some players hated that arenas had become the primary way of earning gear and that Blizzard was heavily promoting their game as an e-sport. Now all seems to be forgiven though as Blizzard is back to handing out highly polished PvE content. In fact initial impressions are probably even more favorable for this expansion. The difficultly level is more in tune with the majority of the playerbase and the lore is more traditional. No alien space paladins crashing their dimensional ship this time around.

Still it's only a matter of time before a majority of the player population once again reaches level 80 and starts in on the end-game. While raiding will probably be popular you can also expect arenas to make a come back. No really knows if they will once again become the primary focus of the game though. Remember the Burning Crusade raid progression was severely messed up and Blizzard hadn't yet put rating requirements on all the PvP gear. These two factors might help prevent arenas from dominating the end game like they did at level 70. I know a lot raiders felt that arenas steered players away from raiding and this probably generated a lot of negativity about the future of Worldof Warcraft.

Developers have to remember that players follow the path of least resistance. I hate quoting Raph Koster but I'm sure he said something along the lines of "Given a chance players will optimize the fun out of a game to achieve the fastest progression." Blizzard failed to account for how difficult it was to organize raids and how much easier arena rewards were to attain because they didn't require one. On paper the rewards for arenas and raids might have looked similar, but that wasn't the case in the game. Keeping a guild together while it made its way past Karazhan was a monumental challenge and pick-up-groups could often only do the first couple of bosses. Hopefully, history won't repeat itself with this expansion. Blizzard seems to be better at balancing the rewards and I think arenas and raiding can prosper side by side.

After all it's not like Blizzard can just ignore the demand for PvP content. Age of Conan and Warhammer both had impressive sales due to the fact that players now have an appetite for PvP in their MMOs. Plus PvP content usually requires fewer artists and developers then a new raid zone. I think Blizzard effectively used the arena seasons to keep people interested in the game and freed up some developers so they could work on other projects. That's not to say its easier to develop PvP content just that it requires less maintenance to keep it current. Once you have the reward system working in balance with other parts of the game, PvP systems are simple to keep updated. However, I don't think people play World of Warcraft for the arena seasons. Wrath of the Lich King has pretty much shown us that World of Warcraft is still the PvE King.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Initial WotLK thoughts

I hadn't really planned out what I was going to do when I first started playing Wrath of the Lich King last week. I have had very little free time nowadays and been working a lot of extra hours. Still I've been impressed so far with what I've seen in the expansion. It feels bigger then the Burning Crusade, which probably has a lot to do with it having ten zones instead of seven. Also the two separate starting areas seems to contribute to the feeling of size in the expansion. I'm glad they put a dungeon in both areas since that seems to be making them equally favored by the players. So far the questing seems up to the high standards of Blizzard and remains chock filled with pop culture references. I particularly enjoyed the DHETA quests which force you to go against Nessingwary's hunters.

I've done both the Nexus and Utgarde Keep a couple of times and I'm enjoying being back in a dungeon oriented game. Warhammer was great and I'll probably keep my account running for awhile, but it's dungeons were a little too different for my tastes. I'm a little worried that the number of group instances seems to be lower in Wrath of the Lich King. The Burning Crusade had fifteen single group instances spread across five different dungeons. In Wrath of the Lich King it looks like there are only twelve though they are spread out a bit more. I'm hoping that the 10-man version of the raid instances are easy enough that they sort of count as single group ones. I just hope the recent death of Malygos by TwentyFifthNovember doesn't encourage Blizzard to overbuff the raid content in a hotfix. People with lives want a chance also.

The raid content seems interesting in the expansion, but just like the single group dungeons there much less of them this time around. When the Burning Crusade launched there was the massive Karazhan raid zone, 3 smaller sized raid zones, and then 2 single boss encounters. So far in this expansion it looks like Naxx will serve in a similar capacity as Karazhan, but at the moment there are no smaller sized raid zones. There does seem to be single boss fights in the Obsidian Sanctum, the Eye of Eternity, and the Vault of Archavon. Still as TwentyFifthNovember is finding out there is much less raid content to burn through. Blizzard has plans to quickly patch in raid content for Ulduar and eventually the Icecrown Citadel, but it's probably not happening any time soon.

Still there's no reason for the power levelers to despair. Blizzard is being smarter this time around and has put in some encounters that allow raiders to adjust its difficulty. The Obsidian Sanctum in particular can be done so that you fight the main boss with several mini-bosses at the same time. You can kill the mini-bosses ahead of time, but the more that you leave up the better the loot. I wouldn't be surprised if the other aspect encounters are set up similarly so the content can be done by guilds in different stages of progression. After all the big failure with the Burning Crusade was that they tuned everything for the very high-end guilds and locked almost everyone else out of the content. This new way of thinking might make it a little bit longer for a raid zone to be developed, but it should allow a lot more people to experience it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Game Divided

I've haven't ended my subscription to Warhammer yet even though I've had very little time to play it lately. The few times I did login it seemed like the player populations have become even more disproportionately distributed. I'm not just talking about the Destruction versus Order imbalance either. Certain zones and scenarios in the game are ghost towns while others are overflowing with players. This isn't exactly breaking news though and a lot of bloggers have mentioned how this population imbalance is effecting RvR and public quests. However, the issue seems to be growing worse over time and Mythic seems to be having problems directing traffic so to speak. Warhammer is one of the better MMOs out there, but it has some problems with it's game design which is dividing the playerbase at an accelerated rate.

The Dividing Factors:

The tier system seems like it would be a good idea at first glance. Mythic divided the forty ranks in the game into groupings of ten and then designed game mechanics to prevent the higher ranked groups from bothering the lower ranked ones. Warhammer is supposed to be a more casual PvP game then games like Fury or Darkfall so it makes sense to cut down on ganking and other types of bad behavior associated with player combat. However, this also puts limits on player socialization and their ability to help one another out. The power levelers in the game quickly reached the top tier while the slow levelers were quickly left behind. Warhammer accidentally created a system that effectively divided its playerbase quicker then any other MMO I've seen before.

Usually the longer a MMO exists the more spread out the population becomes across all levels. World of Warcraft avoids this by taking so long to make expansions that even snails have time to hit max level. But other games have to rely on mentoring or sidekicking features which allow players to temporary boost or decrease their level so they can group with friends. Unfortunately, the tier system makes this very hard to implement in Warhammer and Mythic is also probably worried about people skipping the lower end content to get to the end game. The scenarios in Warhammer prove that Mythic is familiar with the idea of temporary adjusting levels/ranks. Its just a matter of getting a design nailed down to make it work outside an instance.

Separate Continents
I know the concept of putting different races and factions on separate continents is popular, but in this case I think its yet another factor which is causing the player population to be unevenly distributed. Players pick their favorite race no matter what and some races are just more popular. Even though Mythic provided instant flight points between some of the different racial zones it hasn't lead to any sort of balance. I'm not a lore expert in Warhammer so I'm not sure if it was absolutely necessary to isolate each race's war progression. I think the smarter thing would have been to interweave the progression a bit more. Maybe have the RvR areas between different races intersect at different tiers.


Uneven reward distribution
The other big problem is that the reward system encouarges grinding scenarios over fighting in RvR areas. Even the public quests seemed to give better rewards then actually taking down a Keep Lord. Not to mention that difficulty in gathering the numbers for taking down a Keep Lord and then winning a roll. I get the feeling that Mythic was so excited about RvR that they overestimated its popularity and kept the rewards small. Luckily, this is the one area where Mythic is moving very quickly to fix. Adjusting the rewards should help make the RvR battles more attracted for players. However, the primary reason people grind scenarios is because the experience is good. Mythic really needs to look at either nerfing the experience from scenarios or making RvR sieges just as good for leveling.

These three issues are only moderate problems, but together they manage to steer a large percentage of players into just a few areas of the game. This leaves the rest of the world feeling deserted which is probably not a good thing if Mythic wants to retain any new players. It's a little too late for a redesign of the game to make it less dependent on an even population spread. Instead Mythic is going to have to introduce some new features which encourage players to spread out a bit more. Adjusting the rewards in the RvR areas is step in the right direction, but they need to think about some more major changes.

  • Automatically lower the ranks and limit the abilities of players who enter lower tier areas
  • Introduce a sidekick system for lower ranked players
  • Introduce controllable objectives that act as portals between the different racial RvR areas.
  • Introduce a revolving renown/experience bonus that moves between each race's RvR area.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

World of Warcraft: A Jack of All Trades

Wrath of the Lich King is getting close to release and I can tell by the amount of people on the servers that a lot of players are returning to the game. World of Warcraft seems to have a siren's call that the general MMO populace just can't resist. Some think World of Warcraft's continuing popularity is due to it being the first MMO for so many people, but I'm not so sure. I know game nostalgia can be a powerful force, I still find myself playing the original Master of Orion sometimes. However, MMOs are constantly getting more content and changing their mechanics. Unlike a console game you can never go back and get the same experience in a MMO. Instead it seems more likely that people return to World of Warcraft for some other reason.

I like to think of World of Warcraft as the biggest snowball in the history of video games. It just keeps rolling around picking up innovation from other games and making itself larger. Only niche areas like player housing, which Blizzard ignores on purpose, escape being assimilated. This is why making a new MMO with the same scope of content would be so incredibly expensive. And while I don't think it would take a billion dollars, it would definitely require more money then anyone else has spent. Just look at the amount of money EA spent on making Warhammer. It was probably similar to what Blizzard originally spent on World of Warcraft, but so much has been added since then. Warhammer clearly crushes World of Warcraft in a lot of specific PvP areas, but that doesn't seem to be enough to let it challenge Wrath of the Lich King.

Based on recent trends it seems like a decent number of people are leaving Warhammer to go back to World of Warcraft. I don't think its because they are looking back at World of Warcraft through rose colored glasses either. Blizzard does a great job of designing content for all the different play styles that people have. There's quests, dungeons, raids, arenas, battlegrounds, and even an attempt at a Warhammer's RvR zone. All of this content has been slowly improved since the game has been released. It doesn't matter that other games may be able to beat World of Warcraft in one or two areas. The combination of having "decent/polished" content in so many different areas seems to have a cumulative effect on the game's popularity.

There's a common description for hybrid classes in MMOs which goes "jack of all trades, master of none." It's a nice way of saying that you can do a bit of everything, but don't expect to be the best in anything. This sort of reminds me a lot of how World of Warcraft is put together. It's player combat isn't as good as Warhammer, its raiding isn't as good as Everquest 2 and its economy definitely doesn't run as smoothly as EVE Online. Yet for all the problems of being a jack of all trades it seems that it's worked out for the game. There's a finite amount of content in any MMO and players don't like focusing on a single area as much as you would think. Most players want to run dungeons, fight some other players and maybe raid every so often. While Blizzard probably isn't the best in any of these areas they do offer high quality content in all of them.

Based on the success of World of Warcraft and its expansions I can only guess that they have the right idea. Don't spend all your development time trying to be the best in one specific area, just have decent content in all of them. After all sometimes that old saying is worded as: "jack of all trades, master of none, though better then a master of one."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Class Warfare destroys WoW's Class Forums

One of the interesting things I noticed about the World of Warcraft forums is that despite its toxicity, it still manages to attract a lot of players to its murky depths. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the World of Warcraft forums had one of the highest participation rates for any MMO. This is partially because its only lightly moderated and it breeds trolls like a festering swampland. However, Blizzard also has a long history of responding to player opinions and outrage on the forums. The number of hot-fixes and patch revamps caused by out of controlled forum posting is almost too high to count. While this probably isn't the best way to balance a game, it did prove that players had some influence over the direction of the game.

Unfortunately, this has caused posters with specific agendas to flock to the forums. In the early days of World of Warcraft the agendas being pushed were "hardcore raider" versus the more "casual player". This has mostly disappeared though as Blizzard finally hired enough people to produce content for both groups of players. Nowadays the big arguments on the forums are mostly about classes trying to get themselves buffed or their competition nerfed. I don't want to name any specific classes, but the last couple of big forum "riots" mostly originated from the class forums. Blizzard has mistakenly changed nerfs and buffs too many times based on fabricated forum feedback. Unscrupulous players know that organizing a mass protest and filling up a class forum with complaints is the best way to get a nerf or buff overturned.

Blizzard's not stupid though and it looks like they are trying to come up with ways to combat this trend. This is probably why they are talking about getting rid of the class forums and replacing them with the trio of tanking, damage dealing, and healing forums. I believe that Blizzard thinks this will make it harder for specific classes to organize the virtual riots that have made the WoW forums so infamous. Not only should this reduce class warfare, but it should also reduce campaigns against specific talent trees. I mean how long were the retribution and shadow trees held back by negative feedback in their own class forums? It does make sense to realign the forums this way, buy only if you ignore the history of the class forums.

Each individual class forum has a long list of macros, help threads, and design discussion which isn't related to the class warfare problem. Deleting these forums runs the risk of permanently losing a lot of useful information. Also in the future it might be harder to organize this kind of class specific information since multiple classes will be sharing the same threads. The decision wouldn't be that bad if World of Warcraft was a new game just starting out and Blizzard wanted to forgo class forums. Then individual fan sites would just pick up the slack and have their own class forums. Mythic doesn't have any forums and manages to avoid a lot of the headaches that Blizzards runs into. Then again they have had problems getting information out to their players when a technical problem pops up.

All I know is that a change in WoW's forum structure might be called for at the moment. We do tend to go through blue posters pretty quickly and we've seen them suffer mental breakdowns before. The class bickering and jockeying for position probably contributes to that. Anyone else notice how Ghostcrawler frowned throughout every Blizzcon panel he was on? Maybe in the name of not driving our CMs insane we should try these changes out for awhile. If it doesn't work then maybe we would just have to use fan sites like Elitist Jerks and MMO-Champions.

P.S. Yahooo, Blogger tells me this is my 300th post.