Monday, April 27, 2009

It Burns, it burns: Paladins and the changes to Mana Regen

I was a little fearful when I first heard that Blizzard was reworking mana regeneration to make boss fights more challenging. I agree that most guilds effectively had unlimited mana with all the improved talents in Wrath of the Lich King. Still I couldn't help but feel that this was a perfect opportunity for an unintended consequence to sneak into the game. My fears weren't exactly put to rest when I first logged in after the patch and saw that I had lost around 150 mana regen on my paladin. This was especially troubling since my retribution gear isn't exactly loaded down with intelligence or mana regeneration. Luckily, I'm used to hitting divine plea whenever it pops and it seems to keep my mana bar going along with occasional replenishment.

Still one thing I've noticed is that this seems to have made paladins even more vulnerable to mana drain and mana burn. Paladins have always been particularly powerless against these two spells, but now it seems you only need to be hit by it once or twice to be rendered useless in a fight. Shamans and Hunters also have to go through the same issue, but generally have larger mana pools. Blizzard's constant experimentation with paladin itemization has created a class with a very small mana pool and a large dependency on it's mana regeneration abilities. As a result I'm seriously thinking of changing out a couple gem sockets to get a slightly bigger mana pool for my retribution paladin.

I'm not quite sure if Blizzard wanted to improve the importance of mana management in PvP situations also. The recent changes to replenishment in PvP makes me suspect that it might have been done on purpose. I know feral druids in particular were famous for switching forms and using healing spells before jumping back into high dps mode. I'm guessing now with mana drains/burns being so effective that this is no longer a good idea. In general, the changes to mana regeneration are going to greatly shorten the times for arena matches. Since they were already pretty short I'm not sure if this was the best decision for Blizzard to make.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Stuck between a rock and a cannot launch additional instances message

Lately, I've been helping some friends out by running non-heroic instances with their alts. It's fairly easy to mix and match our characters so that we can complete a dungeon quickly and still have a good mix of classes that use different armor types. Most of my friends have two talent builds and one of them is usually a damage build. Thus when we do an alt run we avoid using any tanks and just have all the mains switch over to their dps build. This allows us to speed through the non-heroic instances at the cost of a rare death or two on a large pull. It's a good system especially if we get two paladins using divine storm and seal of light. However, we been having problems recently with creating instances and keep getting the dreaded "Cannot Create Additional Instances at this Time" message. Last night it took 15 minutes of knocking our head against an instance portal before we finally got one created for our group.

Most of the issues are being caused by the high number of people returning to World of Warcraft for the Ulduar patch. I understand that the concurrent users for the game are highly cyclical and peak around patch releases. However, it seems as if Blizzard is using this as an excuse to ignore the problem or simply roll out additional resources at a slower pace. There's also the possibility their key network people are involved in milestones for other projects at the moment. Whatever the root cause the problem has grown much worse this week and seems especially noticeable if you try to do anything, but a heroic Northend dungeon. I'm guessing that Blizzard has some sort of resource queue on the instance servers which gives priority to certain instances. This is a real pain at the moment since it seems to me that lower level characters doing non heroics are more vulnerable to being stuck outside an instance. Plus, if a non 80 is stuck outside an instance for more then three seconds it seems to send a whisper to everyone on the opposing faction.

I don't really mind a makeshift battle royales when there is a fighting chance of winning, but its almost always a massacre when running a non 80 group. The entrance for normal and heroic instances are shared and that means you often have mid level seventies in blues fighting against players in Naxx gear. It's not pretty, especially since the "Cannot Create Additional Instances" message means the victors will definitely be corpse camping the losers. I used to think if you had some patience this wasn't too bad an issue. You just wait until the higher level group finally gets into an instance then you rez. However, a couple of times I ran into situations where after rezzing my group still couldn't create an instance and then a new group of eighties appeared. It can be very frustrating and if you have any PUG players in your group they tend to leave. Also I've seen evidence of high level players creating an instance and leaving one person inside it so they farm honor from people who are stuck outside.

It's an ugly situation right now and there's a few things that could be done in the future to prevent the issue.

1) Create additional instance servers for the love of god.
How expensive could they be? I have a feeling its not a matter of cost, but simply that all of Blizzard's network engineers are involved in getting the new Battle.Net ready for Starcraft 2, Diablo 3, and the new MMO.

2) Design new dungeons with separate entrances for heroics and normals
It's doesn't require much additional effort and even a little distance between the two would prevent slaughters.

3) Improve the resource handling of instance servers
I'm not sure what sort of system is currently used by Blizzard. I hope they at least take into account how many people are in a the group that is trying to create an instance. A single level 80 trying to make money in a old world instance shouldn't have priority over a group of 70's trying to do a non-heroic nexus run.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Exorcism and the Pally Burst Damage Problem

I haven't been playing MMO's as much recently with work being pretty busy and forcing me to cut down on the days I could raid. For the last couple months it pretty much came down to being able to play games or write about them. However, with the release of the Ulduar patch in World of Warcraft I thought it would be a good idea to go ronin for a bit and leave my guild. This gives me some actual free time to try out some of the non raid content in the patch and experiment with the new dual spec system. I'm still playing a paladin as my main and as a hybrid class he probably benefits the most from being able to keep two different specs. That's not to say other classes don't benefit greatly from the dual spec system. Even pure dps classes like rogues and hunters can tailor their talent choices for PvE or PvP damage.

Since I wasn't going to be raiding much I decided to try out having two damage builds for my paladin. My primary build was a classic retribution build which goes slightly into the protection tree for some increased survivability. However, for my secondary build I wanted to do something a little more off the wall. Since I have a decent collection of healing gear in the bank I decided to try a shockadin build by going just deep enough in the holy tree to grab holy shock. It wasn't that bad of a PvP build since holy shock, exorcism, and judgement dealt a nice amount of burst damage. Plus, the build had enough holy talents where it was possible to heal team members in arenas. I didn't get a chance to test it, but I figured that a paladin could quickly unload all three instant cast spells and still keep two team members alive.

Of course the problem with exorcism is that it's a class-wide spell and pure retribution paladins also got a decent boost to their burst damage from it. Blizzard obviously noticed this at the last minute and decided to change exorcism so it doesn't work on other players. It's a shame to lose a interesting build, but I can see why Blizzard felt they had to nerf the ability. Paladins have long had a problem with all their abilities being dependent on cooldowns instead of a system like rage or combo points. This allows very nice burst damage, but also makes their sustained damage much weaker then other classes. Blizzard was pretty much forced to make exorcism usable on living mobs since Ulduar doesn't have undead mobs. However, adding another ability dependent on a cooldown just further aggravated the burst damage problem.

Blizzard really does seem stumped on what to do here and moderators on the forums have actually asked players to share ideas. Rohan's idea of using stacks of vengeance as a resource which are consumed by special abilities is pretty good. I also like how Warhammer Online had a lot of hybrid classes that had abilities that were dependent on players healing and dealing damage. This isn't exactly doable for World of Warcraft at the moment, since the targeting system in the game makes it hard to switch back and forth. However, paladins do have a number of self healing abilities. Thus if new damage abilities were conditional on paladin's having a full health bar then you could successfully prevent overwhelming burst damage in PvP situations. It's an idea somewhat similar to the current incarnation of Seal of the Martyr.

Using Full Health to limit burst damage:

1) Change some current paladin abilities to work like seal of the martyr
Example: Make Crusader Strike hit harder, but also deal damage to the paladin.

2) Add an ability which can only be used at full health
Example: Righteous Scorn = Exorcism that can only be used at full health, but deals damage to the paladin. The cooldown could be rather short so that during a raid the paladin could use it more often if they are being healed.

3) Adjust healing effects on abilities like Divine Storm
Example: Ideally a paladin would have to use multiple Divine Storms to recover from the damage dealt by Righteous Scorn.