Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ret Getting Another Look

So it looks like the Ret Tree is getting some lookin' at. Combined with news that Prot itemization's being examined, it may be an exciting time for our class in the next couple of months. (Holy's not slated to get squat, but the impression I get from most is that we really don't need it.) I suspect that the Prot gear changes, if they come, will primarily affect the late end game, but changes to the ret tree or paladin DPS/Utility abilities in general could be more sweeping. (I hope I get a free respec out of it.)

I'm a believer in the idea that you don't have to do much to make significant power-level changes. While ret may be hurting now (and has been hurting as an end-game spec basically forever), a massive overhaul of the spec is probably unnecessary, and player-produced 'talent tree revisions' that just make every single talent slightly or substantially better are a very out-of-control way to approach improvements. A few strategic improvements that clarify and reinforce the role of a ret paladin could be much more effective (and less potentially unbalancing) than ham-fisted attempts to improve the tree by simply making everything in it better. Increasing synergy within the tree might also be nice; there's a sort of vague focus on crits, but there's no clear emergent style or synergy like there are in our other two trees. (Holy says 'crit your heals', prot says 'get wailed on'. And those are hardly the two best-designed trees in the game, although they're pretty good.)

As a no-time ret paladin, and one who has never hardly worked with them (my tendency to wind up with warrior tanks and my status as a holy pally tends to edge them out of groups), it's hard for me to say exactly what ret needs; it'd all be theory, and not very informed theory at that, since all my experience with the end game is secondhand and incomplete. It sounds like many the more informed ret paladins don't want a straight DPS increase as much as they want things like threat reduction and raid utility.

When the prot tree got some nice things in 2.1, I didn't leave holy for it - partially because I have a reliable tank around and I don't have a reliable healer around, but also because I genuinely enjoy healing, at least for now. The idea of a more widely-accepted ret tree appeals to me not because I have any interest in speccing into it now (unless they make it -very- interesting), but because I like the idea of having options should I ever tire of healing. (I love doing groups, and I don't want to have a spec that makes people resent me in groups.)

What do you ret pallies and aspiring ret pallies think? What's your spec need to get a bit of respect?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Hitting Things in Durnholde Keep

Went to Durnholde Keep. First, a few words about the instance itself – the setting is really cool, but the actual rescuing Thrall part is kinda frustrating and not a ton of fun. I like that they tried something different for an instance, instead of just killing trash, killing a boss, and so on until you’re done, but I didn’t really enjoy escorting Thrall. This is the first outland instance that I enjoyed substantially less than some of the Azeroth ones; up to now, I’ve considered all of the Outland instances superior to all but the best of the Azeroth instances. (VC and Scarlet Monastery.) The group was on the whole decent, with a good hunter and warlock and a very poor mage as the DPS. I main healed of course, and the guildmate I’ve run every instance so far in Outland with tanked.

Anyway, a little while back, I wrote a post on my instancing style, which up until now has consisted of doing nothing but healing, cleansing, and stunning things that were beating on squishies. I received some suggestions to the effect that I’d be a more effective group member if I healed from melee range, and indeed there are some advantages to that. Durnholde Keep was my first test of healing from melee range.

Now, I’m going to spoil the ending – it worked horribly for me and by the end of the instance I was back to healing my normal way. The biggest culprits in my mind are that I’m just not used to healing from melee range, and thus am very bad at it, and that Durnholde Keep might be an especially bad instance for it. Some of the mobs in the first half have cleaves, which I ate my share of, giving me another target to take care of (myself), and even worse, some of the mobs in the second half have intimidating shout. Getting feared is very bad for me; I can bubble out of it only every six minutes, and it’s still slightly disorienting, and probably not the best use of my bubble. If I don’t get feared, not only am I still in action, I can immediately cleanse it from someone else - the intimidating shout used by the mobs in Durnholde counts as a Magic effect - plus any squishies that picked up aggro as a result of the tank and pets running around can be saved with a timely Hammer of Justice.

There were also some hidden drawbacks to being at melee range. I really can’t see what’s going on as well, so my ‘save the squishies’ functionality went down the tubes. I kept healing the lock when he was just life tapping because I couldn’t see him, and once or twice didn’t heal him when he was genuinely getting hit for the same reason. (Sometimes I can catch life taps because it makes their mana go up, but if I just notice that their health is suddenly down a bit, I need visible confirmation.) What’s more, with all the added confusion and damage I was taking as a result of being at melee range, I barely even had time to ever hit the mobs, which is the reason I was in melee range to begin with. Now, I did do more damage than I normally do in instances, since I normally just hit mobs to recover mana with seal of wisdom (my favorite!), but I didn’t do anything close to how much even the tank did. (I’m talking a factor of twenty or something here; I lost by a lot to the felguard and even to the marksmanship hunter’s cat, which wasn’t even out half of the time – he know about the cleaves.)

I’m by no means giving up entirely on melee healing, and I’m sure my poor experience with it isn’t indicative of what can be made of it, but I felt like my performance as a healer and as support was demolished by my attempt. It could just have been Durnholde, which is already a stressful instance, with an additional friendly to keep track of (Thrall is a pain to heal because he has a jillion hp, but I don’t think he has much mitigation) and some mob abilities that punish those that stand too close. Things went much more smoothly (for example, we stopped wiping) when I switched back to standing out a ways, though that could have been a coincidence.

So what say? I want to do the paladin class proud by healing while also being a front-line hero, but it’s flatly making my performance worse, and I have a responsibility to groups I’m in to perform reasonably effectively (plus I like succeeding.) Any other melee healing tips people can throw me? What am I doing wrong?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Nothing Much Today

Nothing big this weekend. Did manage, at the fine old level of 67, to finally get my stubby Dwarven fingers on a Charger. Took down the event boss with very little trouble using the highly technical 'bring some seventies' strat. Dang, I move fast now. Also got me a Mogor's Anointing Club, which is basically the exact same thing as this guy, but I haven't made my way to the caverns of time yet, and no guarantees that it'll ever drop. And they both look pretty cool, too. The Anointing Club is faster, which might help me keep judgments up. (I'm honestly making a more concerted effort to multi-task in groups.)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Shut Up and Heal

Preface - This post isn't intended as a slam against people who appreciate paladin heals and constantly find themselves in groups with no clear healer, or LFM for a healer for two hours before they can go to an instance and find themselves wishing that just a few more Cats/Boomkin/Ret Pallies/Enhancement Shamans were specced to heal or at least kept a set of healing gear. It's an indictment of the attitude that the other players are there primarily to increase one's own pleasure.

I really despise the 'shut up and heal' attitude that many players (I'm assuming mostly non-healers) have towards hybrid classes. Now, in instance groups I actually do just heal, and for better or for worse I also tend to shut up because I'm still leveling my first character and tend to be slightly less familiar with instances than most of the group, so I tend to have less to contribute. (Though I always do my homework on WoWWiki, and I try to be friendly toward the group.)

I dislike the 'shut up and heal' attitude (SUAH from here on) because what it sounds like to me is, 'I consider you to be more or less a tool, a necessary evil so that I can have fun.' Since SUAH is normally directed at my Ret and Prot brothers and sisters, who are presumably specced and geared how they are because that's the role they like, SUAH is basically saying, 'The way you have chosen to play to increase your enjoyment of the game is crimping my enjoyment of the game.' Everyone has a right to play the game how they like, provided that they're not doing something egregious like intentionally wiping the group or spamming the chat channels, where their enjoyment is coming primarily from the fact that they are annoying others. (Of course, people also have to deal with the natural (not player-imposed) consequences of their choices; I didn't get to go to Scholo last night because we didn't have a tank, a consequence of my choosing not to spec prot.)

I don't know where SUAHers got their sense of entitlement from; I understand that a guild leader has to make choices about raid composition in order to maximize a raid's success, and if the guild has tons of DPS and not much healing, a hybrid that can spec for either has a better chance of being included if they opt to heal, even if they're every bit as good at DPSing as a pure DPS class. That doesn't mean that your sorry DPS butt is magically entitled to treat every hybrid like the world's biggest Healing Stream Totem.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

One trick pally

I’m a paladin healer. I heal, heal, heal, and don’t really do anything else in instances. I’ve main healed five instances since moving to Outland, and they’ve all been totally successful. I’ve never done something that wasn’t main healing; I’m not even sure what I’d be capable of. (I suppose I could throw up Rightous Fury and gamely attempt to off-tank – I do have points in redoubt – but I’d be uncomfortable and probably unsuccessful.) What surprises me the most is that without doing anything special – just healing and cleansing, popping trinkets and short cooldown abilities when I remember to, I routinely get complimented on my healing. I don’t consider myself to be a great healer – I’m a good player only in the sense that I’m good at following directions; I’m not good at analyzing situations or reacting quickly and appropriately.

Now, there are two possible reasons why I’m drawing praise for my meager performance. The first possibility is that people are really polite to anyone who heals at least passably, because healers can be hard to find. I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for flattery, and I’d rather do further instances with people who think I’m doing alright than with people who are going to jump on me every time they pull aggro with their pyroblast crits.

The second possibility, and the one that makes for slightly more interesting discussion, is that most healers are doing it a little wrong. Before we start, everything here is the result of very little experience, just normal five mans up to Mana Tombs.

Healing is a balancing act. I don’t just mean balancing between saving mana and topping people off, or cleansing before or after the big heal. I mean it’s a balance between healing and doing stuff that isn’t healing. I have a lot of buttons on my action bar. One gets rid of debuffs. Two are normal, efficient heals. Two are situational heals. Four make my heals better or cheaper for a few seconds. All of the others don’t have as much to do with healing. Healing is a balancing act between pushing the buttons that make heals happen and pushing the thirty other buttons.

Now, it’s not fair to say that the only thing I do in an instance during combat is to use Flash of Light and Holy Light. Sometimes I use Hammer of Justice. I used to use Judgement of Justice, but have found it unnecessary since about Uldaman. One thing I very seldom do is melee. Why should I? My 41 DPS totem-hammer-thing probably isn’t going to save the mage a single fireball, and if I’m chain casting Flash of Light, I’m never going to swing it anyway. I could melee, but I’d be putting myself at risk for very little benefit to the party. If I eat cleaves or AoE damage spells, that’s more lost health I need to heal back, and even worse things can happen, like AoE knockdown or fear while I’m trying to heal.

The real primary benefit of meleeing is that I’d be able to keep Judgement of Light or Wisdom up. Realistically, however, in five-mans the amount of healing that Light would do is hardly worth the cost of running in there and judging it, especially since I’d need to connect with my mace once every ten seconds, something that’s not always possible when I’m healing. I’ve also tried using Seal of Wisdom to keep my mana up, but in practice, when mana’s tight is usually when I need to be doing things besides wailing on the hydra’s thigh.

Not meleeing has perks; I can see everything that’s happening; knowing that there’s a shadowbolt flying at the hunter a second before it actually hits him can help, and knowing where all the ranged classes are standing helps me keep them in range. (Cleanse has a 30 yard range, which means that I usually stand about 20 yards out from the tank, but if the mage decides to go all the way on the other side, they're out of my range.) I’m also unlikely to be the victim of any AoE abilities.

In the five instance runs I’ve done, I know for sure that I killed two targets. One was a shadow priest, and one was a warlock. I was mind controlled both times.

So what do you all think? Am I wasting potential by just using two spells, or am I right to avoid unnecessary risks and distractions by focusing on doing what I was brought to do well?

EDIT: Whoa, Sylvina was right. That really was a pain to read formatted like that.

I blame mages. And warlocks. And maybe priests.

For my healing weapon, I use the Preserver's Cudgel. Before too long, it should be replaced by Mogor's Anointing Club.

For my soloing two-hander, I'm hauling around a Hammer of the Sporelings, but have an Oathkeeper waiting for me.

Sometimes I like something that's kind of in the middle. Right now, that's Sedai's Blade. There are two direct upgrades to Sedai's blade in the entire game if you want to keep comparable melee DPS. Etherium Phase Blade, a vendor item of all things, which I could use at my level and which is a large DPS upgrade and which I am considering buying since I learned of its existence ten minutes ago, and Bloodmaw Magus-Blade, which is actually a DPS down-grade (though everything else goes up), which comes from Gruul, which I am a loooooong way off of.

Obviously, the reason that most offensive caster one-handers have the minimum DPS is because most casters don't want to blow their itemization budget on weapon damage. I'm never sure what different Shaman builds care about, and Moonkin probably aren't looking for DPS in their one-handers either, so it's probably just a paladin thing, and I'm not even sure most paladins even want a weapon like this.

Now, one theory is that this is just an overlooked itemization niche; after all, only soloing prot paladins -really- want a weapon like this, and frankly I don't know how much they care about the weapon's actual DPS; ten DPS might not be worth sacrificing bigger consecrates for.

The other theory is that I'm actually just crazy for wanting a weapon like this; I have a difficult time actually describing situations where I'm not healing in an instance where I want to one-hand and shield instead of just bashing away with the spore hammer. The sensible thing to do if I want to solo with a one-hander for some reason is to grab a one-hander that's for a normal melee class and just make up the int and spell damage on my other gear.

A light in dark places

Why am I so excited about this quest, which I may or may not even do? One of the flames is in Scholomance. Right after Rattlegore's room. I'll finally be able to get a group for the last part of my danged epic mount quest. Thank you, Blizzard!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

On the wings of a farmer

I don’t buy gold. I’ve never even considered it, and I doubt I ever will. I believe that the game would be better off if the option to purchase gold with real-world currency wasn’t there. First, addressing a fairly common sentiment regarding purchasing gold that seems to come up every time the issue arises –

“Grinding for money is the least fun part of the game. I can go to work for two hours and make twenty dollars and use it to buy 1000 gold. If I were to try to grind that money in game, it would take twenty hours and be very boring. Therefore, I buy gold. It's my hobby, and I enjoy it more this way.”

I don’t think anyone would argue that buying gold makes sense from a purely economic standpoint for many people. Not everything that is economically sensible, however, is ethical/fair/good for the game/in line with the EULA, though with the exception of the last one there’s room for debate.

Now, one other argument that comes up every time the issue of gold selling arises is the idea that the availability of purchased gold is bad for the WoW economy. While this would be a powerful argument if it was true, there’s a lot of complicated factors. Both the way in which the gold companies make gold to begin with and the extra free gold on the market could affect the economy dramatically.

First: Where do gold sellers get the gold in the first place? I honestly have no idea, and if anyone can enlighten me, that’d be a big help. (I don’t want “All the Khorium in Terrokar always seems to be gone. That must be ‘cause of the farmers.” There’s lots of speculation, but surely someone knows how sellers actually make the gold to begin with.) Here are my best guesses –
Killing mobs in the field, getting the money they drop and selling the things they drop to vendors. This is the closest thing I can think of to generating money from nowhere. Assuming that they farm in out-of-the-way places, as it would be advantageous to do anyway, this method of generating gold doesn’t affect the economy. This method means that the gold they are selling comes from NPCs.

Collecting gathered items and selling them on the AH. This would drive the price of gathered items down due to the increased supply, which would be bad for folks like me, who rely on the sale of gathered items to make money. It would be good for people power-leveling professions and for people who make more crafted items than they have the time or inclination to farm for, such as an end-game raiding alchemist. This method means that the gold they are selling comes from the players.

Running instances and selling the BoE drops on the AH. This would lower the price of BoE things due to increased supply. This is good for people looking for new gear and maybe a little bad for people trying to sell BoE things. Unless the gold seller’s volume is huge, I don’t think this would affect the economy much. This method means that the gold they are selling comes from the players.

Second: What is the effect of purchased gold on the economy? This depends entirely, I think, on what people who purchase gold use the gold to buy. (Note that what this actually means is “what do people who purchase gold spend most of their money on?" If someone regularly buys herbs on the AH, and as a result needs to purchase gold to afford an epic mount, it’s the same thing as if he had bought a bunch of gold to buy herbs with and then used his ‘own’ money on the epic mount.)

If people use their gold to buy consumables or the raw materials to make them (herbs and cloth, mostly), then the price of those things would be driven up, which is good for people like me who make their money selling herbs. It’s bad for people who want to buy herbs. Based on WoW Insider comments I’ve read, I’m inclined to believe that this is what most people who regularly buy gold spend the money on.

If people use their gold to buy teh phat epix (or an epic mount), it drives the price of those items up. For epic items, that’s good for people who regularly sell those items (which there probably aren’t many of, since BoE rares and epics are hard to come by and there’s no reliable way of getting them) and very slightly bad for people who want a purchased epic of their own. I believe that this is what people who buy gold once or very infrequently are most likely to spend it on.

Anyway, based on that analysis, gold selling is probably actually –good- for me as a player. If people are willing to pay 25 gold for a stack of Terocone, I’m happy to oblige; if they’d get stingier without an outside source of gold, that’d hurt me. Since I never (or very rarely) buy consumables and mats on the AH, I’m not hurt by it at all. Still, in the interest of fairness, I’d like to see gold selling eliminated, even if my herb business takes a hit. What about you? Are you riding on the tails of gold sellers without even meaning to? If you’re better at economics than I am, please correct me.

Little glimpse of who you are

I figured that I'd share a bit of my WoW story so you know where I'm coming from. My main character, Joyd the paladin of Alleria, is level 66. I started playing WoW in the summer of 2005. I'm a slow leveler, but the primary reason that I'm where I am is because I have only played for a few of the months since then; most of the time during the year I have other commitments keeping me busy. (Yes, that means I'm leaving the game again in a few months.) I've never quit out of boredom or anger, just the realization that I can only do so much at a time. This means that while I'm not level 70, I remember a lot of 'how it used to be', at least for lower level characters. For example, the original paladin talent trees really were very poor; there were a handful of skills worth getting, spread across all three trees. It blew my mind when I saw the mage trees, full of skills that actually did something concrete and cool.

I have always been holy. One nice thing about playing only very sporadically is that it seems like you get free talent refunds a lot, so my exact build has shifted quite a bit, but I've always had at least up to Divine Favor. I started out leveling holy with a splash of ret for Seal of Command, and am now primarily holy with a splash of ret. My talent build as of current is borderline comical, points placed more or less wherever they struck my fancy as I leveled up. (Putting the points into Purifying Power was -definitely- worth it for the Plaguelands - Hellfire stretch of the game.)

I genuinely like to heal. When I created my character, I really had no idea what the role of a paladin was; I certainly never dreamed that I'd be in a class considered one of the best healers in the game, and the class most able to solo while specced to heal well. (Or rather, the class that lost the least soloing ability by speccing to heal; priests and druids really eat it in the soloing department if they spec into their healing trees.)

I'm not an expert; any opinion I post here is the opinion of someone who does not have, all in all, much play time under his belt. If you think something I say is wrong, odds are you're right, and I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thoughts on Nihilium Interview at Insider

So anyway, here at WoW Insider, they scored an interview with Awake, a player from Nihilum, the guild that got world firsts on all of the content released in the past year or something like that.

First: How crazy is that? You're so successful at a videogame that people want to interview you, and then tons of other people care enough to read it. That's a fascinating kind of impressive.
Second: I have spent the last few months (the period during which I was aware the guild's existence) thinking that their name was "Nihilim". Oops.

Third: This guy comes off as very cool, laid back, and professional, like someone who enjoys the challenge of the game but isn't entirely wrapped up in it. Not at all like the typical forum postin' raider's response to, say, SSC and TK attunements being lifted. I was really impressed by him. He doesn't curse out the less hardcore players for ruining his game or anything. But onto the main stuff.

I hope I'm not wrong in counting this guy's opinion higher than some random schmo's, but I feel like anything he says about what's a good strategy and what's effective is much more likely to be correct than Joe Forum Poster's opinion. While the entire thing is a good read, I want to focus on one part.
"We aim for efficiency. So no, we do not use any Moonkins, Protection Paladins, Retribution Paladins or anything that is way below the standard classes that can do a much better job at said task."

Now, a lot has been said about the effectiveness of those specs. Just a few days ago, I suggested that some of the stigma against those specs, in terms of their actual in-game potency, may be undeserved. However, if a guy with an important position in what's indisputably one of the most successful guilds in terms of making progress says they reject the use of them, I'm inclined to believe that those specs are just not suitable for raids. These people aren't stupid. They do what has to be done to clear the content. If there's a strategy that's effective, chances are that these guys are doing it.

Let's hit the other side now. This doesn't mean that Ret and Prot specs are no good for anything, or that you should always take a prot warrior over a prot pally as your tank. It just means that, the way that the very highest-end instances are set up now, they aren't friendly to those specs. It'd be easy to read way too much into Awake's comments and conclude that ret paladins and prot paladins don't have a place, or should never be brought into a raid of any kind.

To some extent, that might be fair. It's alarming that Blizzard has done a good enough job at adjusting content so that each of nine distinct classes has some role in an end-game raid; Awake sings the praises of the Shaman's Chain Heal, even suggesting that it might be nerf-worthy. Attempting to balance things that that every spec had a role in end game raids might approach impossible; that's like trying to balance twenty or so different classes, and more depending on how distinct two builds have to be to be called different specs.

I have a natural inclination towards fairness, and would like a world where people can spec how they want (provided they spec in a somewhat coherent manner) and be reasonably successful. That's almost what we have now; any spec is probably good enough to contribute to the completion of a non-heroic five-man instance or even Kara if they're well-geared, which may be as good as it's possible to get.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I am Snail

So, according to this writeup at, us paladins level up slower than any of the others, at least according to one person who has played 'em all. This isn't hard data or anything, and the results don't shock me, but it made me a little proud to have made it to level 66. Not suprisingly, the speed to level is essentially the same as the class's ability to grind for cash, since both consist of just killing stuff.

WoW did a very good thing. WoW made it so that any class could solo easily. All of the caster classes can protect themselves in some way or just flat-out bump things off before they take a hit. WoW is not one of the games where playing a priest is onerous because all priests can do is bop people with a staff, heal, buff, and cast one or two inefficient 'smite' spells. Since any class can solo, soloing ability is really not about the ability to take out mobs, but the ability to do it quickly over and over again, which is a function of kill speed and down time. (To some extent, some kill speed can be achieved at the cost of down time by using abilities more aggressively or fighting several guys at once.)

At the heart of it, the vast majority of the solo quests in WoW fall into one category - kill things. Whether it's kill ten things, kill things until they drop ten things, or kill the boss thing who happens to be standing behind ten things, they're about killing things. (FedEx quests can be done comparably easily by just about any class.) The other way to get exp aside from quests, of course, is to kill things. This means that leveling speed is a direct function of soloing speed and not much else. A mage's ability to port or aspect of the cheetah might save you a couple hours on the way up, but it's negligible compared to kill speed.

Let's assume that one of our goals is to make soloing speed comparable for all of the classes. One way to do this is to give everyone comparable DPS, and specialize them in other ways, such as abilty to AoE, CC, Tank, and Heal. To some extent, WoW already does this, since even the classes with the worst DPS can still do it well enough to solo. Increasing the ability of the non-DPSers to DPS (while further specializing and increasing the utility of 'pure DPS' classes) might work a little, but it kind of flattens the game and confuses roles. Let's move on.

Another way to help the lower-DPS classes is to reduce thier downtime or increase the downtime of the higher DPS classes. I don't know much about Shaman, but I suspect that they could get quite a bit out of minor changes that would reduce their down time. Maybe something with Totemic Call. Another thing that could be done is to increase the down time of the classes that currently have very little. (I wouldn't recommend actually doing this, because it would make too many people too angry.) The easiest way to do this would be to either make the skills most effective in grinding cost more of their mana, which has the undesirable side effect of reducing their effectiveness in instances, or reducing their survivability, which isn't fun because dying sucks.

What do you think? Should 'speed to level' be evened out somewhat, as it's really a very meta-ability, or should it be one of those things like DPS or healing that just varies across classes?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Goodbye, Vanguard Pauldrons

One of the things that I really like about Burning Crusade – and there are a lot of things I really like about Burning Crusade – is the itemization. As I struggle to level up a Night Elf druid, I’m reminded of how painful the old-game itemization is in many ways. I really love that all the new item suffixes are clearly targeted at particular roles, whereas many old-game green items were a little suspect. (I’m looking at you, “of the Wolf” gear.) As I painfully traipse through the Kalimdor zones I didn’t do while my main was leveling up, I frequently find that I’ll do a long quest chain and end up rewarded with my choice between +Spirit/+Agility mail and a gun or some other improbable combination of rewards.

Burning Crusade is a 180 degree turn from that. Pretty much every single quest reward item is something that I can see someone actually using, and I’ve already sang the praises of the new suffixes. I just recently replaced my last piece of old-world gear, the Lightforge Bracers (terrible for healing) with a green a guildmate found on the Auction House for a steal. If there are any useless rewards in BC, it’s only because some earlier quest gave out better stuff. (A guildmate attempting to gear up for Kara is, as of time of writing, still making good use of a Hellfire Peninsula blue item.) I feel like both my healing set and my soloing set receive regular upgrades, even if my luck with dungeon drops is only average. I’m very frequently stuck trying to choose between two pieces of comparable gear, and it’s only worse with trinkets and rings.

On the other hand, it almost feels too easy. As a long-time holy paladin that never did old-world end-game stuff, I’m not used to having gear actually aimed right at me; it was always a mix of warrior plate, caster jewelry, and coveted “of the Eagle” gear. When I got to Hellfire and saw the rewards that were clearly for a paladin and nobody else, there was almost cognitive dissonance. The magic of getting your hands on a truly great piece of gear is gone somewhat, because it’s all truly great pieces of gear. What do you think? Should gear upgrades be a struggle while leveling, great triumphs when they come, or is that one hassle we just don’t need? Myself, I’m willing to sacrifice quite a bit of new-gear-wonder for some nice +Int plate.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Balancing on Perceptions

Hiya! I'm Joyd, and my main character is a level 65 Paladin, which should serve as a disclaimer itself - I'm not an end-game raider, a hardcore PvPer, a guild leader or anything like that. I've never seen Molten Core, and my highest level alt is a level 23 Druid. I already know that my talents look like they were chosen at random, and I plan on cleaning them up when I reach level 70. I am interested in design theory, however, and I'd like to chat about it. In the tradition of some others, I've named the blog in the style of some other blogs I admire.


Should a class or spec be balanced based on its actual power, or based on its perceived power? In other words, if a spec actually does a good job of helping complete successful runs when played correctly, but the common perception is that the spec is underpowered and thus members of the spec have a hard time getting group invites, should the spec be upped in power? Assume for the sake of this post that the people in charge of balance issues have access to relevant information and know more about design fundamentals than Joe WoW Player. This is not a “Ret is Fine, QQ more” post. It’s an examination of how balancing should be done, and all of the examples are merely hypotheticals. (In fact, I actively believe many of them to be false.)

Consider the following examples. I’ll be using the paladin retribution spec, often seen as a spec with no end-game role in PvP or group PvE, as an example. All of the following are hypotheticals; I do not necessarily believe that any of them is the case. You could replace ‘ret paladin’ with any other stigmatized spec. I just chose them because I’m more familiar with paladin abilities than with, say, enhancement shaman abilities.

Suppose that ret spec is fine, but that the spec tends to attract players who are less skilled at the game, and thus ret paladins appear to be less effective. In the hands of the comparatively rare skilled ret paladin player, a ret pally actually is an effective group member, but that those players are rare. Should ret tree be buffed?

Suppose that it’s possible to contribute a lot to a group as a ret pally, but most ret paladins are doing it wrong. Maybe most ret paladins are busy trying to top the DPS charts, when the most effective way to contribute is to DPS while also cleansing and making judicious use of blessings of freedom and protection and righteous defense. As a result, ret paladins seem ineffective. Should the ret tree be buffed?

Suppose that a ret paladin’s DPS is supposed to be spread out over the entire group sort of by proxy; most of his DPS comes from him hitting, but some of it comes from the additional damage others do thanks to his buffs. However, this doesn’t show up in damage meters as the ret pally doing tons of damage, so ret pallies seem ineffective. Should ret be buffed?

Suppose that ret paladins contribute a fair amount, but are still avoided due to old stigmas about the class. Old habits die hard. Should the retribution tree be made better?

Suppose that ret works reasonably well in arenas, but holy works just a bit better, so anyone really serious about arena PvP as a pally specs holy for it. As a result, ret isn’t represented in the top arena teams. Should ret’s PvP viability go up?

In all these hypothetical cases, the retribution tree is actually a viable tree, but for reasons unrelated to its actual power, it’s considered a bad spec. This is a problem for players who want to play a retribution paladin, as they will have a hard time getting into groups and may feel pressured by their guild to re-spec. The natural thing to do is to call for fixes to the tree. However, the tree isn’t broken; that’s just the public perception. Still, it’s causing players who want to play the spec problems right here, right now.

Now, I don’t know if this is what’s actually happening with any tree. However, the fact that many trees perceived as underpowered or role-less stay that way for so long suggests that this may actually be the case. Of course, I don’t have anything like the data or knowledge to pinpoint any tree that might actually be victimized in this way. What do you think? If everyone thinks a spec is poor, should it be buffed, even if it’s viable for an end-game role? Is the idea that most everyone is wrong about a spec just crazy talk?

I'm torn, myself; on one hand, it'd be cool if all (normal) specs were seen as somewhat viable end-game, but the idea of introducing actual imbalance to combat perceived imbalance is rather distasteful.