Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bad Items, Worse Items, and the -Right- Way to Farm

Playing through Azeroth again, I've been doing a lot of quests that I didn't do the first time, which means a lot of Kalimdor, which means a lot of Night Elves. I've noticed (though maybe it's just me) that Night Elf quest rewards in Azeroth seem to suck an awful lot. It's like they really like spirit or something.

Speaking of bad items, I'd argue that this little number might be the worst weapon or armor in the game. It's probably substantially worse than wearing nothing. There is other gear that lowers stats in exchange for marginally higher stats, but the exchange rate is apparently pretty bad; the armor only has 3 or 4 more spirit than a same-item-level green 'of the spirit' cloth chest piece.

Finally, there's something I hear a lot about farming that I think should be addressed. Here's something like what I hear a lot:
"I'm think I'm going to get some Bracers of the Green Fortress made. Better start farming Primal Life."

No! Well, maybe, but probably no!

One of the beautiful things about the auction house is that for a small fee, any item can be turned into an equivalent value of almost any other item over time. If you have 1000g worth of Adamantite Ore, you can turn it into around 950g worth of any other item. (Because of AH fees.)

For every character, that character has some fastest way of making -cash-. It might be farming primal fire, it might be farming primal air, it might be mining or herbing or something else, but there's some fastest way they have of making money. Any time they want -anything-, farmable or not, it's better for them to make money in the most efficient way they can, and then to buy what they want off the AH, assuming that their goal is the spend as little time as possible farming. The only exception is if there's only a very slight difference in the farm time of the thing they want and the farm time of the thing they are most able to farm for, because then auction house fees cover the gap. (Not to mention the bother of having to wait for a good time to sell the things they farmed and buy the things they want.)

I'm sure that many people already realize this all, but I thought I'd give a slightly humorous example of contrary thinking:

I was in Badlands doing a quest where you have to kill little or elite dragons to get them to drop a Black Drake's Heart. Both the whelps and the elites have a chance to drop it, so I was sticking to the whelps. I noticed that a level 70 hunter was repeatedly killing the elites and the small ones as well. Figuring that he was farming for Small Flame Sacs, I offered him the few that I had picked up. (I got to skin all his dead dragons, so I was glad to help him out.) He responded that he wasn't farming for Small Flame Sacs, but for Bow of Searing Arrows - an epic world drop!

Thursday, July 26, 2007


In a normal 5-man dungeon run, what's the most important ability for stopping incoming damage? Power Word: Shield? Not even close. Shield Block? Nope. Devotion Aura and Resistance Auras? Nuh-uh. None of those even come close to stopping the incoming damage that Freezing Trap, Polymorph, and Sap do.

I heal. I don't do anything else. I would not feel comfortable tanking even a level 60 instance, and if I tried to DPS I'd probably do less damage than the actual tank. Thus I'm very sensitive to incoming damage (as well as debuffs, which are also prevented by CC), because it's what I'm working to undo. In general, classes that can heal or tank don't have very general CC (druid and priest CC is fine when it works, but in most situations it doesn't.) This means that the three DPS slots are also CC slots. In general theory, you don't want to sacrifice too much DPS for CC because you'll have trouble on bosses, but in WoW you don't have to do that because the best CC classes are the best DPS classes.

For better or for worse, this has made me somewhat cynical about 'off-spec' dps - cats, moonkin, DPS warriors, elemental/enhancement shamans, and retadins. Even if they're keeping up on DPS, even if they're not pulling aggro, there's something that doesn't show up on any chart, which is all the damage and havoc that the mob that's frozen or sheeped or sapped -didn't- cause because it was crowd controlled. Aside from the fact that the mob wasn't hurling debuffs and doing damage at the time that healing was most intense - the early middle of a fight, when all of the free mobs are alive and kicking - it was another target that the tank didn't have to try to build up aggro against, allowing him or her to focus more on the primary kill, which allows the DPS classes to responsibly do more DPS. Crowd Control is such an absurd boon to the party, and I really don't think it gets the love it deserves.

That said, I've had plenty of good experiences with cat druids and enhancement shamans. (Ret pallies and DPS warriors are usually edged out of parties I'm in by the fact that me and (often) the tank would be competing for plate drops, I've never grouped with a PvE elemental shaman (are you guys out there?), and all my experiences with moonkin have been mediocre at best.)

What good kitties and enhancement shamans (who I really wish there was a shorter name for) lose by not having CC they make up by being arguably -better- on many bosses (ones that don't require CC, which is most) because they can off-heal, and I am excited when they do. (I also appreciate having a DI target.) As long as there's -some- CC, in most places there doesn't need to be three people that can do it well. (Which is good, because otherwise Warlocks - who I love - would be left out in the lurch in any instance that doesn't have lots of elementals, though I have grouped with one warlock who was very, very good with seduce, which I now consider to be a heavily underutilized ability.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Warsong Gulch Prisoners

Suppose that you play alliance in the Rampage battlegroup. Suppose that you want to try out some WSG. What you'd quickly find is that in the higher level brackets, alliance pickup groups are uniformly flattened in WSG. 0-3 almost every match. Now, suppose that all fun is equal, but you would like to maximize your gain of tokens and honor.

You basically have two options, assuming that you're willing to devote your attention to the game rather than AFKing. You can help your team win, which consists of defending the base and running the flag or being part of the flag-running crew, or you can kill horde at random. (Or stand near horde getting killed at random and healing your guys so that they actually down the horde, earning honor.)

The first option is more or less what you're 'supposed' to do, but it's essentially worse in every way. If the flag does make it back to your base, you wind up with a time-wasting turtle, and guarding your flag only delays the inevitable. Furthermore, if you're not where the action is because you're guarding the flag, you're not getting any honor. On the other hand, killing horde at random is a bad WSG winning strategy, but you get more honor and you get your token faster because you lose faster. The 'selfish' option, kill horde at random, is better in every way.

I think that a lot of the population has consciously or unconsciously picked up on this, and gravitates towards the selfish strategy enough that the few trying to 'do it right' can't compensate nearly enough. If we view 'help win/kill at random' as a binary decision, then by switching from 'kill at random' to 'help win', a player only hurts himself, since he earns less honor and delays his token. The only way he gets more out of trying to help the team win is if his switch is the one that pushes it over the edge, and actually allows the alliance to win. Since being a 'helper' hurts you if not enough people are doing it, someone who is one of an insufficient number of 'helpers' only benefits by becoming a 'killer at random'. (On the flip side, a 'killer at random' on a team that always wins might benefit by becoming a 'helper' if the loss of honor he gets by killing as many targets as possible is offset by the fact that by helping his team win faster he gets his three tokens and bonus honor more quickly.)

Half-baked, or could this idea explain why in the battlegrounds one side is always extremely heavily favored?

Monday, July 16, 2007

How much difference should a spec make?

Like everything I write, this veers way off in a different direction halfway through. I start to talk about ret.

In Diablo II, your spec was your character. Each playable class had three trees to choose from, and all of your skills and passives were in those trees. If you were a necromancer and didn't put any points in the curses tree, you had no curses. (Though to be fair, Diablo II had a different attitude; every class was a pure DPS class, and all three trees for every class were DPS trees. There was one healing skill in the game, I think, and it sucked.) Other games have no talent trees at all; at best you can customize your guy a little with gear. WoW is kind of middle-of-the-road.

Some of it is class ignorance, but there are some classes where it's not obvious to me what the spec of a player is. No matter what, a rogue is behind the bad guys stabbing them. (If he's in the front, he's probably a combat rogue, but a really bad one.) On the other hand, a druid's spec is easy to see (although if they're in your party, you know what they are by the role they asked to play.)

Having really focusing trees is kind of cool because it allows for greater character customization, but it's also limiting for hybrids. (If you -really- need to be heavy feral to tank, it's like you're not really a hybrid at all.)

I would be in favor of making the trees for the DPS classes more focusing; because they can't really change their role by changing their spec or gear, increased character customization through trees is probably a benefit.

For my money, the best designed trees in the game belong to the druid. The druid trees are -heavily- specializing, but each contains some interesting tools that give the druid abilities in other roles. For example, a balance druid can never heal as well as a resto druid, but they -do- have Dreamstate, which is helpful for healing and inaccessible to a heavy resto druid. Unfortunately, this kind of cross-tree pollination tends to lead to talents that just get ignored, like Nurturing Instinct, and talents that are considered essential for a different spec, like Naturalist.

This is -maybe- what the ret tree could use; a few skills that are deep enough that they'd be mostly inaccessible to the other two trees but which would give ret a little special edge as an off-healer or off-tank. Of course, as Nurturing Instinct is mostly ignored, it'd have to be something that didn't clash with how Ret Paladins want to play. (I think they want to DPS and support by DPSing, not grudgingly stop to heal a lot. Others just want to do a heck-ton of damage, but the former idea is more interesting.)

To get by on 'support' as your class ability, you need to provide an absolute ton of support. Consider that on most 4-pulls, a mage can easily prevent 1/4 of the potential incoming damage and debuffs while making the tank's threat-holding job much easier just by sheeping one of the mobs. How much 'support' do you have to provide to match that? A hell of a lot, especially if you're at vulnerable melee range and it's generally acknowledged that you're not going to do Mage DPS.

If a ret pally wants to max his DPS, he has to judge Crusader, and by judging Crusader he's not judging Light or Wisdom. (This is mostly a 5-man concern, and possibly a 10-man concern.) I've never been in a situation where a ret pally asked to join our group (ex-roommate's a warrior, so we tend to start our own groups), and if one did we probably wouldn't take him unless he out-geared the instance for loot reasons. (There's not -too- much gear for ret pallies that either I or the warrior don't want.) I don't even know what Ret is even for. I mean, it's for DPS, but I don't know why I would bring it over any other DPS class, and on Alleria-US freelance DPS is everywhere. I want ret to be cool, and I don't buy into the DPSer's "Pallies can heal and more-or-less tank, so they shouldn't be able to DPS" (since we can't really do all at once). Some class has to be the worst at DPS, and right now it's us. But Ret, which supposedly justifies itself with support, doesn't.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Druid PvP

I'm really enjoying WSG PvP with my druid. It was hard to make the jump to 40, because now I can't really PvP without being totally ineffective.

Despite the fact that I've been playing for a long time, my paladin has never had an epic. The pally epic mount is a spell, not an epic item, and I've never had any other epic item, not even a Nexus Cyrstal or a Hammer of Expertise. My druid is no longer in the same boat, as I cashed in some of my honor and tokens for some Forest Stalker's Bracers, an amazing item for level 40. (The bracers give me 1.69% dodge on their own, plus a lot of other great ups.)

In contrast, when I tried out level 7o WSG with my paladin, it was no fun at all. When I wasn't bubbled I was either feared or dead almost all of the time, and despite the gear-matching system my modestly geared paladin (up-to-Blades's-Edge quest rewards and the fruits of a few instance runs) was surrounded by players in partial arena gear or tier sets. I didn't feel like I was contributing anything, and our poor sentinel defender squad was crushed 0-3 in under ten minutes. (I'm not sure of the exact timing, but I was only able to bubble twice during the duration.) I can't imagine enduring WSG enough times to get the tokens to get any gear, although if we always lose so incredibly quickly, it may actually be faster than getting tokens with the level 39 druid; in the 30-39 bracket games take between 30 minutes to an hour, whether we win or lose (we probably won between a third of the time and half of the time.)

I've been invited to maybe do 3v3 with a warrior guildmate in similar quality gear to my own and a Kara-geared rogue ex-guildmate (people who want to raid are welcome to leave our little guild of real-life friends, and we've graduated a few, though all of them are friends of other friends in the guild; none are guys I know in real life.) Maybe I'll enjoy arena? (Although a lot of what I liked about WSG is that you get the teamwork fun of running an instance with very little pressure or role restriction, something that might be less true in arena.)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Patch 2.2 - Yay!

  • Pets are now affected by Paladin greater blessings.
More of a raid thing than a thing for me, but I have grouped with two demo locks before, and with two hunters.


  • Blessing of Freedom cooldown increased to 25 seconds.
I'm assuming this a PvP balance thing.
  • Blessing of Protection: This spell can no longer be cast on others when stunned. It can only be cast on self (to break the stun) under those circumstances.
Another PvP balance thing. Looks like we're being brought in line a bit.
  • Blessing of Kings, Light, Might, Salvation, Sanctuary and Wisdom increased to 10 minutes.
This is so nice.
  • Blessing of Sacrifice now has a 1-minute cooldown.
I don't know what it's cooldown was before. A PvP change, or is this a Kara thing?
  • Consecration will now properly hit large creatures.
I didn't notice a problem with this before, but it's nice that it's gone.
  • Greater Blessing of Kings, Light, Might, Salvation, Sanctuary and Wisdom increased to 30 minutes.
Amazing. I hate refreshing blessings, plus this saves a bit of reagent cash.
  • Guardian's Favor now increases duration of Blessing of Freedom by 2/4 seconds.
I don't have this talent, but it seems like a straight buff, right?
  • Eye for an Eye: This ability can now trigger while the Paladin is sitting.
There are a large number of 'this now works while sitting' fixes in this patch.
  • Hammer of Wrath cast time reduced to .5 seconds, global cooldown reduced to .5 seconds.
Eeeeee! This is so awesome! (Currently, if you're far from the mob and a bit slow on the trigger, they can run out of range while you're casting.
  • Illumination: Paladins will now correctly gain mana from this ability if they sit down to drink right after a healing crit, and receiving mana from this ability will no longer cause a Paladin who is sitting to stand up.
Another problem I've never encountered.
  • Judgement: The Judgement spells will no longer cause triggered effects to go off twice.
Never noticed this.
  • Redoubt: This ability can now trigger while the Paladin is sitting.
  • Reckoning: This ability can now trigger while the Paladin is sitting.
  • Righteous Defense: In some cases this ability would fail to work properly when the Paladin casting it had just been crowd controlled by a creature. That is now fixed.
Never encountered this, and I do use the skill.
  • Seal of Righteousness: The tooltip for this ability has been improved. It now displays a different number for one-handed weapons and two-handed weapons, and adjusts to the speed of your current weapon. It displays a single number, rather than a range of numbers for different handedness and speeds.
Nice cleanup for my seal of choice.
  • Seal of Vengeance: The damage from this ability will now stack properly when two different characters are applying Seal of Vengeance effects to a target.
That's cool, though I don't know how it worked before.
  • Seal of Vengeance duration increased to 15 seconds. In addition, when Seal of Vengeance strikes a target that already has 5 applications you will cause instant Holy damage.
Is Seal of Righteousness still my seal of choice?

Other stuff.

  • Adamantite Bound Chest: This chest found in the outdoor world now contain level-appropriate loot.
I was wondering why these contained a bunch of level 45 food and water.

  • Mr. Pinchy: Items received from Mr. Pinchy when your inventory is full will now be mailed to you.
Probably the most hilarious note in the patch.
  • Firewing Warlocks are less likely to want to engage in melee combat.
Aw, I liked it when they did that.
  • The following old-world factions have had their acquisition rate significantly increased: Cenarion Circle, Argent Dawn, Timbermaw Hold.
I know one guildmate happy about this.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Druids, Azeroth, and some other Things

I've been leveling an alt. I'm level 38. A druid. A feral druid. (I was a balance druid for a while, but even specced full balance with balance gear on I was -far- more effective in cat -or- bear form than as a caster, so now I'm a feral druid. Probably just my style, although I don't know how much going out of mana after every single fight is a style thing.)

Anyway, the last time I did most of Azeroth was two years ago, so it's not like I'm sick of the place, and I don't have the 'ugh, I just did this' feeling. However, I -did- just do Outland, and Azeroth is a hole compared to Outland.

Wander into a new zone. Grab the flight path and reset your hearth to the new inn. Get six quests that all take place in that zone, as well as two others that send you to the other quest hubs in the zone. Receive mucho experience and intelligently itemized quest rewards. Most quests will have a reward you can use, and you will want to use many of them. For every quest reward, it is very easy to imagine who would want to use that reward.

Wander into a new zone. Maybe there's a flight path. Maybe there's an inn. Get two quests, one of which is green to you and one of which is red. Wander around the zone until you find a dwarf sitting on the base of a cliff. He gives you a group quest that you can't really do because you're the only alliance player in the zone. You finish the green quest, which has no reward, and it either chains into a zone on the other continent that you just finished off or it chains into Uldaman. You also get Darnassus reputation, which has no function since you've been honored with them for ten levels. When you do eventually get a reward, it will either be your choice of two weapons your class cannot use, or some items that look like someone was deliberately trying to make an item that nobody would want. There is +Spirit on everything.

It's clear that with Burning Crusade, Blizzard deliberately cut out many of the things that were a hassle. Quest rewards that nobody would ever want are gone. Quests that chain helter-skelter into other zones, while noble in their intent (getting players to explore the world and showing players to other level-appropriate zones) are gone, as they do nothing but create un-fun travel times for players who already know the world. There are multiple flight paths in every zone to save travel time.

The most obnoxious part of leveling through Azeroth, in my eyes, is all the travel. Travel is completely and totally non-interactive, but unless you just grind or only run a fraction of the quests, you end up doing a lot of it, whether it's running across zones or making flights. Grinding doesn't excite me and it feels like circumventing the game rather than playing it, plus it's rumored to be somewhat slower. At the same time, it's a heck of a lot more like playing the game than flying from Ashenvale to Theramore is. (As an aside, I find it strange that a feature that would seem terrible and absurd in virtually every other game genre - one to ten minute periods of just waiting - is an accepted part of the game.) There are a ton of 30-45 zones, but most have a frightfully small number of 'native' quests that start and end in that zone. (Though some are much worse than others, with Dustwallow Marsh being the most egregious offender I've come across.) Unsuprisingly, the recently-implemented Forest Song is by far the most elegant quest hub.

In a grand-picture sense, Azeroth is more complex and less linear with lots of options for the player (Wetlands, where I spent a huge amount of time on my pally, was totally skipped by my druid), which are noble traits, but in practice having globe-spanning quests just results in a lot of traveling, which is almost by default the least fun part of the game. If a zone has only four native quests and they're spread across eight levels, you end up with a bunch of unsatisfying visits to that zone.

On my way to level 38, here's my favorite zones so far. Bear in mind that I'm on a PvE server.

Ashenvale - This is entirely on the merits of Forest Song. Astranaar - and the rest of the zone - is a textbook example of how not to do it, with only a few quests scattered across a wide level range.
STV - STV takes a lot of flak, but it has a bunch of doable quests with usable rewards, plus it's crowded enough that you can group with people.
1K Needles - This is practically like an Outland zone, with lots of doable quests all in one place and all in the same level range (at least until they start sending you all over the world.)

And my least favorites:

Dustwallow Marsh - Ick. I didn't do this zone on my Pally, and I'm really glad. If this zone has any redeeming qualities, I'd like to know what they are. Theramore could be a major cool quest hub, but it's not. Only the chef has any use for you.
Darkshore - I did not realize how heinous this zone was compared to Loch Modan and Westfall, each of which I've done at least twice. (I have a variety of level 20-ish characters.) It's like they used all of their clean, cool ideas on Loch and Westfall and Darkshore got what was left. This zone is the reason my druid stayed abandoned at level 17 for two years.

Level 70: Where do I go from here?

My paladin has been level 70 for a few days, and we're plowing through Netherstorm, pretty much the same as before I was 70. (Having a flying mount makes a lot of things much easier.) Finished the part of the Kara chain that's outside Kara itself, so I need to go to Shadow Labs next. A friend put the key chain off for a while, and ended up having to re-run some unpleasant instances, so might as well get 'er done early.

I have no intention of ever raiding. I flat-out don't play when class is in session, because I just have too many other things going on, and class starts mid-September. While I could probably get geared and keyed by then without a great deal of trouble (depending on my luck with drops and how much I play), I'm not going to join a guild for just a month and then ditch on them. I'm getting the Kara key because it's something to do and if the bizarre happens and I do end up in Kara one night, I'll have the opportunity. Realistically, the next time I come back will be December at the earliest, and I'm once again not going to join a guild for just a month. If I play next summer, being Kara keyed will likely be about as important as being attuned to the Core is now.

What are my goals, then? Well, I've made a list of gear I want for soloing and gear I want for healing, although it's a kind of haphazard list given the number of side-grades available, especially in the rings department. The bracers section has "some 'of the something' green" written down in both columns, because there are about two pally bracers in outland pre-heroics pre-kara. (I should look into mail bracers - the Primal Surge Bracers look pretty nice, and I'm coming to see armor as "just another stat" that can be swapped away for more important stats, especially when it comes to healing.) Getting the gear on my list is probably my foremost goal, and it comes with my secondary goal, experiencing the early end-game content. I was level 54 when BC hit, so I never ran Dire Maul, Scholo, Strat, BRD, UBRS, LBRS and any other random puggable 55-60 content in the old world properly, and it'd be nice to see the instances before they're replaced by the next expansion. (Though after my epic mount quest, I can safely say that I'm not sorry that I missed Dire Maul. That zone is a pit.)

I'll probably never see anything Kara or post-Kara (I don't consider not seeing heroics to be a huge loss, since they're basically the same instance), and I'm pretty okay with that. Assuming the next expansion follows the BC model (and I don't see any other way of doing it that doesn't make the new content trivial for well-geared players) the gear I'm collecting will probably be obsolete when it hits, but I'm okay with that. I'm collecting gear primarily to have a goal in a game I love to play than for any specific end.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Dinged 70

Dinged 70 just in time to leave town for the weekend. I somehow feel like I have the right to have an opinion now, even though I just went from being someone who was rather well-informed for a level 69 character to being someone who was kind of clueless for a level 70 character. (I know that that the 'characters not at the level cap don't get to have an opinion' thing is an old and not necessarily fair prejudice, but it's somehow managed to stick with me. That's not to say that I don't like hearing what mid-level players have to say, I've always just subconsciously counted it for less. I know it's terrible.)

Blade's Edge is practically done, and I believe we're moving on to Netherstorm.

I -really- need to update the thing on the side that says what blogs I read.

Nice MMOs Finish First

WoW is obviously the most successful MMO of all time, and even if half the player base left tomorrow, it'd still be far and away the most popular. WoW is to MMORPGs what Halo was to shooting games, only much more so - many, many people who do not play MMOs or even videogames in general play World of Warcraft. WoW clearly did and is doing a ton of things very right.

One major thing that WoW does that I think makes it a winner is that there are very few points of frustration. While some aspects of the game are challenging, everyone can level at a fairly steady pace; there's no such thing as being 'just not good enough' to make it past level 46 or whatever. There's no getting stuck (until maybe your guild is raiding, and players who are that far in are usually very entrenched).

I've played games (not modern MMOs, but text-based MUDs) where dying hugely crippled your character. You could lose all your money and gear and several hours worth of experience, if not more. I can tell you that I've burned through a huge number of MUDs, and have never stuck with one even though I always enjoy them to start. Obviously there is no MUD in existence that's a fraction as good as WoW is, but the primary reason I leave is because of how unfriendly the systems are. WoW wisely took a painless deaths approach, where you only earn a small repair bill and a corpse run when you kick the bucket. I can tell you that dying in a game where death is a big deal is a -huge- disincentive to continuing to play at all.

WoW, for the most part, doesn't let you REALLY screw up. Decisions you make as an inexperienced low-level character don't doom or even slightly gimp you later on, as is the case in many games where players manually allocate points to stats. A character's race is primarily a cosmetic thing, as stat differences and racial abilities for the most part have relatively little influence. Sure, every human priest wishes he was a dwarf instead (or now, a Draenei), but it's not like you ruined your character by making a wrong race selection.

Blizzard's official reason for disallowing PvE to PvP character transfers is that there's an uneven leveling environment, which is true. I suspect that there's a stealth reason also behind the rule, stemming from a desire for regret control. I suspect that in many cases Joe Stabbystab, who originally rolled on a PvE server, and who now wishes to transfer to a PvP server so he can gleefully gank him some horde isn't the PvP badass he thinks he is, and would regret the transfer. Player regret is bad for the game's health.

Now, I'm not saying that a game will be more successful if you remove all opportunities for regret and its cousin, frustration, because I believe that players like it if their decisions matter - for every bad feeling that comes with having made a bad choice, there's a potential good feeling for having made a good one. There are many cases where they already do, such as profession choices, spec and gear choices, and the entire realm of money management. WoW's winning plan is to make very few choices totally permanent.

In addition to producing fewer that's-it-I'm-quitting moments, limiting frustration, regret, and massive sudden disappointment (You're dead! There goes all your gear!) also lets players just play the dang game. I like being able to explore or try crazy things knowing that even if something goes horribly, horribly wrong, the absolute worst thing that can happen to me is that I have to spirit rez. You know what's not a good feeling? Desperately racing back to your corpse, hoping that it hasn't been totally looted.

WoW wins because WoW is friendly. No matter how h4rdcor3 you are, experiencing routine setbacks and periodic disappointment and frustration can be grating and erodes a desire to play. WoW manages to be very friendly without being kiddy or unchallenging, and has ridden the formula to unprecedented success.

Through the Eyes of a Healer

Warning: Meandering, Ignorance follow

As a long-time healer, I have a very healer-centric view of how group fights go. Every fight is basically a race, a race between my mana bar (and ability to refill it) and the enemy creature's life bar. If my mana bar goes empty first, we will lose shortly afterwards. If the enemy creature's life bar goes empty first, we won. In a sense, except in cases where the monster is putting out damage faster than it's possible for me to heal it, which doesn't normally happen, the monster is really attacking my mana bar. Everything circles back around to my mana bar. (Although you could probably apply similar logic to say that everything circles back around to any other role.) My mana bar is like the entire party's health bar, and as long as we're in a fight, my mana bar has a dot on it as I spam heals to keep the party up. If the tank has low mitigation or if I have to heal DPS classes, the dot gets bigger. When the other party members heal themselves with pots or bandages or drain life or LotP proc or whatever, the dot gets smaller. The longer the fight lasts, the more time the dot has to tick away.

This relates to my belief that all DPS classes all need to be able to do roughly comparable effective damage (that is, the total damage they contribute to the party including the extra damage others do as a result of their buffs); -every- fight is on a timer, and the timer is the healer's mana bar (though some fights are on stricter timers, such as enrage timers). If a class can't do as much damage as a 'pure' DPS class and they want to DPS, they need to compensate for it in some way that keeps the healer's mana bar up. A simple way is off-healing; any damage the ret paladin, enhancement shaman or DPS druid heals is damage that I don't have to heal. "I don't heal at all" might not be the best way to be effective in an instance. (Though, perhaps hypocritically, I scoff at the idea of contributing to DPS.)

Of course, the game is, in reality, much more complicated than that. Most wipes I've been a part of were not the result of everything going smoothly until - due to a combination of my mana pool being too small, DPS not doing enough damage and the warrior not having enough mitigation - I happen to run out of mana and we quietly wipe. They're all the result of all hell breaking loose because of adds or because of aggro mismanagement. There is no class in any role that can do their job as well when chaos breaks loose. Adds and bad aggro don't always result in chaos; it's possible to recover gracefully from either. Chaos seldom occurs -without- them, though. That's where skill, I think, comes in. In a purely gear-centric world, fights would be won or lost based entirely on whether the monster went down before the healer's mana bar did. Chaos exists, though, and the biggest factor in preventing and recovering from it is, in my mind, player skill (including player coordination). (Although gear certainly provides a buffer. Also, I'm not claiming to be master chaos-recovery dude; as noted above, chaos often wipes us.)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Talkin' bout my spec

In the back of my mind, I think I always intended to respec at level 70. Well, now I'm 1/3 of a level away, and I'm torn.

My current spec is not an unmitigated disaster or anything, but it's not a paragon of efficiency. When I was level 54, I decided what spec I wanted at 60, and started aiming for it. Then BC came out, and so my spec is basically an interrupted level 60 build with 9 points more or less thrown wherever. It's good for the way I solo and for the way I do instances, and there's nothing in there that I hugely regret, though there are things I would certainly change if given a free respec.

What I'm not looking to do -
I'm not looking for a maximized raid healing spec. I don't raid at all, and I still have two zones worth of soloing and small-grouping to do, plus a lot of time in small-group instances.
I'm not going ret. I know people like this spec, but it's just not for me.
I'm -probably- not going prot. I heard lots of good things about the viability of this spec as a soloing spec and it might be interesting to tank for a change, but among my guildmates and friends, I'm the -only- high level healer, and there are other tanks. I'd be messing up the synergy with a high-level guild warrior that I've been leveling with since 54 or so, since we don't need two tanks in an instance.

What I've found, however, is that every time I try and build a spec, I wind up with something very similar to what I have now. Here's my process; maybe one of you can help.

5 points in Divine Intellect. A no-brainer.
5 points in Spiritual Focus, another no-brainer.
3 points in Healing Light. Looking good so far.
Now we're looking a little thin. We need 2 more points somewhere, so
2 points in Improved SoR. I use a mix of SoR and SoV.
5 points in Illumination. Nerf or not, this is still a winner in my mind.
1 point in Divine Favor.
3 points in Sanctified Light. Yay for crits.
Need another point somewhere. Improved SoW looks attractive, but we'll put -
1 more point in Improved SoR.
5 easy points in Holy Power
1 point in Holy Shock. It's like DPS!
3 points in Light's Grace. I underestimated how amazing this talent was originally.
1 more point in Improved SoR. Is this the talent I should be using for backfill?
5 points in Holy Guidance.
1 point in Divine Illumination.

With everything I consider important, I have 20 points left to spend. Stuff that I would consider using it on -

Holy Tree-
Blessed Life - This is kind of like 5% resistance to all damage. I can't say no to that.
Purifying Power - Both of the effects on this are things that matter to me.
Last point in Improved SoR - Little extra damage doesn't hurt.
Improved BoW - 8 Mp5 is kinda nice, plus I can share the love.

Prot Tree -
This tree is where my extra points are now, and it's full of things that I -almost- want. I have points in redoubt now that I don't really want, but improved Devo Aura is of limited value. I mean, I have it up most of the time, so it's where points would probably go, but I don't know how good it is.
Precision and Toughness are both reasonable passive utility things, but there's no way I'd take Toughness over Blessed Life.
Guardian's Favor is a bit of a wild card, because it improves two spells that I don't use as much as I should. I don't know if either effect is something I would get any real benefit out of.
BoK is the primary reason I'd go into this tree. I don't know if it's worth 11 talent points, though.
Improved Righteous Fury is another wild card. Obviously I almost never use Righteous Fury as it is, because I don't want to generate more threat. If I took this talent, I couldn't use it in instances, because I don't want my heals to generate way more threat. (It does affect heals, right?)

Anticipation would probably be where my points on this level would go if I went this deep.
There's nothing on tier 4 that would make we want to go that deep into prot.

Retribution Tree -
Benediction would probably get the nod over Improved BoM. I don't use BoM on myself, and I don't know if the extra 44 attack power, while impressive, is worth 5 points.
Tier two is all kind of iffy. I mean, they're all nice things to have, though I don't use SoCr as much as I should. I don't even judge ever 15 seconds most of the times, so I don't know if the ability to judge every 13 is really an improvement. The additional parry chance is nice, but not something I'd go into the tree just to get.

Looking through the rest of the tree, with only 20 points available, I can't dig deep enough to get anything I'm really pining for. If I'm willing to lose Divine Illumination, I can get Sanctity Aura, and two points from Holy Guidance gets me the improved version. Right now, two points in holy guidance is 47 damage and healing, unbuffed, in my sololing gear, and probably around that in my healing set. Getting Sanctity Aura is actually looking pretty attractive; it means that I lose Divine Illumination, which hurts, and it means that I lose a lot of random holy tree talents that I kind of want in exchange for some ret talents that I kind of want, and it means that my build is the nonsensical sounding 38/0/23, but there are some nice perks and I don't give up the core of my healing abilities. What do you all think. 38/0/23? Or something more like 50/11/0?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Three Addons I Love

Fiddling around with the look. This probably isn't final. I wanted to work blue into it somehow, but I'm not sure I'm entirely happy. (I'm not an artist; I have a hard time making things look good.)

I love a lot of addons. Now, I don't have so many installed that my interface looks like something totally alien, but there are some darn good ones. These three are ones that stick out because their effects are so visible.

tBag - What this basically does is turn all of your bags into one giant bag, and then divides everything up by category. To someone as immensely disorganized as I am, this is a huge boon. All of the vendor trash is in one spot. All of the herbs are in one spot, and all of the motes. My gear is all in one spot. (Tiny nitpick - if there's a way to get it to distinguish between my healing set and "random quest reward I picked because it would sell for the most", I haven't found it.) Since I got this mod, it feels like I have so much bag space, because it's easy to keep track of everything I have.

Rating Buster - Look, I don't have a clear picture of how much 13 spell crit rating is. Rating Buster has a very good idea of how much it is. As a character that needs to balance a lot of stats (Int, Sta, Str, Spell Damage, Healing, Spell Crit, Mp5, Haste and Spell Haste, and probably some other stuff), this mod, which converts the enigmatic 'ratings' into actual numbers, is a huge boon. I like the math of the game enough to have a pretty good idea about some of the numbers, but that doesn't mean that I want to be dividing by 14 or 12 in the middle of an instance trying to decide if the ring I just got is only better for soloing, or also better for healing.

Item Rack - This is a big one. Now, I don't know about you DPS classes that just waltz into instances wearing your solo gear, and maybe have a few different pieces for PvP, but I have two almost entirely distinct sets, one for healing and one for soloing/questing. This mod lets you change between sets all at once at any time, something I've found immensely useful. It also helped my organization quite a bit, since I now have a clear idea of what's in my healing set, what's in my soloing set, and what's in neither. (Before I picked up this mod, I carried six rings around with me. I clearly wasn't using all of them, but I couldn't articulate exactly which ones were for what.) Leveling a druid, I'm once again getting a lot out of this mod. (Even if my 'Kitty' and 'Bear' sets are almost the same at this point. Strength and Stamina.)

Monday, July 2, 2007

Been actually, y'know, playing.

Druid alt us up to 35. Pally main is up to 68. I need to level up a -something- (probably DPS) so that I can go on a guild VC run in a week or two. (Our guild only has about seven actual humans in it, so running VC all together is kind of a tradition. As one of the senior members, I'd really like to go.) I feel as if I should -not- do the shadow priest thing if I can help it; out guild has a jillion low-to-40's shadow priests. I have a level 12 hunter serving as a bank character; might just roll with that.