Archive for Mists of Pandaria

As we prepare for our journeys

Posted in Guides, News, Shadowpriest, Theory with tags , , on September 3, 2012 by Natarumah

With the release of patch 5.0, the servers have been flooded with people resubscribing to get into the game before Mists releases. There’s something cute about dozens of people milling around in confusion, trying to find out what their talents are doing, whether their class is still competitive and where they can train for pet battles (which they can’t, until Mists launches).

Shadowpriests are in a good spot at the moment. We’re not so overpowered that the nerfbat looms over us, yet we’re not so much behind or broken that we can’t simply play the game. In fact, I would categorize us as the “somewhat boring, safe choice” at the moment. Warlocks certainly had all the goodies, but from their angle I see a lot of complaints about mana issues, restrictive rotations and the lack of DPS cooldowns.

Our basic rotation

Priority one: Keep up Shadow Word:Pain and Vampiric Touch at all times, on all targets. Shadow Word:Pain gives us Shadow Orbs and Vampiric Touch regenerates health and mana for us.

Use Devouring Plague at 3 Shadow Orbs to be safe, or use it whenever the old one starts to drop off (this may be a DPS loss). Mind Blast on cooldown, Mind Flay as filler. Assuming that you took From Darkness Comes Light and Divine Insight as talents, you’re going to see 2 procs:

When your FDCL procs, your Mind Spike becomes Instant cast, costs no mana and doesn’t wipe DoTs. This is the only time I will use MS, and combined with the Mind Spike Glyph it meshes well with Mind Blast. When DI procs, you get an Instant cast, free Mind Blast. So two procs to juggle, not too serious.

Finally, <20% Health you start prioritizing Shadow Word:Death for execution – if you have it glyphed you can use it while on the move even above 20% health, but otherwise there’s little reason to touch it. Its damage is inferior when not in the Execute phase. Multidot when there’s 2-3 targets, above that target your tank and Mind Sear away.

Cooldowns

First off, Silence and Psychic Horror are now baseline. These are great tools while questing and even in dungeons, but they were never worth it to invest talent points in. Rather than including them in the new talent choices (where they would again be ignored, most likely) the Developers decided to add them to our standard toolkit. I am grateful for this, because it also gives us baseline PvP ability right off the bat.

The first tier of our talents are all about control – which you take depends on your personal preference and content. Dominate Mind is great for instancing and mayhem in PvP. Psifiend is of most use when you expect to stay around a single spot for some time – this usually is a raiding situation where you need to keep adds of you – but this is mostly good as healer defense. The Void Tendrils are a good go-to and the one I took for myself – an AoE root around yourself is a great escape.

Your talents will hold a few other choices, most of them up to you. One of the talents I picked up to test them out was our Camouflage, which is simply hilarious. I can’t really judge how effective it would be in a real raiding situation, but in an Ulduar fun-run we had I managed to get aggro on some mobs, and then pop this. They went after my decoy and started hitting it – and by the time it went poof they had to move all over the room to get to me again. This is great as an escape mechanism, especially when combined with Fade, but it will also surprise a lot of people in PvP.

Vital statistics

With the gear chances, Hit isn’t really going to be an issue. We will gain Spell Hit from Hit, Expertise and Spirit now. If you are anal about the hit cap, then the Human race is for you: Expertise bonus with Maces as well as a Spirit bonus. If you are an experienced Shade, 13% Hit will be plenty.

We still favour Haste, but Crit and Mastery are now on a more equal footing. Since they both do the same thing (doubling damage) the only difference is that Crit can help our Shadowfiend cooldown via Mind Flay while Mastery cannot. That said, to prevent gimping yourself due to Diminishing returns, balancing Crit and Mastery isn’t a bad deal. After all – you can have your damage doubled by both a Crit and Mastery at once.

On a personal note: preparations

For alts I often rely on the Darkmoon Faire to get around those pesky sore spots in levelling professions where I’d need to sink in tons of gold. Alas, the Faire’s quests weren’t properly reset this month so that plan went out the window. Since I don’t know whether I want to focus on levelling my Warlock, Death Knight orPaladin after my Priest, I gave them all sufficient shiny gear to survive the starter zone. With my Warrior at 85, I now own an 85 of every class except for the Shaman, which I just never really got into. If I find the energy, I might decide to spend the time before Mists leveling it to 85 just to have a “full stable”

I am looking forward to the pet battles, but I can already see an issue on the horizon. There are quite a few pets of which I have 5 or more copies – in Mists we will be limited to three of each type. As we can’t crate them for trade before Mists actually launches, I worry that some of these pets will be crunched in between “can’t crate it” and “crate or lose it”. With a modicum of common sense, Blizzard will first enforce a “never gain more once you have three of a kind” first and not hard enforce the limit until a month or so passed.

My focus points on the moment are getting my Warlock her droolishious Conquest outfit for mogging, now that it is available for Honor. I was already halfway saving conquest, but things speed up nicely this way. Second on the list is winning that darn Fishing Competition so that I can get my Salty title. Problem is, I am hated by Booty Bay leaving only the Dalaran fishing competition – and that’s a tight window.

The future of Shadowpriests

We are safe for the moment, a good choice. I can see how people from less favored class reroll when they get disappointed about how their classes turned out after the beta. Many times the beta’s start was shiny and new, and the Developers tried lovely new things – only to discard them (like Warlock tanks). But these ideas rooted in the minds of people, as they really liked them. And now that the patch is here, they see their class hasn’t even got half the shinies it was offered.

With Shadowpriests receiving little to no “fun” goodies (less shadowy shadowform? Shadowy pets? Why would I take those?) and is using basically all the old abilities in a slightly modified rotation from before, I think we came out better than I expected. Good damage (but not jaw-droppingly so), plenty mana and a Shadowform that just won’t quit - what more could you wish for?

Ahead of the game

Posted in Guides, News, Shadowpriest with tags , , , , on July 30, 2012 by Natarumah

So, with the annnouncement of Mists of Pandaria to be released September 25, we can conclude that the Beta and PTR have done their job and all that is left is some touch-up points. Sadly, this means that while the Shadowpriest remains a solid class and probably will do really well in the DPS department, we still get shafted with a lack of interesting goodies. The new DPS rotation will probably remain a more simple “keep up 2 dots and hit buttons that glow up” – but at least we’re not broken!

This post isn’t going to be a very long one – my plan for this week is to scour all resources I have (Beta/PTR info and the like) to make a preliminary stat and spell priority listing.

Leveling and Storyline

Mists will have a good old, solid storyline with overall more interesting quests than “slay 12 boars” (although they are still represented, and the Nesingwary Safari will follow us into Pandaria). A lot of phasing makes the questing zones very dynamic, and also means that once you pass certain quests, you leave people behind in their own phase. This spreads the load a bit, and you’re not going to have everyone on a single pile.

The quests are also woven into the dungeons and raids, meaning we will have less “tacked on” raids where the storyline seems only sideways connected to the main plot (Throne of the Four Winds link with Deathwing was tenuous at best, and even Blackwing Descent as fun as it was merely was a son-of-DW event). Some of the dungeons are actually quest hubs on themselves, meaning that the leveling zone and dungeon are directly connected (as was done in Cataclysm).

All in all I am very pleased with how the questing was done – and for the Alliance I truly love how Anduin Wrynn shapes up to be a real leader character.

Dungeons and Raids

Admittedly I have done no dungeons or raids in the beta, but looking at some of the videos on MMO-Champion I have to say that raiding looks to be more interesting – especially for the tanks. I mean, us DPS are happy enough when the numbers fly, but tanks like to have some mobility and survivability challenges, neither of which were properly done in Cataclysm.

Cataclysm saw the rise of some truly bad tanks, who learned very little about mititgation, use of cooldowns, mobility and situational awareness. Hard Mode Spine of Deathwing suddenly jumped up – here survivability and awareness are paramount to survival, and new tanks had to relearn quite a bit to cope with it. Conversely, old school tanks quit in digust at how brainless tanking seemed to be, and even a large portion of tank bloggers and theorycrafters became extinct. Granted, they loved Heroic Spine – but didn’t want to wade through the rest of Dragon Soul to get there.

So to see mobility and awareness become key points in defeating some bosses is a sight for sore eyes – and might entice some of the good tanks to come back. They also hold great lessons for DPS – like adds that must be damaged from the back or they reflect damage. Like with Cayaclysm, it does seem that mobile DPS is more important as well. Expect challenge mode dungeons to be an excellent teacher in reaching for the bottom of the jar.

Preparations for the release date

Of course, there’s plenty to do before the release to ensure a smooth and solid rush to level 90. I have to admit that WoW seemed to be dreary and dull, with little reason for me to log in. I have played at least a dozen games over the last month, and in the end I still return to WoW. So to prepare, here’s a list of things I am planning to do, maybe it will be of value to you as well:

  • Clear out my bank alts and bank alt guilds to get rid of all pre-Cata stuff that is not critical to powerlevelling professions
  • Also throw all bound gear and fun items I haven’t used in more than three months into Void Storage – I paid for it, might as well use it
  • Gather and arrange enough pre-cata materials to level 2 alts worth of two professions (for one Monk of any kind and one Pandaren of any kind)
  • Gather enough materials to level all my characters’  professions another 5-10 points on Cata materials – mileage may vary
  • Place these materials in the alt guild – each tab named after the character it is for
  • Make a list of the pets I still want to gather before the pet battle system goes live – their prices might skyrocket after that if they are powerful
  • Re-arrange parts of this blog to record my levelling experience and screenshots of the areas
  • Make sure all my characters, before they go off to level, have cleared bags and updated gear
  • Install Mists of Pandaria
  • Go!

Conclusion

Despite myself, I am actually pretty excited about Mists of Pandaria. It feels different somehow – more casual and less hardcore, but also just as enchanting as TBC felt when it was announced. To be fair, it feels like a fresh start more than Cataclysm did. Where Cataclysm felt like the destruction of the old ways and the reduction of raiding and PvP, Mists seems more like building it back from scratch. The game has changed, and we have to change with it. As much as we might want things to remain the same (even if for just one expansion) I will simply see if I will fall in love with the new game over again.

The Old Gods and their new toys

Posted in Diary, Fun, News, Roleplaying, Shadowpriest, Theory with tags , , , , on June 3, 2012 by Natarumah

Things are starting to get rolling in the Priest department, it seems. When MMO-Champion released a video of the new priest animations (check it out here) by Kit, the first thing that went through my head is “hey – I think I see a theme…” which is a good thing, definitely. While the Holy and Discipline priests have their clear and present feels, I posted before on how Shadowpriests need to be re-examined and have their theme pulled tight again.

When I look at these animations, however, I have to say that the ballpark seems to be squarely in the Old Gods department again. Let’s have a look at a few telling animations, and see what we can gather from it…or what may be yet in store.

Psyfiend

The Psyfiend looks like a strange mixture between the Sha (The spiritual manifestations of bad and twisted emotions in Pandaria) and an evolved Shadowfiend. As you can see, it has the Shadowfiend’s head and back (including gaping maw) with its lower half devolving into a legless form of spirit and Shadows.

Considering that the Sha represent emotions and are a major threat to Pandaria, I wouldn’t be surprised if this cemented the link between the Shadowfiend being a gift from the Old Gods and the Sha being the creations or manipulations by one. Of course, we’d have to follow through on the Mists of Pandaria storyline in order to find out for sure, but the chances are high that we may find some solid linking between the various concepts.

If you look at the Sha on WoWPedia, you will find that there’s a good resemblance between the Sha types and the Shadowfiend, as well as the ominous stained glass window that was revealed  (which is of course a representation of Yogg-Saron). If we will be eventually facing an Old God in this expansion, it’s therefore likely to be a shadowy one – perhaps finally revealing where the Shadowpriests of the Horde and Alliance are getting their powers from.

Void Tendrils

Of all of the new Priest abilities, this is the most no-brainer of them all. Tendrils that look like any used by the Old Gods and their servants. From Ch’tun to Yogg-Saron, from Vezzax to Zon’ozz, you can’t seem to fight these guys without tripping over tentacles. And right now, Priests can do that exact same thing. It’s possibly the most telling example of the connection between the Old Gods and Shadowpriests, but also the most iconic. Raise your hands if you have run Ch’tun and Yogg-Saron even in Wrath to get your hands on any of the tentacle trinkets?

Mindbender

And the last of the abilities I want to focus on is Mindbender, allowing us to control others’ minds. Where the Shadowfiends dutifully suck out all of that delicious mana for us to use from our enemies the Mindbenders pop out of whatever Shadowy hiding place they come from and give us more soldiers to use in our battles – and these Mindbenders are creatures we’ve seen before. One of them controls Erunak Stonespeaker in the Throne of the Tides, and will jump to party members to do the same.

And one large specimen of this creature controls a Flesh Giant in the Twilight Highlands (Julak-Doom) while Ozumat is likely the largest specimen of this type encountered near Azeroth. The fact that this race is aligned with, and probably spawned by, the Old Gods and now in service to Shadowpriests is telling of our allegiance in the great race between Order (Titans) and Chaos (Old Gods).

Conclusion

We are looking at a solid design element here, Old Gods. People have speculated about them for years now, and I would be delighted if Shadowpriests were actively part of that lore. It’d make us bad guys, sure – or at the very least anti-heroes, but it would give us plenty of visual elements to give us new toys with.

Imagine powers based on the Faceless Ones, such as shadowy globs that explode on impact or eye stalks that cast Mind Flay? Why not some form of buff that makes us bigger and turns out arms into tentacles (or have them grow out of our backs) to show the corruptive influences of our magics?

And if you ever want to remake the Shadowpriest (like what happened to Warlocks) I can offer up one suggestion: replace the mana bar with a Sanity bar. As we go along, many of our abilities reduce our Sanity, producing various nasty visual results, until we ran out of Sanity and can no longer cast spells. We regain Sanity by draining it from enemies (as we do now) or by casting spells that are helpful to our raid (Shadowy healing, buffs, and the like). It might be that certain powerful abilities – instead of being on a cooldown – require the Shadowpriest to be below a certain level of Sanity (thoroughly insane to grasp these terrible secrets) before they can be used.

I hope Blizzard will stick with the Old Gods theme, because as you can see there is so much that can still be done and left to explore. It certainly would keep me playing my Shadowpriest!

How the East was won

Posted in Fun, News, Shadowpriest with tags , , , , on May 27, 2012 by Natarumah

Since there are little to no changes to the Shadowpriest on the beta of note (just continuous shuffling of abilities) it’s about time to look beyond the Shadowpriest itself, and look at the expansion as a whole. From what I’ve seen and what I’ve been told, Mists of Pandaria is going to be quite a different expansion to what we’re used to, as attested to by what the Devs claimed were their intentions and what’s on the Beta right now.

There will be more exploration in Mists

One of the key things here is that the vistas are grand, and areas are huge. There is so much to see, and a lot of detail in the terrain. There are also things scattered around the area from carts to boxes to tea sets still giving off steam. The visual experience is powerful, colors are bold and models are well-made and animated. Where once WoW’s cartoony graphics may have been an anti-aging method, here they actually look like they’re “in place” and meaningful.

Exploration also comes into play with the quests. Where Cataclysm led you by the nose, some quests and events in Mists you won’t find unless you go off the beaten path and beyond the area you are questing in. If you follow the quest lines alone you will level just fine, but to see all that Pandaria has to offer you will have to go down unused paths into the jungle or find long-lost caves and ruins.

Another nice touch is how the quests involving a dungeon actually take place in and around that area, instead of just leading up to it and then stopping cold of the instance portal. It makes the world feel that much more real, thought-out and immersive.

Mists of Pandaria will be more Casual-friendly

Unless the raiding model will be much improved from Cataclysm, and Blizzard gets their raid buffs sorted, it’s likely you will find the number of hard-mode raiders dropping severely (again). With the raid finder, the complexity of 25mans without the additional reward and the heavy focus put on 10man raiding, you will see that Hard Modes are going to be for an ever shrinking group of players.

On the flip side, WoW will be very inviting to more casual play. Pet battles and exploration for those who like them, the ability to farm your own plot of land (like done so beautifully in Lotro before – expect the pipeweed is missing) and the removal of the daily quests cap means that there is plenty to do even if you are not a raider. And if you fancy yourself a good player, you can always test yourself in the 5man challenge modes.

Blizzard seems to head for a Dynamic Server Model

There seems to be a lot of pressure on cross-realm interaction, especially in leveling zones. This seems great for people who want to do that Elite quests (which will make a comeback in Mists) but it does introduce one problem: cross-realm asshattery. Since there is zero responsibility or capacity for punishing people who misbehave on cross-realm areas, we can only hope that the improved reporting system (made quicker and more efficient) will actually curb leechers, trainers, kill-stealers, ninjas and pottymouths.

This is of course nice for people who are leveling, but do not discount the economic effects. Servers that are hardly used because no one was leveling in their zones (I am talking about the physical/virtual servers now, and not realms) can now be merged onto a single virtual server (the crossrealm leveling zone) meaning greater efficiency. This will cut costs and makes sure there’s a lot of backup capacity. This might also help with calamities and stability issues, not to mention look good on the next annual report.

Crossrealm leveling zones will still have their normal trading restrictions (like in random dungeons and raids today) but this might change in the future. And from there it’s only a step up to a truly dynamic server model, where your choice of realm is a choice when logging in, or even a click away (like in Champions Online). This would make the debate about merging realms and dying realms obsolete, as people could be dynamically redistributed. The only stable location would have to be the capital cities, where your guild and friend would be able to meet you when needed and you could organize your 5mans, raids and PvP.

If Fun>Profit run Game else Quit

Yes, an equation. Not very elegant but it proves a point: while some people play for challenge, most just play for fun. Where WoW was once a game where the elite few raided or PvP’d while the rest just stuck to 5mans, it’s now is a game where the casual player is the audience. Those people who want challenging raid mechanics, gear and titles as actual status symbols and truly diabolocial achievements to gain will probably need to look for another game. And let’s face it, it makes sense.

The top raiders once were teenagers, but they are now adults with responsibilities and jobs (for the most part), with the influx into the game being modern-day teenagers who (thanks to the Facebook era) don’t want to spend that amount of time on a game – especially if the same is offered by the free online and FB games of today.

But if you can adapt to the more casual mind-set, where maths are much simpler and gameplay is more set in stone, then Mists of Pandaria still has a lot to offer. I may not personally like how much the game has been made more simple, but it does allow for more expansions to follow and balance to be maintained more easily. And a game that can be upgraded and maintained more easily, and attracts a greater audience, will have a longer lifespan. It also will have more subscribers, which feed into R&D and Design, making the game more shiny. And I cannot find fault in that.

What I intend to do

My personal look at Mists is that I will definitely play. Question is whether it will be as a Hard Mode Raider, and whether it will be as Shadowpriest. So far Shadowpriests are solid in terms of rotations (since we don’t really get anything new anyway) but severely lack in fun (latest addition: a glyph to give your noncombat pet Shadowform – yeah, pass). Warlocks and Death Knights get a lot of shinies and look equally solid. So it may be that I decide to switch mains, or go Casual.

But I do know that I will be playing in the next expansion, and that’s a better outlook than I had a month ago.

The grand design…of sorts

Posted in Fun, News, PvP, Raids and Instances, Shadowpriest, Theory with tags , , , , , on March 30, 2012 by Natarumah

There’s a lot of clamoring about Shadowpriests in the current Beta build; I can’t verify any of it since I don’t have Beta access myself, but I will try and make a coherent baseline setup of what we’d be looking at doing in the current build from what I’ve gathered.  (I received Beta access with the second wave of keys, with most of the other GreyBeard accounts). There are, as always, major concerns and gaps which need to be filled, but we’ll have to hope these get addressed as time marches on.

Keep in mind the general changes to the game, such as Intellect no longer providing mana, meaning we all have the same mana pools, and that Replenishment is gone.

Note that, due to my personal affection for my class, some ranty elements might be included in this post, for which I apologize beforehand. I love my class, and that sometimes gets the better of me.

The base system: Shadow Orbs

Shamelessly lifted off of the Paladin model, Shadow Word: Pain and Mind Blast generate Shadow Orbs, which are used to unleash our most potent attacks. I can’t tell if there’s a limit to the amount we can have, but this picture by Theed on the MMO-Champion forums suggest 3 (three), since the UI has been changed to make room for three slots under the character portrait.

Option 1:Shadowy Apparitions is now a triggered ability, which consumes all Shadow Orbs to generate 1 SA per Orb.

Option 2:Psychic Horror now costs Shadow Orbs to trigger, no mana, and lasts longer with more Orbs. [PvP, do not touch!]

Mastery

Our new Mastery is a straight %Increase to our Shadow damage dealt, and when we trigger Shadowy Apparitions, there’s a chance to be refunded Shadow Orbs when they deal damage. This seems to feed into a system where we trigger Shadowy Apparitions in “lean times”, hoping to be refunded the Orbs. Currently, since the only other thing we can do with them is triggering Psychic Horror, we will do this a lot.

Talents we take

Tier 1: Psyfiend (Static Fear), Shadowy Tendrils (Root), Dominate Mind (New Mind Control) – all of them are as useful or useless as you make it, pick one.

Tier 2: Path of the Devout (Increased speed while Levitating), Phantasm (Fading currently gives you a Smoke Bomb effect as well as a Root escape) – take Phantasm, unless you like recasting Levitate every 5 seconds. (There’s currently word that the speed buff lasts 30 seconds, which would make this a more equal draw).

Tier 3: Dark Archangel (25% Damage boost) or From Darkness Comes Light (VT damage procs an instant MSpike without losing DoTs) – We probably need to calculate burst damage benefits versus the benefit of having a semi-useful MSpike every so often – I probably will go for Dark Archangel then. There’s one spot for an unannounced talent, so let’s hope there’s something good to be had here.

Tier 4: Void Shift (Swap Health and heal lower health target by 25%) – the others are healing talents.

Tier 5: Power Infusion (Straight damage buff), Divine Insight (MB casts allow you to treat your target as <20% for SW:Death), Twist of Fate (15% damage on healing and damage on targets below 20%) – Divine Insight will be the key to the immense damage overload of SW:Death, so I would take it over ToF. PI will be the winner in the beginning, when we have to adjust to our rotations and our mana returns are still bad.

Tier 6: If the “Coming Soon” talent in the preview is Shadow related, take that. Else take Divine Star (Holy Jojo) to steal a Mage’s Fire Orb that also comes back because our spells are loyal to us.

Spell changes

  • Vampiric Touch no longer triggers replenishment, which has been removed. It instead heals you for 15% of the damage it deals.
  • Devouring Plague has been removed; its initial damage aspect has been moved to SW:Pain.
  • SW:Pain now deals instant damage, and generates 1 Shadow Orb when it is cast (no when it ticks).
  • SW:Death now deals X damage to both you and your target, 4x times damage on a target below 20%. It no longer provides mana. When you fail to kill the target its cooldown is reset, as if you had the current SW:Death glyph.
  • Vampiric Embrace now has a 3 minute cooldown, but when triggered heals (Party Memebers) for 50% of the damage you deal.
  • Vampiric Dominance (New) used to be a talent but is now baseline or replaces VE possibly, heals 3 nearby low-health targets for 15% of damage dealt. It cannot be cast in Shadowform however, which is completely against the nature of its ability, name and icon.
  • Mind Control has been removed and replaced with Dominate Mind, which has a 30 second cooldown, maybe (?) instant cast, and affects all non-mechanical targets. Considering people are speaking of using other spells while mind controlling, it might be that this is a full CC or that you get a pet bar instead of losing control.
  • Psychic Scream is baseline again, because screaming like a little girl while tossing dots around didn’t go out of style, no matter what the Devs thought.
  • Spectral Guise is a new ability, generating a copy of you while making you invisible. If your real form is hit with direct attacks 3 times, the spell dissipates.
  • Inner Fire: Now gives a 10% static boost to Spellpower.
  • Shadowfiend’s cooldown has been reduced to 4 minutes.
  • Empowered Shadows is gone entirely.

The good

The dynamics of a [SW:Px3, SA, MB, MF] rotation, while horribly similar to a Paladin’s or Fire Mage’s rotation, can be very interesting but it’s a sudden change in direction. We have one less DoT, and the remaining DoTs need to be more significant to not let this talent spec become the “infant terrible” among DPS, with lots of new kids lolling about how “easy the spec is”. There’s an immense amount of battlefield control – Scream, Horror, Dominate/Tentacle/Psyfiend, Silence which will make us versatile in PvE but a destructive train engine in PvP.

The combination of SA, MB and SW:Death in its current form also means we are absolute masters of the Execute, which will have people cry for nerfs in PvP about three minutes into Live.

We have strong (albeit strange) escape mechanisms including the new Phantasm and Spectral Guise, which seem aimed at making us more like real ninjas than rogues are. I mean, we can’t just go invisible, but we leave  a double behind. We have a Smoke Bomb which also breaks roots. It feels a bit like being in an episode of Naruto.

The bad

Shadowpriest talents and abilities still seem horribly aimed at healing (VE, VD, Void Shift, Divine Star), while our raid support otherwise is still non-existent. TBC saw the nerfing of our raid Shadow healing, WotLK saw the nerf to replenishment and subsequent increase in our damage. Cataclysm saw our first real revamp where Shadow Orbs and advanced SW:Death techniques were added and VE healing further nerfed. But through all this, we haven’t gained anything worthwhile (in fact everything that was added will be removed or completely revamped in MoP) whether in personal or raid support.

Dispersion is a survival cooldown and I am called on a lot to soak/survive crazy stuff like solo-soaking Zon’ozz orbs or Hour of Twilight from heroic Ultraxion. So only now does that ability really shine. But when I compare it to things like the Doomguard/Infernal, Demonic Teleport and Demon Form from Warlocks, or most of the awesome things Unholy Death Knights get I feel a bit shortchanged. And when I look at what extra work is done on these classes for MoP, it makes sticking to my Shadowpriest actually hard. I mean I want to play my Shadowpriest, and I remind myself that this is only Beta, but I see ourselves being so much more boring than the Warlocks while offering nothing an Affliction Warlock couldn’t.

The ugly

There does not seem to be a real proper design direction for Priests, which heavily impacts the current choices. It all seems like some random “do damage”, “boost damage” and “heal crowd” abilities being tossed about at various levels, trying to put them in such an order that we’d have a hard time picking between them. The developer Metagame of “tease the player, not the class” takes an all new high in attempts to make us jump through hoops to do the same damage as other classes while still being elected “off healer of the year” the moment a healer doesn’t show up for a raid.

I’d say forget about the talents for now. It’s obvious they will either fall in the “pick one, they don’t matter” or “mandatory” classes. The core of the class is the manner in which we deal damage. We used to be “Dots with benefits” but it seems the designers want to move away from this role to give the Affliction locks more breathing room. This is fine, but this does mean we need to have a new, proper role that does not make us infringe upon the intellectual property of Mages.

I have made several posts before about design philosophy and design, and I see the same mistake being made daily in Process Management and Document Control – the lack of a proper foundation, lack of a “Management Summary” which all designers can stick to, no “winning themes” or “design document” which details the end result that the designers want to achieve. I am not sure, I have to assume that the Developers have these, but the more I see the new changes I am wondering what it could be…

Concusion

The change from Shadowpriests to a more balanced, direct-damage type seems to be in full swing, but otherwise there is no real flavor to the class. The mana issues have recently been handled with reductions in mana costs across the board, but the lack of raid utility seems rampant. To this, I must ask: “Why would I play a Shadowpriest over a Warlock? What does a Shadowpriest have that is fun and unique?”

I am currently looking for the answer and dreading the outcome. I want to play my Shadowpriest, but I won’t sacrifice my fun to do it.

Expanding our Minds

Posted in Fun, News with tags , , , , on March 22, 2012 by Natarumah

Well, pun intended of course. With the release of the NDA and the cataclysmic flood of information on what we (might/will/could) see in Mists of Pandaria you will see blogs all over the blogosphere light up as people try to make sense of it all. Some predict the end of the game because of “Casuals” while others see it as the new hope in gaming. I for one do welcome a lot of the preview material, if only because it makes the game more cohesive and enjoyable.

Pandaren

Well, the debate is reasonably settled on the Pandaren Female form, but the nice thing here is that Blizzard did not decide to go for the Black Panda – Red Panda disconnect. Rather, both will be part of the customization options for the race. This means that rather than picking “sides”, Blizzard decided to allow both the Black and Red Panda concepts to co-exist. I applaud this, since now basically everyone gets what they want.

And besides, how many black-and-white Panda combos can you make, anyway?

Things to do in Azeroth before we die

Thanks to the addition of the 11th Character Slot (Oh yeah!) I would be able to make a Panda of my own (Monk of course) and play it as a fat epicurean. With the sneak peeks on pet battles, exploration, improvements to archaeology and cooking specializations it means we will have plenty to do that isn’t dungeons or raids. And it was about time.

Archaeology improvements include the addition of mob spawns in dig sites which drop goodies, including a convenient teleportation option to the next dig site. This cuts down on the immense travel time involved, and also means that your level starts making a difference while braving through dark jungles into abandoned temples and explorer’s tents.

The various cooking specializations will each benefit a primary stat – other than offering a bit of diversity, it also makes having cooking on multiple characters worthwhile, and dovetails nicely with the Pandaren’s reputation as epicureans. My fun and fat friend in slot 11 is going to be a lot of fun!

AoE Looting

Shamelessly mentioned as an upgrade for the game after it has been included in RIFT and Star Wars. After all, looting individual creatures is quite a waste of time for some of us mass-murderers (Paladin Tanks, I look at thee!). Sure it’s a nice-to-have and not a necessity, but it will certainly make life a lot easier.

Graphics Upgrade

Yes, upgraded character models are on the table, but probably won’t be finished in time (other than what is needed to make Monks). This might be sad news, but it shows that upgrading old content to more modern standards is definitely in the pipeline. I hope this also includes eventually a pixel-upgrade on some of the old sets, especially now that they are being used for Transmogrification. Some pieces can’t match each other simply because their quality diverges between 8-bit pixel style to rendered goodness.

What I was especially impressed with were the videos released with the new models, such as the Sha and the Celestial dragon. I have to say that the quality (while somewhat cartoonish) is very good and I am looking forward to seeing it live. Many people decry the cartoony style of WoW, but so far most games haven’t stood up to the test of time quite that well, and the same goes for WoW’s movement style. For some reason to me it seems a lot more fluid, and this will help a lot once the Monk comes into play.

The Beta and Annual Pass

One of the main topics now is the Beta – everyone wants to see the new graphics, class, game and direction. Many of those bought an annual pass in the hopes of just that, and now that the first invites are sent to people who opted in, they fell entitled to join as well. Of course, the devil is in the fine print. Yes, you will be in the Beta, but Blizzard decides when. This will most likely be in the large Open-Beta push towards the end a month maybe two before release, where only the last bugs need ironing out.

I understand some people feel “meh” about this, but also realize that this was already quite clear before. Yes, it’s a bit misleading, but certainly not a breach of contract or anything else that is cried about on forums. You can still get an invite (if lucky) through the opt-in before the grand public opening, so be sure to have those boxes ticked in your battle.net account!

Conclusion

This expansion will be in part about Pandaria and part about the titanic struggle of Horde versus Alliance. Exploration and hobbies become as important as raiding. All in all I think Mists of Pandaria will be an expansion where we slow down from our daily lives, rather than stay in our modern-24h-per-day speed. Raiding will be big, as ever, as will be PvP.

But the focus will be more on it being a game, and on enjoying ourselves. So that those who call themselves truly casual, or those who are not but relaxing on an alt, can have as rich a gaming life in WoW as anyone else. And I applaud a little R&R before we save the galaxy again…

Stay tuned as I take a fine-tooth comb through the changes and announcements, and see how we as Shades can gain a benefit!

Why I am looking forward to Mists of Pandaria

Posted in Diary, Roleplaying, Theory with tags , , on January 26, 2012 by Natarumah

Currently, I am debating the game more than I am actually playing it. The current content is sparse, to say the least, and the economist in me speaks. I am currently raiding 25mans with Unity, we have a 10man Alts run going on as well and I gear up whatever alt I favor at the moment through LFR. This seems sound, but for some reason I cannot escape the feeling that I am bogged down somehow.

That sinking feeling

It probably is safe to say that the success of an expansion hinges not on how much content is released, but how much is perceived to still be “up Blizzard’s sleeve”. By that token, Cataclysm was a short and ironically uneventful expansion. It shouldn’t be that you hit the final raid of the expansion to find the bosses quite easy on Normal mode and then proceed to beat around the bush with hard modes because that’s all you have left. Hard modes are awesome, but once we clear them, the expansion’s just about over.

Over – with no sign in sight for Mists of Pandaria.

Yes, there will be a beta where 90% of the WoW population will join (mind you, when you signed for that annual pass they didn’t promise you what stage beta you’d be joining) and daily snippets of Blizzcon footage are wound off their reels again to keep people interested. Logical, in the light of quite a few contenders in the MMO territory for the more casual player – which is exactly what MoP seems to be targetting.

Taking it easy for a change

After a plethora of world-shattering bosses (Illidan, Kil’jaeden, the Lich King, Deathwing) it will be a breath of fresh air to enter an expansion where we aren’t immediately rushed into doom and gloom. After all, that’s what it felt like and it echoed through every sliver of Cataclysm. Deathwing’s coming, hit 85 quickly, assist the Molten Front with post-haste, quickly defeat Ragnaros and then face Deathwing. Time for a change of pace.

Exploration, discovery and lore matter quite a bit in any story. Finding Pandaria and its mysterious inhabitants, magic and monsters will give us a new insight into Azeroth and its secrets. This way, Blizzard can slowly up the tension to the level of mid-TBC and prepare for another expansion or two before another world-shattering incident.

The joy is in the eating

One of the greatest changes in WoW currently is a shift in focus from the hardcore players from Classic to the people in Cataclysm who are, effectively, playing a lifestyle. It’s a lot less about the cutting edge gear, split-second tactics and perseverance. World-first raiders and upper-echelon PvP masters are now part of the e-sports celebrity community and thereby elevated far above even the UNcommon player.

This means that aside of raiding, PvP and collection games (Archeology, achievements, reputations, mounts, pets, Transmog gear) more needs to be done to capture and entertain the audience. A few of these things are announced for MoP and while derided as childish by some, I am quite looking forward to it.

  • Pandaren represent a first option for a race in both factions, and I am interested how they build on the sparse lore from before (which states nothing more than them being fun-loving ale-guzzling martial artists).
  • The Monk class will, if it resembles the form it was announced in at Blizzcon, a new avenue in class design. More active abilities, requiring a different set of skills and with no one who has mastered it opening it up as a new choice for many. Like DKs, many will fail before it will be embraced by the community.
  • Pandaren and its evil spirits are dear to me because of the imagery, use of color and having an area that deviates from the more traditional heavy-handed High Fantasy. While you could taste this in an Asian MMO, it’s nice to have a change-over on the scenery.
  • Pet Battles may resemble a certain collection game a lot, but in the end it’s just a fun little diversion while you wait for your other raid members to arrive (or your LFR/LFG queue to pop). With Blizzard’s intent to lessen our desire to all cramp together in one city and lazily wait for our next adventure-on-demand window to pop up, this can only improve.
  • A new expansion means a new chance to give our opinions and influence the way the game will be. A game can only be a success if everyone’s desires are met in one way or the other. And as much as people have been moping about it (hah!) fact remains that this is still a wildly popular game – and probably will remain (one of) the largest until the release of Titan.

Right now it feels like we, as players, carefully ration ourselves with the current content. Likely we will have to wai thalf a year at least before the new expansion hits our welcome mat, and we will have to make do with the content we have. Currently the lore has “run dry”. There might be a few more big bads to run on (At least two old gods, C’thun is still not dead again I believe, and at the end of the road is Sargeras) but as sad a state as Deathwing has been reduced to in terms of a fight, having him be topped in his own expansion a la Kil’jaeden topping Illidan would be even more of a slap in the face.

What I hope to see

There’s a few more checks-in-the-box for things I’d love to see in Mists of Pandaria. Things that would make me happy and (among them) continue blogging about. It’s no secret that one of the reasons I am writing less is because there simply is less to write about – and I’d like to see that changed.

  • An epic opening cinematic for MoP, and preferably a half-time moment of jaw-dropping awesomeness (a la Wrath Gate)
  • The Monk class being exciting, dynamic and difficult – but with corresponding rewards in visual displays and feel-good moves
  • Pet battles becoming secretly embraced by people who detract it currently, leading to a new brand of e-sports
  • A storyline that slowly ramps up in scope, not breaking out of its box in the first 30 minutes of play
  • Monk/Martial Art training tools that actually work and allow you to show off your WoW-Fu – danger room, please
  • Emphasis on quality raids with doable LFR, challenging normal modes and fiendish hard modes
  • Loot that does not look like it was taken out of a Slaine comic book
  • Lore revealed which meshes with existing lore, yet gives us inrigueing insight into an isolated culture
  • Classes which have a stronger theme as foundation, meaning less stepping on other’s toes in terms of lore, looks and feel
  • Content being paced properly, allowing us to not have “expansion left at the end of the content”

All in all I have a good feeling about MoP – but the risk remains that watering down the game for the benefit of too large a group will cause it to go stale. I mean, look at a very successful family game like Wizard 101 which is very fun for kids - but not challenging at all for (most) adults.

Warhammer fell into the trap of catering to a single group (PvPers), Age of Conan offered too little content and meandered all over the place, RIFT simply was too complex and its shiny exterior hid a multiple-personality syndrome, D&D Online simply didn’t live up anywhere to its legendary tabletop origins and the various superhero MMOs (Champions Online, DC Universe, City of Heroes/Villains) coped with a serious image problem when it came to more mainstream gamers.

Currently the main contender for my personal attention is Star Wars: The Old Republic. It features strong lore, clever storytelling and class-personalized quest lines. Sure it will be old hat after the second time or so, but for now it feels very clever and well-made. Endgame is still a question, as a lot of bugs have been removed only recently. It does feature reasonably balanced classes with a strong theme – which is one of the things WoW is in danger of losing.

My hope is that in the run towards Mists of Pandaria classes will have a stronger theme, balanced visuals and a unique selling point. Without it, people may burn out on frustration.

Without epic class quests (Paladin and Warlock Mount, Anathema/Benediction, Warlock Doomguard and Infernal, the epic quest line for Hunters, and so on) and the continued attempts and balance through homogenization we currently have a situation where classes are in some cases cardboard cutouts for each other, where you can practically see the “cut along the lines” indications on abilities.

Conclusion

Even though WoW is a old workhorse of an MMO, it is by far the most popular and has shown much innovation in its time. Now it will have to make a great metamorphosis, evolving to endure the coming onslaught of next-gen MMOs. Mists of Pandaria might be the chance the game developers need to show that they can cater to the newer, more casual gamer while still honoring the time-old veteran’s tradition of elbow grease and theorycraft.

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