13 Random Thoughts for 2013

Happy New Year!

Plenty of minor things I wanted to touch on, none of which I felt were worth their own extensive blog post but I wanted to say anyway.  If you were expecting 2013 thoughts, your expectations were too high.  These are loosely defined thoughts, however, so if you try really hard you might be able to find 2013 different thoughts here, but it may require quite a bit of generosity and copious amounts of truth stretching, and each individual thought would likely be comparable to how an insect might form a thought.  Hey, some insects can count to higher than 13!

1 – Is the Rogue class dying?

Nope.  As easy as it is to connect the low population of a class to perceived low performance or bad class design, there’s really a lot more to class population than end game viability or class design nuances.  Rogues are in a decent place – yes, even in PvP.  As always, they start weak and scale well with gear in a PvP setting.  There are plenty of factors for a low population that aren’t related to power.  I was blasted on the official forums by numerous Rogue fanboys during Mists Beta for suggesting that many people might find the Paladin class (which has the highest population) appealing because the Righteous Holy Warrior archetype is simply something a lot of people would like to identify themselves with, while the Rogue class archetype (described as such in the official game guide: For rogues, the only code is the contract, and their honor is purchased in gold. Free from the constraints of a conscience, these mercenaries rely on brutal and efficient tactics) isn’t something many people want to think of themselves as.  Who wants to be honorless, heartless, cruel, backstabbing individual with no morals?

MMORPG games were a fringe genre when WoW was released, traditionally being a “hardcore gamer” style of game.  Needless to say, hardcore gamers are power gamers, meaning they tend to gravitate toward the most powerful options – there’s a reason why the Mage spec performance shifted wildly recently, and that’s because after a Fire nerf that put it roughly on par, Arcane theoretically performs a tiny insignificant amount better than Fire and almost all of the best players in the world switched specs.  With World of Warcraft’s original release, the Rogue class was grossly overpowered in a PvP setting and were the best damage dealers in the game in a PvE setting.  Is it really a surprise that the Rogue population has declined as WoW became more and more mainstream and casual and the power of the Rogue class was brought in line?  Their power was no longer completely dominant, causing players to switch to something else, and the newer mainstream audience chose classes based on aesthetics instead of power.  It doesn’t help that the class is incredibly annoying and frustrating to fight against, either, and that they are (or at least were) notorious for corpse camping you for hours just outside Nesingwary’s Expedition in Stranglethorn or some other lower level quest hub on PvP servers, bringing an unequaled amount of hatred and vitriol from people’s mouths or fingertips.  The whole stealth and vanish thing also allows them to only pick fights they know they will win.  All of this is why Rogues are unpopular, not because Preparation and Shadowstep are on the same talent tier.  Power has some impact, but it definitely isn’t the whole story.

2 – Changes to Flame Shock and its glyph.

Thankfully, this glyph will no longer be required by Elemental, and the debate about this near useless glyph to Enhancement being a “requirement” for them is over.  I had a long blog post written up about it to explain why it’s not often a good choice for Enhancement, but seeing that its lifetime is nearly over, there’s no point.  While it was once very true, it no longer is – there are rarely right or wrong answers overall in the PvE game as far as talent and glyph selection goes.  There are occasionally right or wrong answers for very specific, specialized situations in WoW’s endgame, but the “right answer” so many people try to look for and identify largely don’t exist anymore.  Take the talents or glyphs that you want or that make sense for the situation you’re in.  Glyph of Flame Shock has not been the right answer for very many situations so far this expansion for Enhancement.  In most cases, using it has robbed you of something useful.  There are a couple exceptions, places where the glyph is somewhat useful – extended AoE or multi-target situations with moving targets like Grand Empress Shek’zeer or Sha of Fear Heroic – but that’s about all I can think of.

When it comes to talents and glyphs, especially after 5.2, there is no right answer, regardless of what that guide some stranger wrote tells you.  There are merely situational or personal preference answers, and a bunch of guides that try to give a flawed answer to the question.  The sky is blue right?  Well, the shade of blue depends on the time of day and your location and season, it’s black at night, a foggy orange/brown in the city at night, grey in Los Angeles, often bright orange or red on the horizon at sunset, white or various shades of grey when it’s cloudy or snowy, and very occasionally even a little green during stormy weather.  See my point?

3 – The New Talent System (and Glyphs).

Throughout beta and even ever since the new talent system was announced in September of 2011, I’ve been a strong supporter of it.  Talent options and variations were gained, a sense of growth and investment were lost as you level.  My view has shifted slightly – I do feel the talent system is better than the old one, but I also feel making talent and glyph swaps is entirely too easy and convenient.  They are meant to be how you’ve customized your character, they are meant to be what defines your character compared to some other player of your class and specialization.  Being able to change them anywhere at any time makes your choices meaningless.  I’m not saying a huge cost should be associated with it, but I am saying it should only be done at your class trainer so you can’t just change on the fly between pulls in a dungeon or raid.  Being able to do so makes us all the same.  It removes any true feeling of specialization or investment in our characters.

While it’s a different issue, the Talent and Glyph UI taint bug is unbelievably irritating.  I cringe every time I need to swap one, because it usually means I’ll need to reload my UI.  My preferred answer would be to kill two birds with one stone – make your choice and preference matter by making it harder to switch, and get rid of this frustrating and annoying bug in the process by only allowing swaps at your class trainer (or perhaps with a portable “Lexicon of Power” that some profession could make, similar to Jeeves).

4 – Tier 15 gear.t15_druid_m_hd

Tell me the Druid tier 15 set isn’t absolutely awesome looking.  To me, it screams “I am an avatar of the deep wild and I will devour your soul”.  Yeah, art is subjective of course, but I really feel jealous of Druids this coming tier.  Being a bit of an artist myself at one point, and originally playing a Druid, I’ve often thought about trying to design an armor set and this is almost exactly what I had in mind.  Their set is delightfully dark, eerie, creepy and somehow still beautiful.

While Shamans have had some decent looking sets over the years, they’ve nearly always been very horde-friendly in appearance.  The only exceptions might be tier 6 and 12.  Is it just me, or are Shaman sets nearly always the last ones to arrive in the game files, or the last ones showcased by Blizzard?  Hoping for something mind-blowing awesome, but I’m not sure anything will make me less jealous of Druids in 5.2.  I probably shouldn’t get my hopes up.

I certainly don’t mind an occasional revealing armor piece like the Challenge Mode armor’s top, but the rest of that set was pretty hideous… I only wore it because it is prestigious, not because it looks prestigious.  Most Shaman sets are at least decent, but I think they dropped the ball on that one.

5 – Enhancement and Silences.

Any Shaman who reads any public forum where other Shamans might be posting is likely aware of the noise our community is making over silence effects preventing totem casts.  While I feel that Enhancement remains in a decent place in PvP, I do feel this change wasn’t a good idea for the Enhancement specialization.  To be fair to the developers, totems were very hard to counter, but the totems with the highest impact both belonged to Restoration – Healing Tide and Spirit Link.  The totems belonging to our DPS specs just simply weren’t nearly at that level, and having silence counter them wasn’t really necessary.  Enhancement can now be kited or disarmed like any melee, silenced like any caster, and is vulnerable to every CC type in the game.  We have a couple anti-CC tools (Shamanistic Rage glyph removing Fist/Hammer of Justice and Tremor removing Fears) but our CC prevention and defense toolkit isn’t anything to write home about.  This game needs less time spent unable to do that while stunned, not more.

6 – Valor Points.

I’ve been pretty outspoken against the Valor Points upgrade system.  I actually kinda like it for Justice and Honor, but for the higher end gear, it just doesn’t feel very good to me.  I feel Valor Points served a good purpose throughout Cataclysm (despite my dislike for currencies in general) being a progression method for the more casual player base, and something useful for making a little gold, gearing an alt, or converting to Conquest for some PvP gear for the heroic-level raider.  As it is now, we are never done the grind, and that’s just a mentality that isn’t going to change with a lot of people.  Players at my level and above want to have every possible advantage, or the game simply isn’t worth playing.  Reputation grinds are fine because they have an end.  Valor Points being converted from a temporary or casual-friendly progression method to an unavoidable unending grind for any and all level 90 players is a huge step in the wrong direction.  When I check my currencies tab and see 640/1000 after killing 16 normal or heroic raid bosses already that week, my mood immediately turns sour.  I have no interest in doing dailies I’ve already done 30 times, running LFR when there’s no gear or challenge present, or running heroics where tanks take five minute breaks between every trash pull.  There’s no fun to be had doing any of that once you’re done with the actual content.  VP capping cannot be described as content.  It can only be described as demoralizing.

7 – Challenge Modes.

Despite the overall tone of my thoughts so far, Mists of Pandaria has been a pretty good expansion.  The raids are wonderful, the world is much more alive than Cataclysm, and it’s consistently more beautiful than any past expansion.  No new feature had me more excited than Challenge Modes, and they really did not disappoint.  While a couple seemed a little easy for my composition (we one-shot gold on Shado-Pan Monastery, Siege of Niuzao Temple and Scholomance while clearing two others in fewer than 5 attempts) it was still a very thoroughly enjoyable experience very reminiscent of pre-nerf Burning Crusade heroics (notably Escape from Durnholde).  Invisibility potions and consumables being usable felt a little odd to me, but aside from that, I can’t think of many things to criticize.  The idea of Challenge Mode Arcatraz or Botanica has me excited.  For the first time ever, I am truly looking forward to the addition of new 5 player content in future Mists of Pandaria patches so our group can test our skills and coordination on whatever challenges await.  Bring them on, Blizzard!

8 – Pet Battles.

These have been another great addition to the game, making it feel much more alive.  Being a fan of Pokemon certainly doesn’t hurt, collecting, raising, battling and perfecting your strategies is a lot of fun… this is a feature I wish I had more time for.  If Pet Battles awarding Lesser Charm of Good Fortune goes live, I’ll likely drop non essential dailies and use this fun little feature for most of my coins instead.  I hope more Pet Battle content is continually added.

9 – Having stuff to do is good.  Having to do stuff isn’t.

Somewhat going back to the Valor Points thing, the sheer volume of time required to maximize your potential from one week to the next is absurd.  Between Elder Charms and Valor, there’s simply too much to do, and the choices you make right now with spending Valor Points on upgrades is going to impact your character for the next six months.  I certainly can’t speak for everyone, nor can I predict or pretend to have any knowledge of how these types of features impact subscription numbers, but I can’t see the raiding population remaining anything remotely approaching fond of VP upgrades and Elder Charms six months from now.  Grinds can exist, but they need to have an end.  Content, on the other hand, feels the best when it doesn’t have an end.  Something new to see, something fun to do, these are good for the game.  Repeating the same daily quests, dungeons, raids etc. for VP or charms is not new content, and will prove to be a very poor way to keep people playing.  Pet Battles and Challenge Modes are great additions because they are not required.  “Capping VP and coins isn’t required” yeah, you guys keep telling yourselves that.  Arguments saying it’s not required simply do not understand the mentality of a very large portion of the heroic-level raiding player base.  We need to take advantage of everything we can to remain competitive at the level we wish to be at.  If remaining competitive isn’t fun, I can tell you I either remain at my current level or strive for higher, or quit entirely.  I have no desire to play what I feel for myself would be half-assed.  There is no fun for me in that.

The VP and charms grind having no end is not fun, please, knock it off.  If I can accomplish a feat (like hitting Exalted with a reputation) I’m cool with that.  There is a reachable goal with a reputation, a point at which I can put it behind me.  VP upgrades has no reachable goal.  At this level, it’s a pointless grind for the sake of a pointless grind.  Use it as a catch up mechanism for players who don’t raid heroic?  Sure.  Good idea even.  VP upgrades on heroic raiding gear makes me sick to my stomach, though.

10 – Gear and Stat Scaling.

Something I’ve always found a little redundant is how item levels and budgets work.  Take Firebird’s Legguards for example.
Raid Finder (483) – 1004 Agility, 509 Hit, 784 Haste
Normal (496) – 1143 Agility, 580 Hit, 890 Haste
Heroic (509) – 1300 Agility, 659 Hit, 1009 Haste

Difference between Raid Finder and Normal – 139 Agility, 71 Hit, 106 Haste
Difference between Normal and Heroic – 157 Agility, 79 Hit, 119 Haste

It’s might not be common knowledge to people who aren’t math experts, but if you have 100 Haste, 100 Agility is better than if you have 50 Haste.  More Haste makes the Agility better, more Agility makes the Haste better.  Same is true for any stat that affects your output.  This means that if the difference between Raid Finder and Normal were to be equal to the difference between Normal and Heroic, upgrading from 496 to 509 would yield a larger DPS increase than upgrading from 483 to 496.  Item budgets are obviously increasing with item level, though, meaning that not only are you gaining more DPS by having more of each stat per item level, it’s compounded by higher item levels providing larger stat jumps than lower item levels.

To be completely honest with you, I don’t even read the numbers on gear anymore.  The numbers are too large to take anything meaningful out of it by eyeballing it.  I understand the psychology behind “bigger is better”, but that subconscious mentality hasn’t been a part of me since a very young age, while it continues on some level in much of the population.

Is doubling up on the exponential output increases from gear upgrades really necessary?  I don’t think so.  I think it’s harmful to the game.  The larger the item level stat disparity, the further out of reach the best geared players out there are from you.  This has a significant negative impact on the PvP game, and makes it very difficult to ever “catch up” once you get a little behind another player, group, or guild in the PvE game.

Some may remember late in Mists Beta, the rating to percentage conversions on secondary stats were increased greatly, meaning you needed far less crit, haste, expertise etc. to reach higher values.  This change basically caused player power scaling to jump up significantly from before the change.  Put more simply, we’ve seen relative player power grow as much in the first tier of Mists of Pandaria as it did throughout the entirety of Cataclysm.  Going from blues to best-in-slot epics in tier 11 yielded approximately a 40-50% increase in output for most DPS classes.  You might max out at around 16,000-17,000 DPS in 346 blues over an average length fight, and 24,000-25,000 in full best-in-slot.  In Mists, a blue-geared player will literally double their output by acquiring best-in-slot gear, going from a potential of around 60,000 to a potential of around 120,000.  Due to the addition of a Raid Finder level of gear, there is an extra 13 item levels that wasn’t present back then, but my point stands regardless – player power increase from gear is significantly larger than it ever has been in the past.  By the end of Mists, players are going to be approaching 300,000 DPS on a long Patchwerk-style encounter while your fresh 90 might be lucky to break 40,000.  I think a 500-700% increase is a little extreme and unnecessary, especially in PvP.  I already feel bad for people who might want to try out PvP for the first time in season 14.

11 – The Sound and Music of WoW.

Many, probably even most people I play World of Warcraft with turn the game’s music off, and many turn all the sound off entirely, and the only thing I can say about it is “you’re missing out”.  While I personally find great value in hearing many of the audio cues in the game from spell procs to boss yells, I’ve also found Mists of Pandaria particularly to have absolutely incredible sound design.  I’ll be the first to tell you the voice work in 4.3 was terrible, but it was really turned around for Pandaria.  The background music is amazing and varied, the voice overs are largely interesting and well done from the goofy “Hey you, those are OUR flying…beer…monsters?” and other commentary by drunk Pandaren in Stormstout Brewery to the sincere and frightened Lorewalker Cho saying “We have disturbed what should NOT have been disturbed!”, and in a few cases the music really sets the tone for an awesome epic experience.  Will of the Emperor was easily the most epic sounding encounter since Yogg-Saron, with the deep rumbling voice and extremely well crafted Mogu action music, it was a truly awesome experience.

12 – Monks.

Don’t feel as exciting overall as Death Knights did.  Windwalker and Mistweavers aren’t particularly fun to play for me, though zipping around like a Windwalker can is pretty cool.  Roll is a fun ability, and having unique animations is kind of cool, but Windwalker and Mistweaver both feel pretty dull to me.  Brewmasters, on the other hand, I’ve found to be extremely fun.  The spec seems to have a great deal of useful utility and an extremely high skill cap.  I haven’t played any other tanks yet this expansion, but it may just be the active mitigation model that I’m in love with – I loved Blood Death Knights throughout Cataclysm for that same reason as well, I enjoyed having a high degree of control over my survival.

I doubt Monks will ever be as popular as Death Knights were, but I would say Brewmaster at least has been a success.

13 – Costumes and Animations.

Expanding on Monk animations, my single most desired cosmetic addition to the game isn’t new character models… it’s the ability to customize combat animations to some degree.  I use a lot of costumes in combat to get some variety, especially when the character I’m playing is using a weapon type I don’t like the animation for.  Unfortunately for me, I really dislike the Female Draenei fist weapon animations.  It doesn’t appear very elegant at all, but rather savage… not something particularly fitting for the race.  I love the 1h axe/mace animations.  I would love having the ability to alter the animations I use for weapons far more than Transmogrification or any other cosmetic feature the game has or ever will have.  Being able to select from one of two options, or being able to mimic the native animations of another race, or even just being able to swing fist weapons like axes would be enough for me… which is how it was in Wrath of the Lich King.  If that can’t happen, Ghost Wolf not removing the temporary buffs from many costume items (Ogre Idol, Orb of the Sindorei, Krastinov’s Bag of Horrors etc.) would be great…

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