Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hardcore Raiding in MoP - Part 1

It's one thing to talk about Hardcore raiding and another to experience it. I wanted to try it out and the last two and a half months have been educational - and I think there are a lot of misconceptions, illusions, and also a level of obscurity about what it takes and how it works and what kind of conflicts arise around the process, and it looks like a juicy topic to discuss over a couple of posts.

Just keep in mind that this isn't QQ, rather, this is what I and my guild-mates have willingly taken on in order to get the kind or progression we want. Raiding Heroic bosses is what we enjoy, and thus, we do whatever it takes to stack the odds in our favor before engaging those encounters. This is not meant to illicit any reaction positive or negative, rather it's an illustration of our process.


Part 1: Time to Prepare

When I signed up to raid hardcore, I knew it came with a level of commitment that I had not taken up before, and even with only 8 required hours of progression a week, the job is a tall order. You know the complaints about how capping valor, grinding reputations, doing dailies, farming mats, race-changing and using every opportunity to min-max your character to the hilt are only reserved for the hardcore players? Well, it's easier said than done.

Here is what every member of my raid team need every week to do the bare minimum of raiding in my guild:
  • At least 2 to 3 stacks of the best Stamina food
  • Another stack of the best or at least second best Strength food
  • A half-stack of Stamina flasks
  • A few Strength flasks
  • At least 1 to 2 stacks of Armor potions
  • At least 1 to 2 stacks of Strength potions for pre-pots  (note: I'm very bad about this)
  • Cap Valor every week
When we're working on progression bosses, all of that food can evaporate in a single night leaving you to log in early and try to either buy it at exorbitant prices on the AH or try to gather mats and cook some up before raid.

In addition, the schedule requires us to log in at 7:15pm on the two progression raid-nights and raid until 11:30pm with one or two 5 minute breaks in between. In addition we will raid at least one or two other nights between 8pm and 11pm for at least 2 to 3 hours. So, if you take that into account, you're raiding a minimum of 12 and as much as 14 hours a week. Keep in mind that those hours are still light compared to many guilds that raid a minimum of 12 required hours, and as many as 16 to 20 hours once additional nights are totaled in.



That's just time in the raids when you're really not doing much else, unless you're swapped out for a fight when you might be able to go farm food or fish, but as a tank I seldom have that luxury. So, you're sparing another couple of hours a week to farm and make food for yourself, in addition, you're also doing whatever dailies you need every day (right now, at a minimum, it's the Ironpaw Token daily and the Shieldwall Offensive dailies) and keeping your gear in working order with enchanting, gemming, reforging, etc.
Add in the fact  that as we get further into heroic content and realize that our raid-buff situation isn't ideal, we're also leveling - and gearing - alts to bring in for the buffs specifically to meet certain Enrage timers. A good example would be Heroic Bladelord, where we kept hitting enrage on our progression nights and then once we got an attack-power buff in, we killed him with nearly 30 seconds to spare.

Overall, on a fairly casual level, you're talking about a required commitment of 20 hours or so every week to raiding, and farming. This doesn't take into account the time spent on alts or actually, I don't know, playing the game in any other way. This is also not taking into account the time spent outside of game in researching fights and digging through logs and talking and coming up with strategies that work for us.

What do we have to show for this level of commitment?

5 dead heroic bosses, and some progression time placed into 2 others, so that at least one of them should (hopefully) die this week, putting us on track to finish up at least half the tier by the end of the month.

Next time, I'll go into the kind of decision making that goes into progression raiding as a character and a guild - your choice of a main, the race - and perhaps even the faction and server - that you play. After that, I'll go into some of the decision making process involved with progression raiding once all normal modes are done.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Problem With Tier 14

The Sha of Fear is a terrible end-boss.

Having killed him on normal mode at least, I can say that the fight is.... okay. It's a bit more evocative, the symbolism used is appealing, the mechanics at least on the surface are engaging, but there is no follow-through on it. The fight begins exactly as it ends, it doesn't flow or change at any point.

The best fights, I think, tell a story. They begin in one place, end in another and along the way, they take you somewhere. Even if the story is cyclical in nature, it should vary enough to be worthy of the cycle and have enough depth worth telling. Tell Alysrazor for example, we were engaged with her before we ever pulled and though cyclical, every one of her phases is tied deeply in her rage and her elemental nature.

The Heroic Spine of Deathwing, on the other hand, is an example of a cyclical fight gone horribly wrong. The mechanics don't change as the fight progresses, they just become increasingly more frustrating to execute. It's purely a numbers game and there's nothing engaging about that. Sha of Fear is cut from the same cloth of uninteresting cycles.

We begin by standing on the platform. Tanks takes their place on the beacon, enveloped in a protective halo of light - evocative, if sentimental. The light guards everyone from the worst of the Sha's corruption while outside the beacon, we can see his twisted minions writhing about, and the corrupted Pandaren on their distant platforms. Then, we ourselves are contorted into Sha and sent to be killed by the Pandaren who we must defeat in turn to be returned to continue our fight.

And then that repeats, over and over again. Other than clearing the Crossbow men and the adds on the platform, this is a tank and spank fight.

Where is the flow? Where is the story? What do we learn from this encounter about the villain that we didn't already know?

Blizzard is capable of incredibly good storytelling in raids. We know this, from Ulduar and Karazhan cohesively, but also on a smaller scale. Consider the tight narrative of the Plagueworks. Or, if you want a single encounter, take Nefarian as an example in either incarnation or the Lich King. Each phase transition tells a story, it evokes a feeling, it progresses the arc of the character and shows us an aspect of that personality.

One of the problems here is that the Sha has no personality. By definition, it's a one-dimensional creature, and thus is incapable of presenting complexity as an individual. The only way to make the Sha personal, to give it gravitas and any sense of depth, is to imbue it with some purpose.

And that is exactly why Empress Shek'zeer in the Heart of Fear works brilliantly as the crowning achievement of this raid tier. She is the true end-boss in every way. Besides the fact that Heart of Fear as a whole is tuned perfectly (except maybe for Amber-shaper where Discipline priests are perhaps a bit over-powered) and the entire raid instance as a whole tells a story in addition to the individual bosses who have their own narratives,

Here, you can feel the Sha of Fear in all the rooms, you can smell him in the walls, see the corruption left behind and when you get to the Empress at last - she's mad with paranoia. We know, through the Klaxxi quest line how the ascendance of a new queen happens, and gnawing at that thought, that fear, the Sha has infiltrated her and made her this thing, crawling with shadows, overflowing with dark energies.

She begins in a rage, screaming stories of her own glory to deaf ears, and when she doesn't get the reception she wants, she summons her subjects to tear her audience down. Deprived of her coterie, she returns, deaf once again to her own doom, repeating her aggrandizing song. When death at last is evident, she panics and the fear grips her with both hands, furious for survival, she fights like a cornered animal, raging for life, throwing everything she has at us until we grant her the only mercy we can.

That is a story. That is a narrative. That is what makes a raid boss interesting.

And that is why the Sha of Fear is a terrible end-boss.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Change is constant

"What we experience in [game] ... belongs in the end just as much to the over-all economy of our soul as anything experienced 'actually'; we are richer or poorer on account of it."
- Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

I had been in the new guild for three months, feeling comfortable and at home, when I discovered on Wednesday that it was going to dissolve. After going through denial, anger, and sorrow, I arrived at bargaining and realized that I might be able to continue raiding if took the offer dangling in front of me, and without thinking twice, I grasped it.

Today, I know my decision wasn't the most ethical one, but I had also just spent three months taking a huge step from my family of friends into a new environment, I had just begun to feel comfortable, I had just come out of my shell, and to find it all evaporating around me with no prospects in sight was a daunting one, and I clung to the offer I received. I'm not proud, but neither am I ashamed.

There are a lot of bitter and angry feelings on both sides, least of all the leadership that split off, and I can completely empathize with both sides of the coin here. I've been the person who logged in, raid night after raid night, making phone calls and sitting in Trade for hours trying to fill a group to get off the ground, I've been the one asking, "Why did we wipe?" and faced a wall of silence, I've been the one to deal with people showing up not prepared, not ready, not aware of strategies, not willing to play a certain way, and try to keep the group going and get kills - and I've said, "I'm done, I can't do this anymore." I know what that's like.

I also know what it's like to be on the receiving end of being abandoned, logging in one day to raid and find most of the team and guild just leaving in droves and you're left there trying to figure out what the hell just happened.

After being in both of these situations, there is only one thing I know for certain - and that's the fact that ultimately, you have to play this game for yourself. If you're playing to keep other people happy, you're going to make it poisonous for yourself. There are ways of making things more or less contentious, ways of trying to explain yourself or not, doing it in the middle of the night or in the stark light of day, trying to avoid hurt, for yourself or others, whatever - there are a million reasons, a million ways, a million things and at the end, we're just pixels on a screen.

And we're more that that. We're people, we're friends, we're voices over Mumble and names on a screen, we're jokes and stories and extensions of identity, our avatars are our personality-fingers wiggling about in the soup of social interaction - and when self-interest, stress, conflict, unresolved desires, frustration and fear combine, people act irrationally. They make decisions that are safest for themselves, and while people do get hurt in the process, maybe ripping off a band-aid is better than picking out stitches one at a time.

I don't know.

Faced with a situation, I picked a side that was best for me. Three months is a blink of an eye in the face of years of Warcraft. But a blink of an eye is enough to leave flash-images in your brain for a long, long time. Names and voices and faces and stories that stay with you, and guilt is the weight that lets you know that maybe you didn't do everything right, maybe there was something better that could have been done.

After being left in the dust once, holding the ruins of a guild in my hands, I didn't want to be in the same place again. So, I left before that could happen, and in so doing, I allowed others to endure what I could not.

I spent the money, I transferred my characters, and I raided last night.

Beyond that, I don't know.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Raid Engagement

A raid is defined by its bosses, the complexity of encounters, the design and scale and scope of the place, how it guides us through the space and gives us a new environment to explore - but does a raid have to engage us emotionally? What part does that play in our enjoyment of a raid?

While browsing YouTube at work during lunch (as one does), I found along the list of "see also" videos on the side, a link to a Lich King kill video. It has been a long, long time since I did that fight, and much longer since I really thought about it, but I thought - what the hell, I'll watch it again. And man, it really brought everything back in spades. The feeling of hopeless despair, the anguish and anger that Arthas brought out in me, the frustration of seeing him slip away time after time, while waiting to get a chance to take our own crack at him.


And we did, eventually, and we did kill him. I remember how jubilant and exhausted and satisfied I was after the ordeal, how happy to be done with a whole story, it felt like an arc was complete, a resolution was reached. That's what made Wrath the best expansion to date - it was about the god-damned story. That's what people remember, that's what got us engaged, and that's what the game resolved - it gave us a full-stop, at the end of the book. Close it, it's done. But of course, this is a franchise, and it needs to continue, so it did.

Cataclysm's failure I think, had more to do with following up Wrath. There was no way that they could personalize the terror of Deathwing the way the Lich King was personalized for us through the RTS games. We had (most of us, anyway) walked in his shoes, as a Paladin, then as a Death Knight. We came out the other side, and committed atrocities with him, killed Uther with him, raised Sylvanas as a Banshee from her dying breath - we did all this, and now we were back for vengeance. There was no way Deathwing could live up to that.

There is no raid in all of Cataclysm that comes close to Ice Crown Citadel in terms of emotional impact. Nothing carries the weight or gravity that the Citadel had. Even now, thinking of it, I feel nothing but melancholy as if I really did go to war there, even though I was just playing a video game. I left a piece of myself there, and I wrote a story to cement my relationship with the place.

Now, we have Pandaria, and I'm trying, so hard, to engage with the raids here as emotionally as I did the raids in Wrath - and I just can't do it. Part of it is the scope of things - it's just smaller in a lot of ways. We're raiding a tomb in Mogu'shan Vaults. That's it. Nothing noble or heroic about it, there's the thin veneer of trying to save Pandaria from the Guru'bashi as they try to get a weapon to use to regain the Thunder King but face it - we're mercenaries and treasure hunters. It does not inspire the hand-shaking awe of the Citadel.

Take then, the Heart of Fear - a lovely construction and a wonderful raid to explore and fight in, grand cathedral like rooms and lovely work all-around. But the stakes aren't there - we have only the most tenuous grasp of the Empress and while the Sha is a terrifying enemy, the engagement is recent. The ending of Jade Forest was amazing, but man, that didn't inspire me to lust after killing the Sha, especially after killing another Sha over and over again in Kun'lai.


Don't get me wrong, I'm loving the Hell out of these raids - some of the best fights in the game since Tier 11 and I'm super excited to kill them all. I just wish I felt for them the way I did for Arthas. Does anyone else need this kind of emotional and personal impact in the raid to really enjoy it on a visceral, sub-dermal  level? Can Blizzard put out another raid with that level of emotional impact?

I hold out hope.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Where have I been?

Buried up to my neck in raids, is where I've been.

Almost a month since I last wrote, and it's a bit of a shame - much of the normal-mode progression is already done, and I failed to document it. Ah, well. Still only about half-way through the tier, so there's more stuff to talk about.

Paladin Tanking
This is the best state the class has been in a long, long time. One of my biggest complaints throughout Cataclysm was that Vengeance had made Hit and Expertise irrelevant for tanks but with Active Mitigation, we've got a reason, not just to soft cap Expertise, but actually get up to 15% so we can skip Parries as well. That's unbelievably awesome.

For one, we put out tons and tons of damage. Seeing 200k+ DPS isn't unusual for me on certain fights, like Heroic Stone Guard, or Wind Lord. Even on Will of the Emperor I can manage to squeak into the top three for damage done and not to mention the unbelievable healing numbers I get from Light's Hammer, Sacred Shield and Seal of Insight. Word of Glory becoming a cool-down has lowered its overall numbers, but it's certainly a life-saver at times, healing me for nearly 50% of my health with a 5-stack of Bastion.

And I hope I'm not the only one swapping glyphs and talents in and out just about every fight to optimize my play-style for that particular boss. Suffice it to say, paladin tanking is unbelievably fun right now. I have half an article written as an introduction to Paladin tanking that I'll be posting shortly.

Progression
The raids continue apace, bosses die, they drop purples, and we move on. Heart of Fear continues to impress, though the bugs (get it?) are frustrating, especially when they keep us stagnant when we should  be progressing. Last night, Wind Lord kept enraging because Recklessness failed to stack on the boss despite a number of different things we tried, and we finally gave up and went to bed only to find a blue post on the bug-report that it is, indeed, a bug.

It's one thing for a raid to fail because we misunderstand a mechanic or lack the gear, or whatever, but to fail to a bug after hours of attempts is just plain frustrating on a helpless level. Especially since it's a new bug introduced after a number of guilds had already killed the boss so we're working with a handicap at this point.

To further the point, there is the humiliation - hyperbole, to say the least, but I can think of no better word -  the embarrassment of having to go in and clear the second half of Heart of Far on LFR before I've even gotten to see the Empress or the Amber-Shaper on normal-modes. It distresses me - but it also motivates me to push ahead and try for more this week. Though, of course, this week, we venture back into Mogu'shan for some Heroic raiding, but I hope we'll be able to make things work in Heart of Fear as well.

We'll see.

Heart of Fear
Despite the bugs (heh) mentioned above, the raid itself is quite fun. Vizir and Blade Lord are both good fights and continue the strand of personal responsibility and execution that Mogu'shan began. If you as a raider are asleep at the wheel, it's going to be difficult to carry you or to kill the boss at least in this phase of the tier. Garalon took a bit of doing, but we did kill him twice - coming excruciatingly close at times before wiping to the enrage. My favorite wipe was the one where he went immune with a single hit-point left on a leg while he had less than 2% health left. Did you know his enrage Crush goes through immunities? Heart-breaking. He died the next night without too much of a bother.

That's two out of three excellent raids already and tonight, Terrace opens up. I'm disappointed not to be going in there at 7:00pm server tonight, but such is the way of things. Perhaps next week if we manage to kill the Empress this week - though that seems remarkably optimistic. This staggered release was excellent, but for this two-week buffer between Heart of Fear and Terrace - I feel that another four-week gap would have been excellent, and it would give guilds the time to kill all normal modes and get a couple of heroic kills in before focusing on Terrace.

Content is coming too fast - and 5.1 is on the horizon! Perhaps I'm getting too old for this.

Guild
And lastly, I was made a full member about a month ago. I don't know if I mentioned it or not, I don't think I did, but there we go. It might seem amusing, but I was a bit nervous - I know I'm a good player, but I don't know that I'm great and part of the nerves came from knowing that I had nowhere to go if I didn't cut it here. Regardless, I'm very glad to be in Occasional Excellence, and very glad that I made the cut. One of the big reasons for this change was that I had issued a challenge to myself - could I play well enough to be in a hardcore guild and remain, if not on the cutting-edge, then in the vanguard of raiding guilds? The answer, I suppose, is that I can. It's gratifying.

As one of my favorite Sandman comics said about falling from mountains, "Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mogu'shan Vaults Clear

This is the fastest I've ever cleared a tier of content.


It's not like the content was trivial either - Elegon and Will of the Emperor in particular are pretty demanding fights. But clear it we did (thanks to some extra nights). The Elegon and Will of the Emperor kills were on 10s, but still. I'm glad we got through everything. It means we can start heroic modes tonight and I hope we can get through at least one boss this week to climb up the ranking ladder.


So far, this is the most fun to tank content I've seen in Warcraft.

There have been other tiers with fun to tank fights - Ulduar had Firefighter and Yog-Saron; Ice-Crown Citadel had Blood Princes, Valethria and Lich King; Bastion had Sinestra and Cho'gal; Blackwing Descent had Nefarian. I honestly don't have very good tanking memories of Firelands and Dragon Soul but they still had Baleroc, Rhyolith, Ragnaros, Zon'ozz, and Spine.

But man, look at Mogu'shan Vaults - Stone Dogs and Soulbinder might be simple but tanks play a vital role there; Feng depends on your tanks to make or break the fight; solo-tanking Spirit Kings is awesome; Elegon is a hectic fight and demands a lot from every role, and is downright gorgeous to boot - and Will of the Emperor is the best tanking (and melee DPS) fight in a long, long time.

This is the kind of tier I've been waiting for. And I'm very happy to be raiding it with a dedicated, hardcore guild driven to succeed and progress in hard-modes.

Not much more to say about it now, except that I'm exhausted after the last two weeks of more or less continuous raiding. Here's hoping for more!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Gear Priority For Tanks In Mogu'shan Vaults

Yep, another tanking gear post.

As we trudge through Mogu'shan Vaults, one of the things we need to keep in mind is that we're going to be short some gear that doesn't drop in the vaults at all. For example, there is only one tanking trinket and ring that drops from the raid, and there are in fact, no tanking cloaks, helms, or legs that drop from the raid at all.

With the addition of the Charms of Good Fortune, I don't imagine that getting all the drops will be difficult by the time we get access to Heart of Fear and Terrace of Endless Spring; but we won't be able to replace the dungeon blues from Mogu'shan Vaults alone. However, we will have 3,000 valor at the end of this week and about 5,000 valor by the time the new raids launch, and I think we can be smart about where those points go to maximize our gearing strategy. Let's take a look then, at what we do get from the raid.

Item Source Slot Type
Chestguard of Eternal Vigilance Boss Drop Chest Armor
Sollerets of Spirit Splitting Gara'jal the Spiritbinder Feet Armor
Shoulderguards of the Unflanked Boss Drop Shoulder Armor
Star-Stealer Waistguard Boss Drop Waist Armor
Bracers of Six Oxen Feng the Accursed Wrist Armor
Beads of the Mogu'shi Boss Drop Neck Amulet
Band of Bursting Novas Elegon Finger Ring
Vial of Dragon's Blood Egeon Trinket Trinket
Elegion, the Fanged Crescent Elegon One-Hand Weapon
Steelskin, Qiang's impervious Shield Boss Drop Shield Shield

That leaves us with a few gaps and here is where we can fill them out.

Item Source Slot Valor
Gloves of the Overwhelming Swarm August Celestials Hands 1750
Yi's Least Favorite Helm Shado-PanHead 2250
Kovok's Riven Legguards Klaxxi Legs 2250
Yi's Cloak of Courage Shado-Pan Back 1250
Alani's Inflexible Ring Golden Lotus Finger 1250
Lao-Chin's Liquid Courage Shado-Pan Trinket 1750

That's a net sum of 10,500 valor points which is 10.5 weeks of capping valor, which is six weeks into the opening of the next two raids. Assuming you don't get lucky with drops from Sha or, like me; are willing to swap in some DPS pieces as long as they don't have Crit on them. Hit, Expertise and Haste are all great for Paladins right now.

I'll go into the why of it a little bit more in another post, but Theck has covered it plenty over at Sacred Duty. But briefly - with the way Active Mitigation works, keeping Bastion of Glory stacks up through Shield of the Righteous is our highest priority and the best way to do it is to hard-cap Hit and at least soft-cap Expertise for Holy Power generation, and any Haste you can get will reduce the cooldown of Crusader Strike and Judgment letting you get HP that much faster.

Anyway, if you are willing to use Haste items and reforge the crit away, your options broaden a bit, but please be fair to the plate DPS in your raid, and let them get their main-specs geared out before you roll on that gear. Yes, Haste is very good for us but any good raid will prioritize DPS over Tanks on actual DPS gear.

Item Source Slot Type
Starcrusher Gauntlets Elegon Hands Armor
Nullification Greathelm Feng the AccursedHead Armor
Jang-xi's Devastating Legplates Boss Drop Legs Armor
Cloak of Peacock Featehrs Feng the Accursed Back Cloak


So, there you go. Hopefully it helps you plan out your Valor purchases and be in the best gear you can get before Heart of Fear comes out in November. If I've missed anything, please let me know! I deliberately didn't go into the crafted gear and such as it's ridiculously expensive right now.

Personally, I've been very lucky and got the tier tanking legs and the PvP gloves from Sha so that's two less items I have to purchase. I picked up the ring first as I was still using 450 item in that slot, and I'll probably grab the helm second (next week) and the trinket third leaving me with the hands and cloak to upgrade when Heart of Fear launches. I think I'll be okay to wait on those items till then.

Good luck on those Good Fortune rolls! :-)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

First Week of MoP Raiding

The rush of facing down a brand-new boss for the first time with shield in hand is an absolute joy and I'm so glad I'm back in the tanking seat. I can say I pulled the first boss in the first raid of MoP as a tank, and the raid killed him. Well. That alone would be enough, but thanks to the overzealous Seal of Truth damage and stacking Censure 100% of the time with a healthy bit of cleave thrown into the mix, and an uncapped Vengeance stack I... topped the damage meters by a fair 2%. And, well, while that would also usually be enough to make me more than happy, I even managed to rank fairly high for Protection Paladin damage on World of Logs.


The DPS QQ was particularly delicious. Here's a video of the kill.


I also used my Charm of Good Fortune and received the tanking belt, along with the Amulet the boss was kind enough to cough up, and along we went, happily clearing trash.

The second boss, Feng, is more dangerous, and challenging, but we made very good progress regardless, getting the first phase and then the second cleared up only to get repeatedly demolished in Phase 3 for two nights, but we came back on Friday, split into 2 groups of 10s because we were missing some people, and thanks to some tanking tier pants from the Sha of Anger, there was another dead boss and the tanking bracers. Ignore my aborted-pull there, I was spectacularly tired by that point.


With the dim possibility of a fourth night this week, I ground out the Valor for the tanking ring from Golden Lotus and we killed him after only about an hour of work, collected my boots, and then, we had some words with the Spirit Kings and left after a brief night, promising to come back tonight to extract vengeance.

Did I mention my exceptional good luck with gear this week? Well, perhaps it'll be a consolation to know that I'm still using 450 iLevel quest-reward mace as I've had no luck with weapon drops, as I predicted.

Regardless.

And may I just shake the hands of whoever designed these bosses? Thank you, designers, for making fights where tanks do more than just eat damage as meat-shields. While Stone Guard might not be brain surgery, it is engaging to have 3 tanks coordinate positioning, proximity, and add-shuffling pretty much continuously through the fight. Feng actually gives both tanks unique abilities that have to used at crucial moments to mitigate the damage and redirect his abilities back onto him. Spiritbinder isn't nearly as thrilling, but our ability to push big, big numbers in the Spirit Zone can be a big help. Spirit Kings is like every Council fight on crack; just so much juggling and fun, but it might be a single-tank fight, I don't know. I'm finding it hard to understand why you'd bring two tanks to this, even in 25 mode, except for the security. The movement and awareness heavy fight makes me realize why I love council fights that build up in complexity as the fight goes on and the abilities pile up.

One of the things that I keep having to remind myself is that we're doing this in dungeon blues and in some cases, a few quest greens. A few of us barely scraped past the 440 iLevel requirement for Heroic dungeons before stepping in to kill these bosses - and we're having some success with it.

What can I say? The week was fantastic, with everyone contributing, pooling resources, and having a really patient and professional attitude about progression (we probably wiped at least 30 times, if not more, on Feng alone) more or less for 2 nights straight.

I'm super excited to go back tonight - this is the most fun I've had in terms of really engaged, heads-down, nose to the grindstone, raiding in a long time.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My First Week In Pandaria

It has been more than seven days since Pandaria opened up her shores and we landed our ships and wars on those sylvan lands.

My journey began at 2am when I awoke, showered, fed, and sat down with coffee and waited for the quests to begin. The landing was rough, even as we gunned down the drowning Horde, Innana pulled the trigger and swallowed the doubt welling up. This was war. This was necessary. When the horrors popped up, when the warning came, it was brushed aside - it was not understood, and she turned her back to the blood and fire.

Initially, my intention was to group with others and burn through as fast as possible, but very rapidly I realized just how lovely and immersive Pandaria was, and I wanted to get lost in it.

--

I wanted to be a stranger in a strange land, a warrior stranded on lost shores with no recourse but to explore - and in exploring, find a journey that removes the war from her thoughts. Innana wandered the Jade Forest, stopping often simply to gawk and breathe in the green and blue place, sink into the music, and I didn't even notice the sun coming up. Jade Forest devoured my attention - the storytelling and questing is light, repetitive, yet effective. There was a sense of space and time, these people were friendly, open and curious; they allowed me into their lives and I enjoyed the measure of anonymity Innana had.

When the conflict came, I didn't see it on the horizon. I was too taken by the beauty and the brutality of the ending surprised me, I was moved a bit to see the ruins that our war had brought. Yet - as I am wont to do - I didn't blame my side, and so the war goes on.

Perhaps in a fit of denial, a desire to not stare into the mirror, Innana dove into the Valley of Four Winds, lost among those pastoral fields, in the hedges and pools, the plowed fields and gardens, rooting our vermin, shepherding animals, lost in the haze of honest, sweaty work and walking with a companion across the field, arriving at Half Hill, at the Brewery, it would be so easy to forget, to let go of her past and simply become another farmer, here in a land secluded from horror.

But if one goes far enough, one encounters new horrors. The Mantid were breaking through the walls. Soon, it was time for the sword and shield, up the Veiled Stair hiding its mysteries, into Kun-Lai to see mountains like she had never seen before, into local skirmishes and bigger wars, even as the people called her to humble, escort service, old business caught up. After a glimpse of the bloodless Valley, it was so tempting to just turn her blind eye, to escape into the land and be forgotten, but that was not her nature.

Through the war in the Steppes, across the wall, and by the time she landed in the Dread Waste, the memory of the Valley was a small and dim, green mirage. War was all that remained.

--

I had the week off and played pretty much continuously from launch until I hit 90 with only a couple of short naps along the way and then jumping into the heroics right away. Tomorrow on, I'll probably start talking more about tanking, but the initial reaction is extremely positive. Paladin Tanking is fun, really engaging, the rotation is complex enough to keep me from auto-piloting, and we have a ton of tools.

The dungeons are dungeons. Nothing particularly special about them. I think I'm over being excited about dungeons at this point - they really just are means to an end after the first couple of times through. I mean, yes, Shado-Pan Monastery was really awesome my first time through, crazy good with how the dungeon incorporates movie-tropes into a dramatic experience, but the fifth time through I just wanted to get through the mobs. Even the difficulty level was firmly placed at mild, and once I replaced the greens with at least blue 440s, it was just a blur of rushing through in 20 minute long bursts to gear as fast as possible.

Every day of last week was consumed with dailies, profession grinding, and dungeon running. It is fantastic to be in a guild where there  were 3 server-first 90s, and we got the server-first guild achievement for maxing out all professions. I've been trying to grind as many heroics by tanking as I can, but there are always more to run. I'm glad I took the week off, it felt productive to get that many runs done, but others did way more.

Everyone was constantly helping each other, cutting gems, disenchanting greens, crafting stuff, chasing down elites in packs, grouping up for dailies. Last night, a guildy got the random-drop BoE shield in Scholo and generously allowed me to use it for the raid tonight. Just, fantastic group of people.

This expansion launch has been the best one so far, in many ways:

- Smooth launch, no hitches, no problems whatsoever at least on my server
- The content is just downright great, I'm all over the lore and immersion of the Pandaria thing, despite my initial skepticism
- Content. I'm constantly conflicted about what to do next. Dailies? Dungeons? Rare spawns? Exploring? Achievements? Scenarios?
- I love my farm. I really thought it was something not for me, but the minute I started work on it, I just loved it.
- And I haven't even touched the new battlegrounds, the pet battles, and neither the Loremasters nor the Dragon reputations yet.

Already Mists shows just how bad Cataclysm was by comparison. The only zone in Cataclysm that left any impact on me was Vashj'ir but otherwise, it was all just bland questing. Even Uldum was spoiled by the terrible storytelling. If the raiding holds up, we could be looking at something of a Wrath caliber if not something even better.



--

In raiding news, my guild killed Galleon on Friday night, and the Sha of Anger last night despite his random despawns, but I didn't get any gear out of it. Galleon is very, very simple but the Sha requires a bit of doing, though even he is pretty easy to overpower with numbers. It's weird to be in a guild actively chasing server firsts like this, but weird in a really great way.

Tonight, we begin Mogu'shan Vaults. I've got some food, I've got my gear enchanted and gemmed, I'll try to sneak in a run of Brewery one more to try to get my hands on a weapon, but otherwise, I think I'm about as set as I'm going to get. I'm double-stacking Stamina trinkets and gemming and enchanting as much Stamina as I can. I think, raid-buffed, I should probably be about ~500k or so. Which is crazy.

Wish us luck!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mists on the horizon

Firstly, the Legendary dudes stole part of my blog name for a show they're doing called "After Dark!" This makes me unreasonably and unbearably despondent. Sad enough to use an emoticon. :-(

Moving on.

This week was the final Dragon Soul run for me. I got to tank heroic Madness one last time, and now it's just a clear run towards Pandaria and the raids waiting for us on those distant, misty shores. The two hour clears of Heroic Dragon Soul were almost getting to be fun, but I'll be happy not to step into that place for a long, long time.

Unlike Wrath of the Lich King, my sets are all kinds of all over the place, distributed between three specs and while all of them are very well geared, none of them are complete. The side-effect of raiding with 3 specs, I suppose. And given my luck with loot, I went the entire expansion - the entire expansion (some 20+ Madness kills in normal or heroic mode) without seeing a single Souldrinker. Bravo, Dragon Soul, you have gotten one over me after all. You win this round, RNG.

Also, no heroic mounts, not from Ragnaros, not from Dragon Soul, not from Alysrazor... I've seen maybe 12 rare mounts in total drop from the bosses in all of Cataclysm and didn't win any. So it goes. I'm not too disappointed, though a Ragnaros mount would have been nice.

I don't have too many regrets about Cataclysm, but I'm just eager to put it behind me and look towards Mists, especially now that I'm trying to settle (again) into my new role, getting excited about tanking. After prepping for Retribution for a couple of months, it's a bit of a gear change, but I'm happier in this role than any other by far, and the weight of a shield on my arm is far more comfortable than the feel of a great heavy axe in my hands.

But the changes to tanking in general and the Protection Paladin toolbox in particular have been significant and I'm still getting used to them. We have a large number of keybinds and being a support class, it's well deserved. There are a tons of buttons we must necessarily have close at hand at all time. This is taking some tricky maneuvering of binds, add-ons, and re-training my hand and muscle-memory a bit, while trying to incorporate a ton of auras to track what ElvUI was doing for me, till it slowed my laptop to a crawl and had to be ejected. So now I'm stuck making my own UI, more or less, from SUF, Bartender and Weak Auras. Maybe that's worth throwing up here to help anyone making their own Tanking UI.

In a shocking bit of news for nobody, Tanking 25s is pretty different from 10s. The amount of specific information I had in 10s is missing (the smaller number of people meant that I could specifically call out to people for specific buffs or help) though that could just be me being new to the guild (not really, I've been here for over a month already.) Point being that I got myself killed a couple of times because I didn't exactly know who to call on for help - I'll need to make sure I correct that.

The other thing is that now I'm getting exposed to the new Vengeance mechanic  and its never-ending climb to the stratosphere thanks to the removal of any cap. Do you know how much AP you get after eating an Impale? A ton. Like, six-figures of a ton. Holy shit. I have a feeling if I was tighter and better with my rotation I'd be wrecking meters left and right. But not all bosses are going to hit like that - and besides, it just makes tank swaps a nightmare. Maybe some kind of macro is necessary.

/cancelaura Righteous Fury
/cast Hand of Salvation
/dance

In more sad news, the removal of Righteous Defense is such a handicap that I didn't even realize it until I saw two or three adds peeling off and, as I'm want to do, I switched targets and my ring-finger spammed my ages-old RD macro-bind and the adds just continued on their merry way. It was a sad moment, and I paused to mourn the passing of an old friend whilst the loose adds gored on the bodies of my companions.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mists of Pandaria pre-raid Plate Tank gear


So. Um.

My Warcraft life is in such an upheaval that as soon as I settle into a role and set my expectations, I get a, "Well, actually....", and wind up changing my role.

So far, I started Dragon Soul as Protection, swapped to Retribution (1) when we got a second tank in, swapped to Holy (2) when we needed a 3rd reliable healer for Heroic Zon'ozz, swapped back to Retribution (3) until we hit 6/8 heroics, switched up to Tanking (4) again for Heroic Spine, back to Retribution (5) for a couple of months, and now, back to Protection (6) for Mists. I count SIX spec changes in one tier. Holy crap. But this is a really good change, I'm excited about it, and I'm hoping that I'm up to the challenge and that the change sticks. We'll see how it goes in a few weeks but I'm hopeful. Assuming my laptop behaves.

Anyway, because of said change, I wound up making another list, and so here it is. This one is for all the plate tanking gear that you can get pre-raid.

One big difference from the DPS gear list is the lack of Justice gear - not to worry, there is a complete set of BoE tanking gear that you can craft with what look like relatively cheap materials, if you have access to a Blacksmith. There is also an especially good Valor trinket that I plan to pick up pre-raid for sure.

WEAPON AND SHIELD

All the benefits of easily gearing up to 450 iLevel with crafted gear comes back to bite us when we look at weapons and shield. No bones about it, we're kind of screwed.

For the weapon, we're dungeon farming for this one sword that you'll share with every single SMF Warrior and DW Frost DK. Good luck. It's either that, or using the one-hander reward from the Arena of Annihilation Scenario. It's one full tier behind the Dungeon gear. Ugly.

If lady-luck spurns you and you don't mind having a sword with Crit and Mastery, here is the solitary crafted one-handers that you could potentially sub-in out of sheer desperation. Have fun paying a few thousand gold for it, assuming you're on a high population server with some options. Low population servers are likely to see this thing go for tens of thousands for the first few weeks.

The shield situation isn't much better - but at least there is a decent crafted shield that is pretty cheap to make. Otherwise you're left farming for this dungeon drop from Heroic Shado-Pan Monastery.

Basically, make friends with a Blacksmith. Like, really good friends. In case you're wondering, yes, I have a  Blacksmith. And I can be your friend. For a price. A very high price*.

ARMOR

Here is the list for the rest of the armor. I've highlighted the crafted set a bit so it's obvious:



And here it is as an open Google Doc for you to copy and change as you wish, and the broken down lists on WoWHead:
Okay, I'll hit up Mail, Leather and Cloth next, as soon as I get through some stuff in the next day or two.

* - the price is materials.

Friday, September 7, 2012

First week of raiding in 5.0.4

Man, that raiding thing is a different animal.

I was churning out huge freaking numbers in dungeon all last week and then in raid, my output just plummeted, for any number of reasons. It has me pretty bummed out about my own performance, because nobody is a bigger critic of my numbers than me. I'm in competition with myself, and I have a certain expectation of what I want to see. When I fail to meet those expectations, the disappointment drives me figure out how I can fix the situation and perform better.

The reasons I came up with are the following:
  1. My laptop just couldn't keep up with the add-ons and the 25-mode graphics. The first night was more or less a wash due to this - I couldn't just turn off all my add-ons as I had very specific bars setup and was trapped. Trying to run about and stay alive and keep DPS up at less than 10 FPS wasn't pretty. The second night was better, once I pared the add-ons down to, er, DBM, SUF, Hearkitty, FCFS helper and the loot system add-on, ran Fullscreen after turning all the bells and whistles down. But I do need to figure something out to keep 20 - 30 FPS going with graphics running at a decent level with the add-ons I want. If you have any suggestions or can offer any help in this area, please let me know. I'm running on a Laptop which makes it a bit more complicated.
  2. I ran with Holy Avenger the first night as it's a net DPS gain but goddamn, it was so hard to find places where I could sit still for a long enough time to get good use of it for burst. Not to mention, I kept getting locked trying to get it to line up with Avenging Wrath. Argh. The second night I switched to Divine Purpose and that felt significantly better. I'm going to test with the dummy and if I can get the same damage out of both, I'll run consistently with DP instead.
  3. This is probably a minor factor, but I didn't Reforge anything as I wasn't sure where our stat priorities lay. Next week, I'll throw everything I have into Haste because there were long stretches where I had nothing to press and got antsy and thanks to Sanctity of Battle, Haste helps with nearly every one of our HP builders. This should help out a bit. I was dismissing the Haste thing through the end of Cata as being irrelevant for Retribution, but I suppose I'll eat my words and my haste.
Those factors aside, my DPS was pretty dismal and I really need to work to elevate it.

Speaking of dismal DPS, last night my old guild was looking to go do some mix of normal  and heroic DS so I hopped onto my Warlock that I hadn't played in a while, let alone prepared post patch. I stuck with Affliction as it seemed the least changed on beta, and quickly assembled a UI and read up the rotation while we zoned in. It took me most of the night to realize some basic things like, oh, I don't know:

My performance was even worse there. At least I got 3 items of gear, including the Madness staff and I bought another 2 with Justice points so my iLevel jumped up to 389. Yay? Yay.

I'm hoping that by fiddling with my UI and cleaning up my WTF/Interface folders, I can squeeze some more performance out of my laptop for next week. And

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Mists of Pandaria pre-raid Retribution DPS gear

As the expansion gets closer, I'm swimming in one of my favorite things to do - running filter after filter on WoWHead to generate interesting lists of gear I might want, and while the Raid gear is the best stuff that I'm drooling over, it'll take me some time to collect it all, and besides, I need other gear just to get started raiding. So I thought I'd make a list of potential stuff I want, where to get it, how to get it, etc.

Show me the shinies!


This list should apply to any Strength using class. It just shows the PvE gear, I didn't include any of the PvP stuff, as, well, I'm not a fan of using PvP gear in PvE, and it's easy to build those lists anyway.


There we go. Good? Good.

Okay, maybe not, here is the full list as an open Google Doc (just copy it to your Google Drive or to a local spreadsheet if you want to modify it), and here are the different lists at WoWHead:
The WoWHead filters aren't complicated enough to let me do complex And/Or query-strings, though I imagine that would probably churn for a while on the server.

I didn't include the Heroic Dungeon gear as that gear will come on its own pace and is subject to RNG, but there is no doubt about this gear - you can get every item here with some effort. I know those crafted chest and hand pieces are calling my name, as are the quest rewards. That's some easy picking right there.

But where are my weapons?


The best I could do was this list.

Unfortunately,  it looks like we're stuck with Heroic dungeons to grind out the weapon - thankfully there are quite a few options. In case one has the absolute worst luck with drops, there is a craftable sword with the same iLevel as the Heroic Dungeon gear and it looks fairly cheap to make, but that depending on how common Spirit of Harmony winds up being (remember it's, ugh, BoP.)

And for Retribution, I'm still not sure what our stat priority is going to be - either Mastery or Haste - but we can split the difference and settle on this kind-of badass looking mace: Mograine's Immaculate Might as being best for us pre-raid.

I'm no brawny plate-wearer (or Dude, Where's My Dress?)!



Just click the lists on WoWHead above, toggle the strength field to Agility, Intellect or Spirit, the armor type to your chosen type, and either remove or filter the Dodge/Parry into something you'd rather avoid (like Spirit, for instance) you can easily build more lists.

Just keep in mind the filters are all on an AND conditional - the OR conditionals are finicky at best, and only useful with two parameters.

Easy! Right? Erm.

Well, what's next?


I'm not going to make any BiS lists or anything till our stat balancing gets finalized, but maybe I'll give that a poke. I've been thinking about actually getting into some serious theorycrafting and building my own Retribution DPS simulator but that involves a lot of development time... but maybe.

It seems like a fun project, and as I'm getting back into C++ again, maybe I could use the project as an excuse to learn the new 2012 IDE...

Monday, August 27, 2012

From The Future

The blog-aggregator stie, MMO Melting Pot, had a request for blog posts up a couple of weeks ago, asking for what enties about what future MMOs might be like. I've written for them before, but this was far too interesting a topic for me to pass up, so I wrote something for them.

It went up today - check it out, if you like. It's a bit strange but it's a very interesting topic for me.

August 21, 2020

If you want to get an idea of where games might actually wind up, you should really read a novel called The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. It's very dense reading, as the author offers little exposition and wants you to figure out the far-far future tech, but it's well worth the time if you're interested in game futures.

You should also give a pen and paper RPG named Free Market a try, by Luke Crane (of Burning Wheel fame) and Jared Sorensen. That game sort of *is* a future MMO in the form of a table-top game.

The article borrows a tiny bit from both those sources, but is more grounded in what I think is both feasible and what I'd like to see from games in the very near future.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rusty Shield

The last time I did any serious tanking was the Heroic Spine kill, which was about a month ago.

Since then, I've primarily been playing Retribution, so much so that I've grown quite used to the speed of it. The procs of Divine Purpose and the Art of War, the quick movement thanks to Long Reach, and the near constant stream of buttons to hit has really spoiled me and lacking the need for any gear at this point really, I found myself not even bothering with the occasional LFR or LFG tanking bout.

Last night, a few folks in the guild wanted to go in and kill Heroic Madness, and I went in, as I wanted a shot at the mount, at Heroic Gurthalak, and damnit, I wanted to do something fun and challenging in the midst of this malaise. Plus, quick guild rep. And you know, I wanted to see what raiding with this group of people was going to be like, even if it was just in 10s.

The group decided to go with a 2/2/6 makeup to keep things easy and I volunteered to off-tank. I hadn't tanked this fight even on normal in a very long time, and even then I was solo-tanking on every kill, so I was actually kind of new to the fight in this role, but still. Man, was I sloppy. Somehow, I managed to get myself killed twice, and the other tank once.

Death the first: Pulled aggro, took an unintended impale with no CDs and immediately began to cosplay as one of Vlad's victims.
Death the second: Didn't ask for external cooldowns on the 2nd impale of the 4th platform and exploded into a fine red mist. Bastards hits hard.
Murder the first: Bubbled through the shard landing on the 4th platform causing the other tank to eat a hit from the Corruption because I was slow with the bubble/taunt/dispel, like a dick. Like! A! Dick!

I think he died on the 4th go when I didn't make any stupid mistakes but that meant I had to be very careful with what I was doing, and that, on top of how Protection seems to crawl when compared to Retribution, with dry periods and few procs to respond to and just the lack of movement buffs, the whole thing left me feeling like I was moving in slow-motion at times.

Protection will remain my off-spec in Mists, but the addition of more Holy Power generators and movement buffs in 5.0 will do much to improve the play-style of the spec. Not to mention it reduced my damage to a pathetic little, wet, limp noodle number.

Anyway. Despite all my excuses, it was an embarrassing muck-up and I was ashamed of my performance. The failboat had landed. But as things are wont to work out, in spite of my boorish behavior, I had a blast.

The group was well coordinated, it didn't feel like some of us were raiding together for the first time. There was open communication, people pitched in, and it was a fairly democratic run. Admittedly, it was a 10-person casual night, and I imagine 25s are more rigorously controlled, but I liked the people I was raiding with, and the environment I was raiding in. I hope they let me stick around.

If you're curious, this was kill number 20 on this character alone without ever seeing Souldrinker, on either difficulty. Not that I even really want it anymore, other than as some sick proof that it exists and there isn't some code in the background causing the sword to actively avoid me! Did I make you Blizzard? I'm sorry, I'm a lover, not a hater!

Afterward, I putzed about in Stormwind for a bit, considered doing a quick MC or Kara run, but then I just logged out, actually feeling kind-of good and hopeful about my future in Warcraft.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

September, September

For the first time in many years, I've moved to and played consistently on a new server with my Paladin, Innana. A server where I don't know anyone, in a new guild. It's a bit of an isolating and lonely experience, but I fully appreciate that this is the lull before the storm. Things will pick up very quickly in a couple of weeks, and then I won't even have the time to breathe, but right now, it feel lethargic. I almost wish I could just log out and not log back in till the 28th of August, but I'm a completionist and there is much work to be done to prepare for Mists.

I only moved Innana over as I didn't want to spend a lot of money, and thus, I've had to level a Druid to farm ore and herbs, and I've also parked a Death Knight in Stormwind to make Flasks and Belt Buckles for me. They still need quite a bit of love and care, and my druid is still wandering in Hellfire Peninsula. Here's hoping I can get both of them to 85 before the 25th of September.

Not to mention churning out 4.8k guild rep every week with fistfuls of Dailies. At least it's worth some gold. Every time I think I'm done for good with Baradin Hold and Molten Front, there's something else to suck me back in.

But it's all busy work. Nothing truly engaging. I miss my friends, and Battle.Net is a great resource, but it can't compensate for what playing on Moon Guard is like. That's the other thing, the new server is so quiet compared to Moon Guard. I flew through Elwyn to get to Darkmoon Faire, and I paused, because General chat wasn't a continuously flowing river of hideous, horrific and hillariously bizarre comments. In fact, Goldshire was practically deserted save for the occasional human in the single-digits hurrying about with quests.

Even during peak hours, I can find standing room in the Auction House and the Trade District and Dwarf District aren't crowded with giant epic mounts. Last night, the old guild went in to finish another Legendary staff and I went along on my Warlock to help. At the end of the night, nearing midnight server, when the staff was finished in Stormwind, the sky was black with wings. Easily at least a hundred people crowding around the dragon, even this late in the expansion.

I'm not complaining, necessarily, it's nice to have such quiet, even though the Auction House is - let's call it strange to be polite. Finishing quests is easy without having to compete for kills or resources, and farming and such seem to be significantly easier, at least in the lower levels so far. I think in all my time so far I've only come across one other competing farmer. And maybe I'll even admit that it's gratifying not to see a dozen Twilight Vanquishers floating above Auction Houses, and any number of Saviors and Firelords and Dragonslayers every time I swung around (back, vanity, back, return to the black pit from whence you rose!)

So for now, I level my alts, switch over to help the other guild when they need an extra body, and wait for September. Well, August 28th, now, which is 12 days away.

I would love to accomplish a few things before that happens.

- Heroic Nefarian, Al'Akir and Ascendant Council
- Heroic Sinestra
- Heroic Ragnaros

Anyone want to join me to work on anything on the list while we wait? Or does anyone need a Prot/Retadin to do any of the above? :-)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Glory of the Dragon Soul Raider

All done with Cataclysm. I still need maybe 8 or 9 raid achievemts of the 60+ that came out with Cataclysm, but all of Dragon Soul is done at least. That should count for something.


I made a similar post nearly 2 years ago, and looking at it now, my circumstances are very different, and I can chuckle at the naieve enthusiasm I had back then.

Things are so different they're unrecognizable. My son is nearly two, and not a newborn. We're about to sell our aparmtent and move into a proper house. My future in the game was certain and now it's in flux. My job is the same, but it's also different. Graduate school might be on the horizon, and maybe even a completely different side-business when back then, being a brand-new father was an all-consuming thought.

Things change. For the better, overall.

This also marks the end of my raiding with Infinite Turtle Theory on my main character. We sat around after raid tonight, in a circle of dragons, talking about our favorite fights till one by one people logged off. Tomorrow, I'll transfer to a new server and become a cog in the great 25-person machine of a new guild. I don't mean for that to sound ominous, I'm genuinely looking forward to it with a good deal of excitment and nervousness.

It's kind of a heart-breaking end to the expansion. Malencholy and excitment blending to become something more than either. I'll stop waxing (bad) poetry now.

Here's to writing another end-of-expansion post in a couple of years as we say farewell to another act in the Warcraft story.

Bonne nuit, Cataclysm!

Better Enchanting

I've been an enchanter on Innana for a very long time, and while I do enjoy the profession, the lack of support during Cataclysm made it a very frustrating experience.

Wrath wasn't too bad once Abyssal Shatter was added to the game, in patch 4.2 I think. But throughout Cataclysm, Greater Celestial Essences were the bane of my existence. They were necessary for so many enchants and yet there were quite difficult to generate, and there was no easy way to farm them. Even using the ore shuffle, the only way to reliably farm them was expensive, by sacrificing Carnelians which would be better served as Rubies through Transmutes.

Dream Dust was very easy to come by, and once we had an excess of Maelstrom Crystals, even Heavenly Shards weren't too bad thanks to Maelstrom Shatter. Greater Celestial Essences remained the production choke point for the entire length of the expansion.

Thankfully, Blizzard seems to be moving into the right direction with Enchanting for Mists of Pandaria. It seems like you will be able to move up and down the component ladder fairly easily. First off, here are the new items:
In addition, we have the following spells:
 And:


So to get one Sha Crystal, we have to do the following:

1 Sha Crystal = 5 Ethereal Shards
5 Ethereal Shards = 25 Mysterious Essence
25 Mysterious Essence = 125 Spirit Dust

The ladder is fairly expensive, but at least it's an option should we get desperate and have an excess of Dust (which we probably will) to move up. Moving down will cost us a lot of materials, but as excess builds up from grinding dungeons, we won't just be sitting on a ton of mats that are flooding the AH with no recourse. At least in the first few weeks and months, making Sha Crystals this way may be quite profitable I think, especially if the market floods with Dust or Shards. If Shard prices stay high, it might even be worth producing them for others to transmute into Crystals.

It's a lot better than the complete lack of options that we had in Cataclysm. This gives us some latitude in terms of how we produce mats for enchants and doesn't put any choke-points in the production line. Let's hope it stays this way from here on out.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Changes

The summer in Warcraft has really dragged for me and part of it is because I've known for some time about a change brewing in my head that I didn't want to acknowledge. It churned, and churned, and finally it spilled over during raid about three weeks ago, when I realized, I just didn't want to raid the way we were raiding anymore. The way my guild wants to raid and the way I want to raid have drifted apart till there was a rift between us and it was making me angry and frustrated, trying to get them to jump onto my side of the gap.

Until, during a random comment in raid pointed in my direction - with no ill-intent or anything - made me realize just what the problem was. It was me. When the majority of the raid has moved on to one side of a divide, the person on the other side should shut up and follow suite. Or leave so as to stop being a problem.

And that's what I did. Well, not yet, but I began the process of trying to find a guild that would fit my needs.

It would need to be mostly composed of adults, it would need to be a mature place to play with long-term stability, it would need to be progression oriented, relatively competitive in terms of ranking, and it would need to be no more than 2 nights a week of progression. Beyond that, it didn't matter. Server, faction, 10s, 25s, I didn't care. I was willing to play any spec on my paladin or even my Warlock or Death Knight if necessary. I spoke to several guild masters after seeing their posts on various recruitment forums and finally got an invite to a guild for MoP. Alliance side, but on another server and as Retribution instead of Protection. They've finished raiding for Cataclysm and are waiting for 5.0 to start up again, which left me a bit of time to set my affairs in order.

I broke the news to my guild leader and raid leader but they took it well, even going so far as to encourage me to keep alts in the guild, which I'm grateful for. I still haven't actually moved over yet, as we're finishing up a lot of the left-over raid achievements (in fact, we only have about 11 left out of the 60-odd raid achievements in Cataclysm) but this coming week will be my last raid on Innana with the Turtles as a Turtle, when we'll finish our last achievement to get Glory of the Dragon Soul Raider.

There are some things I'm nervous about naturally, I have been with the Turtles for over two years, I signed the original charter, I've been writing about the Turtles since I started this blog, more or less, and that's a long time. I don't want to just cut ties and run, I think I have a fair amount of loyalty and dedication to a guild, and I like to stick with them once I find my feet. And with the Turtles, we've known each other so long, it's almost like talking in short-hand with amount of in-jokes and such that we have from a long shared history of raiding.

It's a big risk for me both socially and raid-career wise to take this leap. But it's exciting, and it has added a good deal of energy back into the game for me. I recently got my hands on a Level 4 guild for rather cheap, so I'll be moving to the new server with all my gold rather than the silly 50k cap on transfers.

On September 25th, I'll wake up from an early nap, log in as the servers come up, begin the journey to 90 and as soon as I hit cap, I'll be preparing to to raid on October the 2nd. in the mean time, I have nothing but the best wishes for the Turtles and I hope to see them on top of the server rankings in MoP - if that's what they want.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Gear Gating In Mists of Pandaria

I'm worried about the gear progression path in Pandaria.

In Tier 11 and Tier 7, and presumably in Tier 4, the gear progression for PvE went something like this:

Quest Greens > Rep, Dungeon, Crafted Blues > Heroic and Badge > Raid

But in Tier 14, we have a new step in the ladder in the LFR and a change in the order, so that the gear progression, I think, turn out to look like this:

Quest Greens > Dungeon Blues > Rep, Valor, Crafting > LFR > Raid

I poked around in WoWHead to make a quick spreadsheet, so just take a look at the iLevel of gear and where it comes from:


iLevel Source
463 Heroic Dungeons
470 Headless Horseman
483 Raid Finder
489 Reputation (and, presumably, Crafted) Gear
496 Normal Raid
509 Heroic Raid


The iLevel difference between Heroic Dungeon loot and Normal Raid loot is a whopping 30 points.That means that not only will it be useless for raiding, we absolutely have to gear up with Reputation gear. There isn't much crafted gear that I saw, so that might be an option as well, but the point being that there is reputation gear for almost every slot. Here, for example, is a table showing you the gear I would want purely from reputation alone, before stepping into a raid (click to zoom).


Almost every slot is covered except for the chest piece (I suspect these will be crafted).

Blizzard has said they want us to buy gear from Reputation vendors using Valor points instead of Gold as we have done so far. That means, despite all the juggling and changing how we get gear and stuff, we're essentially going to be buying Valor gear from a different vendor that also requires a Reputation.

Not only will we need to grind rep with these guys, we'll also need to farm the Valor which will have a hard weekly cap.

This is essentially a double gear-gate. Ugh.
 
One note of comfort is that all the gear only requires (at least right now) a Revered level of reputation instead of Exalted as I was expecting which softens the reputation grind, but that does nothing about the Valor cap.

Unless we run LFR. And that's where my problem lies.

In the absence of any useable gear from Heroic dungeons, it will take me weeks to buy even a few items of gear from the reputation vendor. I might even be okay with that, as a means of slowing down content consumption. But.

Someone might get lucky in LFR and be ready to go in half the time. I'm not bemoaning the luck factor here, RNG is RNG, but it's pretty obvious that gearing through LFR is going to be significantly faster than gearing up through the natural gear progression path alone.

With no viable gear from Heroics, we're left only with LFR as a source of dropped gear pre-raid.
Let' s leave aside the fact that hard-core progression guilds will run LFR for their tier. There's no question there, that's absolutely going to happen, as it did in Tier 13. For these guys, the kills are about speed, but for me the experience is important, not the speed.
When LFR launched with Tier 13, it didn't bother me much. I had a mix of normal and heroic Firelands gear and the iLevel 384 gear didn't appeal to me all that much. Besides, I wanted to see and down the bosses on normal mode before I took up the neutered version of the bosses, and that's exactly what I did. We got Madness down I think in the third or fourth week and that was the first time I went in to do LFR, mostly to get the 4-piece Tier bonus. That worked because we were coming into Dragon Soul after having accumulated the gear from Firelands and as a raiding guild, were geared enough to go straight into normal Dragon Soul without a problem.

In the current tier, as seen above, we won't have that, and if we go into the raids without grinding out the valor/reputation gear for weeks or without running LFR, the first few weeks without LFR tier are going to be brutally difficult.

Considering the fact that Reputation gear is only half a tier behind the Normal gear loot, I would imagine that normal modes are tuned to LFR gear.

That leaves me in a hard spot because I want to see the bosses for the first time in their full glory, not their neutered versions. Of course, the answer is to wait and get gear the way I want, through Valor and Reputation but it feels like a round-about and boring way to gear up compared to what we had before.

I will be disenchanting every single item that drops off of Heroic bosses, killing them solely in the pursuit of Valor points and reputation. That sucks.

Gear from Heroics was always good in the beginning of the first tier. Getting gear from bosses felt natural and organic. I remember in Wrath running Heroic Utgarde Pinnacle praying for the epic tanking sword to drop the night before we were to start raiding and how elated I was when it did.

Now, I'll have a spreadsheet that tells me exactly when I'll get what based on the rate of Valor coming into my pockets.

I know what I enjoyed more. Bah-humbug.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Can I be a Warlock, please?

Wow, this has been a gap of nearly 3 weeks since I posted - long time since I've taken such a break.

There really isn't much to write about with my in-game activities, unfortunately, and while I'd like to wax philosophical on some other topics of the game, the muse fails to stir. Still, here I am today, after a few... extremely frustrating weeks of game. Not much raiding to talk about, a lot of mumbling on my part, and playing of alts and doing really repetitive boring stuff just to have a reason to log in. I've been seriously tempted just to uninstall WoW and wait till patch 5.0 to install it again, so I don't even get tempted into logging in just to sit in Dalaran staring at Trade with a mixture of horror and fascination.

But, log in I did, and do, and last night I dusted off my sweet, lovely Warlock lady for a bit of LFG action. First, as a good little diligent player, I sat on the Dummy for a bit just to remember my rotation, I spread some DoTs around and so forth, and when the dungeon started, I saw I was in the company of some full DS geared people (my poor Warlock is mostly in normal-FL gear). Afraid of a poor showing, I sat up straight and prepared to do my best.

Throughout the dungeon, I found myself competing pretty aggressively. I was Soul-Swapping full piles of DoTs like my life depended on it, I was keeping every bursty button on cool-down, every time I could boost my numbers, I did, and when a pile of mobs gathered, I gleefully breathed Shadowflame, spammed seeds of Corruption. I won't deny the cackled that left me as the screen exploded with huge, bright yellow numbers everywhere.

At the end of the dungeon, we were all within 1% of each other in overall DPS and damage done, and I was feeling pretty proud of myself. It made me wonder about how much fun I have playing my DPS specs lately, as I don't tank very much anymore even on Innana and Retribution has become my most progressed set, so I've developed a very DPSey mindset. And of course, in a given raid, ranged DPS almost always seems to outperform Melee, or should be, and playing Affliction would give me a great deal of utility in terms of what I can offer the table.

While raiding in Cataclysm offers me absolutely no inspiration anymore, I do kind-of want to raid on my Warlock, if I could find a late Friday night group for some cross-server action or something. It would let me make up my mind about how much I really enjoy flinging spells all over the place. I have to say, having tried Affliction on Beta, it feels a bit more frantic. Malefic Grip seriously messes with DoT refresh timers and Haunt replacing Shadow Bolt from Nightfall procs constantly breaking the normal flow of the rotation while constantly being aware of Drain-twisting for when a bursty part is about to come up or during Execute phase, all makes for some pretty tense casting. There are a lot of things to track and Affliction was never the most straightforward of specs. But I think it's a very rewarding spec to play, there is almost no other spec in the game that feels as in touch with its in-character description as Affliction.

You are laying curses and afflictions and banes on your enemies and devouring them from the inside out. There is no question of what an Affliction Warlock does. Merricat is a twisted, dark woman with a warped mind and I sometimes feels that she thinks she doesn't control her actions anymore, that she has stepped too far into the Nether and when she came back, she wasn't completely herself anymore.

Through all this, Affliction remains the least flashy of the 3 specs. Demonology has some incredibly cool moves, and Destruction has always been about the fire and brimstone, but Affliction is the quiet art of killing by looking at you and suddenly that belly-ache turns into blood pouring out of your ears. So I guess I'm okay with it.

By contrast, Retribution has become almost elegantly simple. We build Holy Power from absolutely everything. Judgment? HP. Crusader Strike? HP. Exorcism?! HP. Have too much HP? Have some extra storage. Inquisition is all buffed? Just spam those endless streaks of Templar's Verdicts. But at the same time, because we're hitting Verdict so much more, it had to scale down in terms of the damage it does, and that is a serious bummer. It doesn't feel like we're building up this massive blow, it feel more like a lot of medium-sized blows whittling down the enemy rather than bringing an overwhelming righteous force down.

So, how do you choose? I'm hoping we have a "Well, what the hell class and spec ARE we playing next expansion?" conversation soon, and we'll go from there. But, knowing what our armor-class breakout is like (3 each of plate, cloth and leather) I suspect I'll be back to tanking and my brief affair with my Warlock will be a memory, we'll glance at each other occasionally in Stormwind, steal brief smoldering looks, wonder what-ifs, exchange unfortunate smiles, shrug at each other, hoping that the time between patches brings us together again, and then we'll both return to our jobs.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Demoted

Two weeks ago, after raid, I finally asked the officers to demote me. It took a bit of doing, some hemming, some hawing, a lot of asking, "Are you sure?" and when I demoted my alts from Officer-alt to Member-alt, Thistle finally knocked me down a peg and there I was, for the first time since the summer of 2009 without an officer title in a guild.

It feels strange - liberating in one sense, disenfranchising in another.

Asking one of the officers to withdraw materials from the bank so I could cut gems and enchant the latest drops was strange and confusing when I've been used to having open access for such a long time. Not having to log in until 5 minutes to raid, not having to worry about signups and more-or-less just showing up to play was... refreshing.

It will take me a bit of getting used to as I can't help wanting to contribute my ideas because, at the end of the day, I am a loud-mouth. I can't help it, I just have to talk and say something - I'm one of those people with an opinion on everything, for the better or worse. As a member, I have taken to couching my statements with, "If I might suggest," and "Perhaps we could," instead of, "Here's what we need to do."

That, along with a role-switch has made raiding somewhat new. Pushing numbers, collecting gear (for the third time), and just plain working at the game is a nice break from the usual routine. I think tonight we might finally begin on the dreaded Heroic Spine encounter. When Dragon Soul came out, I still wore a shield on my back. I remember watching the Korean world first kill, and staring at the ocean of Blood chasing the pro-tank as he kited them all over Deathwing non-stop throughout the third plate. It reminded me of Nefarian, and I thought to myself, that's the kind of pain I'm up for. That's my job, right there. And here we are at last, at least two to three months too late, but here never-the-less, and my job is not to kite adds all over Deathwing, after all, it is, instead, to bring the fire and the fury of the Heavens down onto his body and rend it into pieces. We'll see how it goes. I'm prepared for many nights of pain.

But I was talking about being demoted.

I've talked enough about the why and the how and the what if and all that. I also wonder if this is my first, shuffling, slow step towards quitting WoW but I doubt it. I really do love the game, Azeroth is so familiar to me that I would miss it greatly and I still haven't found anything quite as engaging on a regular, weekly basis as raiding is for me. It's 6 hours a week of focused attention and creative problem solving - nothing comes close to beating that in terms of regular activity that keeps me hooked weeks on end.

But perhaps it is a way for me to ease back on the level of control I feel like I need to have in most situations. This releases me from control, it allows me to sit back and let someone else steer the ship without me on the shoulder tapping and pointing out that I would be driving in third gear not second, and maybe they should ease off the curb-hugging. I'm sure that was annoying as hell while I was doing it for the last few months, and now that I'm out of the Officer chat completely, I'm not even capable of that.

What this has opened up to me, are the quiet, secret little conversations that the DPS have, to implement the plan handed down. For example, my rogue friend and I were in charge of kiting lightning on Heroic Hagara for one of the sides, and she whispered me to coordinate our movement and we practiced it and I realized it was something that happened completely away from the eyes of the officers. Same thing on Heroic Warmaster, where we coordinated where and how to soak the Barrages together and when to take them alone. It's the nitty-gritty plan-meets-dirt kind of coordination that I was completely blind to until the last two weeks.

Sometimes, I feel like there are so many undercurrents, conversations, and crosscurrents in any given raid that there would be a network, a tangled web of lines of communications between the different chat channels, the public channels, the actual live audio channel (barring any custom chat channels there) and any number of individual whispers between members. All in the space of a few hours while playing video-games. It's almost enough to make me want to write a book about it.

But I've rambled on long enough, and long past any edge of reason. And my writing is... well, I don't know.

That's a different topic entirely, one of great consternation, frustration and anxiety. I feel little and less confidence in my writing, as if all sense of meter and verse has evaporated. I feel as one might on the far side of grace, downhill momentum growing as gravity takes hold. I don't know. Even this feels dull and monotonous, leaden and heavy with ill-intent. As if what I'm writing is just blunt commentary, deaf to any sort of poetry or insight, mute in any significant, or even insignificant matter. Mechanized metronomic words.

We'll see. We'll see. We'll see.