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.