“The time has come,” the Walrus said

0.

“It’s called Warcraft,” my friend tells me. It’s by the same guys that made Starcraft and that creepy horror game you liked.”

I’m intrigued, but still wary – I haven’t forgotten how long he hogged the computer last time.

“Okay, but do you promise I can play first?”

1.

My father asks me what I want for my birthday.
I pause to look up from the book I’m reading, and ask if he could order something called the “Warcraft III Battle Chest” off Amazon. It’s just a passing thought, but I’ve heard from friends that it’s a good game.

When I finally get the chance to play, I’m hooked. I have vague memories of Warcraft II being fun, but this game just blows it out of the water. All my conceptions about “Orcs are Bad, and Humans are Good” get turned on their head.

I love being able to interact with characters such as Jaina Proudmoore. I’m fascinated by this mysterious new race of elves, and this entirely new setting in the world of Azeroth.

My 13 year old self is left clutching the chair in excitement when the final Frozen Throne cinematic concludes. My comprehension of “Warcraft” has been utterly redefined, for the better.

2.

It’s July of 2005, on a hot summer night in Lahore. My cousins and I have just gotten back from a long day of swimming at the gymkhana.

I am immensely excited when one of them offers to show me the game he’s brought with him on his laptop. Of course I’ve heard about it! Owing to the lack of a good computer in the preceding years, I’ve largely dismissed thoughts about being able to play WoW. Still, I’ve made sure to stay up to date on all the tidbits of lore/story about the game as it unfolds.

When he offers me the chance to explore it on my own, I don’t hesitate. Race? Night Elf, of course – they were my favourite race introduced in Warcraft III, and Illidan was one of them! Class? My cousin tells me Priests are very powerful.

Once I’ve finished customising my character’s appearance, I hit Enter. The screen pans to a beautiful forest, as a voice recounts my place and role as a Night Elf in modern society. The clock reads 8:20 pm as I accept my first ever quest in the world.

I blink and turn away from the computer screen momentarily to look at someone telling me that I need to go to bed.

Wait, wasn’t it dark outside when I began playing?

The clock now reads 4:37 am.

3.

When Wrath of the Lich King is announced, I cannot believe my ears. I have never forgotten the final cinematic from The Frozen Throne, and now I get to play a class modelled after Arthas? Count me in!

By this time I’ve managed to procure a laptop that can actually run the game. While visiting a relative in D.C., I stop by a game store in Bethesda and pick up the World of Warcraft Battle Chest.

It is late into Patch 2.4 when Abravayah the Draenei Paladin begins her journey on Dawnbringer server. I fail miserably at some of the later quests on Bloodmyst Isle, but what does that matter when I’m having so much fun? And how very generous it was of that one Level 70 Paladin to help me take down the fearsome Sironas, leader of the renegade Blood Elves!

Once my Paladin reaches Level 55 however, I unceremoniously abandon her in Silithus. It is time.

4.

I’m in 10 man Naxxramas. I’ve barely been Level 80 for a week. My group has just wiped to the “Frogger” slime bridge for the sixth time, my talents/build are probably atrociously wrong and my DPS is terrible.

I could not care less.

We’re all too busy laughing. Not tittering or giggling, mind you: Full on belly laughs that have us clutching our sides, with tears streaming down our eyes. It doesn’t matter that I don’t get any loot, that we don’t kill Gluth that night or that the entire tier goes by without us making much progress – we’re having the time of our lives!

Bladelady, Astarot and the other fine folks of “Fractured”: You are not forgotten.

5.

Time passes. Tiers go by. My incessant curiosity gets the better of me, and before I know it I’m visiting that site everyone uses as a mantra… something-Jerks, I think it was called?

In the interim, I go from being a nobody to joining the top Alliance guild on the server as well as garnering a reputation for being the “best DPS DK” on my little backwater of a server. I discover that the desire to raid and to kill hard bosses only grows in me. It’s a cultivated skill, but one that’s accompanied by an increasing hunger.

I want more. There’s a bigger world out there, and simply ending Icecrown Citadel 25 Heroic with 11/12 bosses down doesn’t satisfy me. I’m forced back down to reality somewhat by the acknowledgement that I’ll never be able to commit to a four or even five day schedule like some guilds do – but perhaps I can still manage three days and be among the best on my server.

With a heavy heart I say goodbye to Dawnbringer, the server that I experienced the largest number of “firsts” on, and indeed the last server that I recall truly being a community unto itself. This is an age before Battle Tag, when players of the opposite faction are mysterious strangers and where you can only hope to talk to a friend if they happen to be logged into a character you recognise.

Still, I take the time to send in-game mail each and every individual I can think of that meant something to me. “I’ll never forget the fun times we spent together”, I say.

Seven years later, it’s still true – I haven’t.

6.

I’m quite worried: The Death Knight theorycrafter whose blog I’ve been visiting quite regularly has announced that Cataclysm‘s endgame does not interest them! Their Unholy and Frost threads have already been locked, and it seems that pwnwear.com (a site once populated by Tanking Death Knights) has fallen to the wayside.

What shall our community do? Wherever will I go to rant now?

On a whim, I make a Twitter account as my Warcraft self. Before long, I’m embroiled in a lengthy series of tweets with a European DK named Fengore and a US DK named Heartless, the latter of whom has taken on the job of taking over the Elitist Jerks Unholy thread.

We rant and rave to one another, but bemoan the character limits of Twitter. Surely there has to be an easier way to do this?

7.

May 11th, 2011: #Acherus is born.

A community forms.
It grows.
It matures.

May 11th: 2016: #Acherus celebrates its 5th birthday.

It changes the very landscape of how class communities in the World of Warcraft endgame populace function. No matter how distinct their conduct or their functionality, every other class or role community operating within an IRC or Discord framework owes their existence to #Acherus – to the model we pioneered.

I could not be more proud.

8.

I get a PM from a name that I’m vaguely familiar with- something to do with Druids, Beta threads and the new Purgatory talent being in a different row than it actually is.

“Hi Magdalena, I really appreciate your feedback on the Unholy thread. I’m a developer working on World of Warcraft, would you mind giving me some feedback on some changes we’d like to introduce to the class next patch?”

I roll my eyes. Obviously this is somebody’s idea of a joke. My cursor hovers over the /kick button, but a small, nagging doubt remains in the back of my mind.

Pushing aside better judgement, I type “Would you mind emailing me at [address] to verify that you are who you say you are?”

Five minutes later, I’m looking at an email with a blizzard.com address.

As I mentioned, we’re interested in feedback on some prospective Unholy changes for the next patch.

In retrospect, I suppose it’s mostly a good thing I didn’t click.

9.

It’s another warm summer night, around eight years after that first time. My guild is progressing on Ra-den, the final boss of the Throne of Thunder raid. It’s been a long time coming, but we’re confident that we can achieve a server first kill with a respectable U.S. ranking.

Patch 5.4 has been on the PTR for some time now, and there’s a new build being datamined tonight. We’ve just hit break time at 11 pm EST, and I’m only half listening to the chatter in Mumble.

Suddenly, I hear “Oh my God! Is this helm named after Mags?!”

I refuse to believe it until someone links me the actual item. As I typed out in the comments section then, I’ll repeat now: “Floored and honoured!”

10.

“Hi there, I was wondering if you could tell me how this talent works?”

“Could you recommend what piece of gear I should use?”

How do you feel about Death Knights this patch?

Would you be willing to be interviewed about your thoughts on Death Knights?

We’d like to hire you to write a guide.

Would you consider being a Death Knight columnist for our site?

How do you feel about this major change to the game?

What is the story behind your community?

And a whole lot more.

11.

Friends come, friends go. I build memories.

I enjoy the minutiae of actual gameplay as much as I enjoy working in the service of a community that I helped build from the ground up. I discover other roles besides DPS. I discover other classes.

I conquer the most challenging bosses within the tier they’re introduced – admittedly that’s not saying much in the context of 5.4 or 6.2, but still deeply satisfying as a whole. Through all of Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria, I get used to seeing the words “Realm First!” pop up on my screen, and it feels good. I develop a deep love for extreme soloing and taking on challenges that few players ever thought possible.

World of Warcraft is an omnipresent force that accompanies both some of the best and some of the worst times within the past decade of my life. It accompanies me as I move continents, timezones, trade academic settings for real world jobs and as I begin to settle into routines that I realise will likely stay with me for the rest of my life.

12.

I am cynical. Disillusioned. Upset.

My words seem hollow, my ability to affect the change I want insignificant. I know, I know – nothing good lasts forever. That doesn’t make the rapid succession of blows any easier.

I decide to write a long letter to someone that I know is under no obligation to respond or to even acknowledge what I have to say. Nonetheless, my respect for this person demands that I say what I do.

“I guess the gist of what I wanted to say to you is: Thank you. Thank you for helping to create and maintain a game in which I was able to lose myself for so many hours, and forget about some of life’s own traumas… No matter what my opinion of WoW’s current direction, I will never deny the good times and the people that this game has introduced me to. I credit you with a good deal of the fact that this enjoyment has been able to last this long.”

I send it off without much thought to whether it will get a response – but it does. Promptly. More than that, the response is beyond anything I could ever have dared to dream of. It ends with a line I have to read several times to truly comprehend.

“In any case, please do keep in touch. I have come to respect you enormously.”

It is rare for me to encounter something that renders me speechless, but this does it. Is it really possible to be able to end things on a higher note?

13.

I think I’ll log into World of Warcraft one more time.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 12.54.22 PM

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On the brink: Before Patch 6.0

Pocket Watch in Sand

Even as I write this post, it astonishes me that we’re finally here.
The Warlords of Draenor Beta is in the process of beginning its final chapter, and Blizzard has just confirmed that Patch 6.0 will hit Live servers on October 14th- barely 4 days from now!

As I take a moment to process this, it occurs to me that I cannot recall a pre-expansion patch before which I rushed to complete this much content. Indeed, Mists of Pandaria has shaped up to be the expansion during which I’ve had the largest “To Do” list before the patch goes Live. While it hasn’t solely been restricted to content that the patch will remove, it’s definitely entailed a sense of urgency that I don’t recall experiencing during any previous Beta.

So, what list of accomplishments can I boast of the day that Patch 6.0 hits?

-I completed Gold Challenge Modes on six different characters. In order of completion, this list goes: Death Knight, Druid, Monk, Priest, Paladin and Warlock.

-I attained 9/9 “Challenge Master” Feats of Strength for realm best Challenge Mode times on my Death Knight last year. Although my best clear times have been beaten handily long since, it’s still an accomplishment that I’m proud of and hope is given more lucrative permanent rewards in the next iteration of CMs.

-I completed the Green Fire questline on my Warlock. Not only was this a very lore-rich and fun experience, but it provided a fun challenge to complete at a relatively low item level at the time. I shall wear my “Of the Black Harvest” title, awarded only to Warlocks who completed the quest change before 6.0 hits, with pride!

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 12.02.16 am-I reached Rank 10 in the Brawler’s Guild, which was a huge relief after squaring off against horribly bugged bosses like Hexos and Anthracite.

-I completed Endless Proving Grounds on all 3 roles: Tanking and Damage Dealing on my Death Knight, and Healing on my Druid (special shoutout to Dayani and Hamlet for their encouragement and advice in completing the last one!).

-Speaking of Proving Grounds, my most recently reached goal was fulfilling the requirements for the “You’re Really Doing It Wrong“, which Celestalon confirmed is currently tracked by the game and will be visible when the patch hits. I specifically completed Gold DPS as Blood on my Death Knight, in case you were wondering.

-I completed the Herald of the Titans achievement on my Mage, after an Openraid member very kindly organised a run after I tweeted about looking for a group.

-I managed to complete 4 (count them) Legendary Cloaks on various characters. This is as much an accomplishment as it is a tragedy, I fully admit! What this should also tell you though, is that I was able to experience Heroic Mode raiding on all of these characters. This allows me to say that I experienced Tanking, Healing and DPSing across a wide range of characters in challenging content- I’d say that’s certainly milking content for all it’s worth!

-I raided Cutting Edge content (literally!) for the majority of this expansion with a pretty amazing group of people. <Something Wicked> will continue to be my home in Warlords of Draenor, and I hope to be able to rejoin their Mythic ranks when life circumstances permit.

-I completed various soloing goals this expansion, with some of my proudest moments being killing Heroic 25 Lich King in Tier 14, Heroic Ragnaros, Heroic Cho’gall and Sinestra in Tier 15 and finally concluding with a solo of 10N Elegon this tier.Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 3.52.46 am

-I managed to attain a number of mounts I’d coveted, including Mimiron’s Head, the Onyxian Drake, Baron Rivendare’s Deathcharger and of course- the Astral Cloud Serpent!

All in all, as a player I’m very happy with how I’m concluding Mists of Pandaria. While I certainly haven’t set any records in number of achievements attained or participated in cutting edge PvP, I truly feel satisfied with how much I managed to accomplish/experience in these two years.
While I can’t say for certain whether I’ll be ending Warlords of Draenor on a similar note, I am grateful to have been able to experience/complete so much of the game before a lot of content is removed or greatly altered by the 6.0 systems changes.

See you all in Draenor!

Where ‘Unfair’ becomes ‘Fun’: The Special Snowflake Paradigm, Round II

It’s been a ridiculous amount of time since I last posted here. I’d apologise for the lengthy gap between posts here, but you knew what you were signing up for when I first began this blog.
Given the transient nature of testing periods, I’ve largely held off on spending too much time and energy on blogging (both about Death Knights, and in the larger WoW context) since the Warlords of Draenor Alpha went Live. Even the information contained in a single, early analysis post of mine on Death Knight changes from the first round of Alpha patch notes has become largely outdated.

Thus, today’s post doesn’t exclusively focus on Warlords, but continues from a topic that I began in an earlier post. Previously, I discussed the legendary paradigm that was introduced in Mists of Pandaria, and seems to be poised to largely continue in the same vein (barring some minor changes, such as a lack of Valor Point acquisition or forced PvP) in Warlords of Draneor. Among the details of what I discussed in my previous post was the loss of the “Special Snowflake” feel: While I’ve acknowledged that there are clearly numerous advantages to the legendary model introduced in MoP, the visceral satisfaction of being more powerful and somehow feeling more special than other players is also one that I firmly believe contributes to part of the game experience. This was a feeling that earlier legendaries were largely able to accomplish by virtue of their slow acquisition, and which currently doesn’t exist.

So, what do we do if we approve of the MoP legendary model but still want to find a way to bring that sense of “unfair fun” back to the game? Well, in my case we put our armchair developer hat on and lay out a theoretical model that tries to recapture that sense of fun in a world that also accepts the status quo with legendaries!

A Step Above Others

Val'anyr, Hammer of Ancient Kings

 

The existence of an item class even higher than that of “Legendary” isn’t new in WoW. Prior to Cataclysm, the term Artifact was primarily associated with this type of item- and indeed, it continues to be the term that they are most commonly identified by. Artifacts have only appeared in the actual game as GM-only items, that are mainly used for testing purposes. The most infamous of these items, Martin Fury, was once mistakenly awarded to a player who used it to exploit a number of high-end raid bosses at the time.

On the whole though, Artifacts have not seen legitimate availability for players in the game. Back in 2006, Tseric wrote:

The devs would like to improve on Legendary items through addition or revision. At this point, adding Artifact items is somewhat unnecessary, as it would only mostly serve to devalue Legendary items as a whole.
Perhaps when the level cap gets a little higher and that next step in itemization is needed.

At the time, this was a very fair point to make: Up until MoP, the relative rarity of legendary items and their special significance for players who managed to attain them was sufficient for generating the sort of gameplay I’ve discussed previously. Now however, we find ourselves in a paradigm where everyone is guaranteed a legendary item provided they put in a sufficient amount of effort.

As such, I can’t think of a better time to formally introduce Artifacts as a new class of items that are available to players. Furthermore, because of the way in which legendary items are now handled we have a lot more room with which to play around with how these items are obtained.

Building blocks: Learning to love frustration

fangsoffather1

Given that we’re trying to accomplish a number of goals with the introduction of Artifacts, what rules would I apply to these items?

The first and most important rule I’d make about the potential introduction of Artifacts is this: They’d be rare. Scratch that, they’d be exceptionally rare- to the point where their acquisition would not be banked upon by guilds as part of their progression plan.
We would not, for instance, have a situation similar to what became of Dragonwrath by Patch 4.3: Most raiding guilds were able to equip every one of their caster DPS with the staff, and indeed would often only accept applications from casters with the staff. This not only lead to the item feeling rather “unlegendary” among these echelons, but was also unfair to any casters who had not been fortunate enough to receive a legendary thus far.

Speaking of which, we move on my second rule: Acquiring Artifacts would be a matter of luck. The exact item required to start the quest chain for Artifacts would be the result of a very, very fortunate RNG roll as bonus loot. There would be no allocation of items and no ability to “choose” the individual fortunate enough to begin the process of acquiring one. In doing so, we completely eliminate allocation drama
I realise that there is a heavy amount of irony with my including this particular point, given how vehemently I’ve opposed the bonus loot system in WoD. Bear with me though: The main reason behind why I believe this level of RNG would work in such a situation is because the acquisition of an Artifact would be so rare to begin with. Unlike bosses that are killed each week, and unlike Best-in-Slot items where the chances of obtaining a “plus 3” (i.e. tertiary stats, Warforged and extra gem socket) are frustratingly tantalising enough to make you gnash your teeth in frustration when your 20th kill of a particular boss doesn’t yield it, you would never bank on or expect an Artifact. The chances of your acquiring one would be so small that a particular server would be fortunate to see more than two or three in total.

Since we’ve already established a number of rules about rarity, my third rule shouldn’t cause any surprise: Artifacts would only be available at Mythic level raiding. In Siege of Orgrimmar terms, the only bosses that I’d probably allow to have a chance of dropping the quest item required to begin the Artifact quest chain would be Malkorok onwards- meaning that something like Mythic Immerseus, which is arguably easier than Normal/Heroic Garrosh, wouldn’t have a chance at awarding it.
The rationale here is simple: One controversial aspect of the MoP legendary system was the fact that it allowed LFR-level players access to items that had previously only been seen by serious raiders (with Heroic mode raiders almost always acquiring the items at a much faster pace). There is sound logic behind why Blizzard chose to implement the questline in such a way, and why this trend will continue in WoD, but we’re not here to debate that. Artifacts, in the role I’ve assigned them in this post, would exist to bring back that sense of “unfair fun” that I’ve alluded to. Furthermore, I am also able to see the logic in Mythic raiders (known before WoD as “Heroic raiders”) feeling as if they’ve lost something in the general diversification of legendary availability- they have. These items, therefore, would exist as a reward exclusively available to only the most skilled of players.

Acquisition: Getting back to our (legendary) roots

Now that we’ve dealt with the preliminaries of how often and who, let’s move on to the items themselves.

My fourth rule would involve the quest chains themselves: Assuming you were fortunate enough to be able to begin the process of acquiring an Artifact, the experience would be a fairly gruelling one. Given that we’ve specified that only well-progressed Mythic raiders would have a chance at these items, we can thus tune our quest chain assuming a certain level of competence with one’s class as well a certain level of gear. I’m also a much bigger fan of tough, individual quests where the true gate is a player’s own skill, rather than “Collect x fragments for y weeks”.
Unfortunately, we also hit a wall here: How do we design quests that are appropriate for multiple classes and specialisations? Part of the reason that the quests surrounding Dragonwrath, or the Fangs of the Father (Rogue-only legendary daggers) were so appealing was because they were designed for the role (in Dragonwrath’s case) or the class that the item was appropriate for. Perhaps an even stronger example that I can personally provide is that of the Warlock Green Fire quest chain- despite not being designed for the purposes of acquiring a legendary item, it was a challenging experience (at appropriate gear level!) that mandated a player use many abilities/tactics from their arsenal, rather than sticking to the same “standard rotation” in raids.
In short: We want quests that present challenges extreme enough to push even Mythic raiders to their limits, and demand that they play at the top of their game if they wish to succeed. Reaching that level of depth is impossible with a highly generalised questline.
So, do we limit specific Artifacts to only be available to certain classes? Certain roles? Or do we try to undertake the gruelling task of providing 34 different specs in the game with a worthwhile challenge for their just reward? Damned if I know!

Dragonwrath,_Tarecgosa's_Rest_preview

You’ll also notice that while I stated my aversion to “Collect x”-type quests for Artifacts, I did not specifically state that I thought the process of acquisition should be a solo one. While I consider tough individual challenges to be a necessary hallmark of skill, I’m cognisant of the fact that my proposed model thus far seems like a highly lonely one, with it being restricted to individual, bonus loot and what have you.
Thus, my fifth rule: Guilds would play an important role in helping with Artifact acquisition. I see there being multiple ways to do this. The first would be economic: Much like Primordial Saronite acted as an economic gate early on in the Shadowmourne questline, Artifacts could potentially demand a large monetary or material investment. The flaws in this are immediately obvious: Not all Mythic raiding guilds are equipped to finance expensive burdens for their players, and some might not even see it as being a worthwhile investment depending on the player (a harsh, but unfortunate truth in today’s competitive raiding atmosphere). Furthermore, economic investments don’t necessitate a guild, so much as they incentivise it.
The second, more realistic way in which a guild could be of service to a player would be by including parts of the quest chain within raids. Much like Infusion quests for Shadowmourne, or Delegation for Dragonwrath, the active involvement of an entire raid group would most assuredly cement the need for a coordinated guild effort. This could entail fighting new mechanics on existing bosses, or perhaps even facing bonus challenges that would otherwise be inaccessible.

At last, we come to the most important rule concerning Artifacts. Up until now, we’ve set up a fairly brutal number of requirements and conditions that would see a player be able to acquire such an item. Why then would you wish to undergo such a gruelling series of trials, unless the reward were more than worth it?
Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 5.29.06 pmThus, my sixth and final rule: Artifacts should always contain a sense of unfairness, in that they provide players with a performance boost that no other available item can. Yes, you read that correctly: I’m advocating for items that match or even exceed the effects of the original Thunderdury on Vanilla-era Warrior Tanks, or the pre-nerfed version of Dragonwrath. Whatever the initial item level might be, an Artifact should provide a boost so clear and so potent that its value is set through the rest of that expansion.
Artifacts are, after all, intended a step above the quality and potency of Legendary items. Given that I’ve devoted all of my previous points/rules towards detailing their rarity, the difficulty experienced in the acquisition and the fact that they’d only be available to the most hardcore of players, it should come as little surprise that the final reward more than makes up for the amount of effort that the player undertook. I’d also probably associate a unique mount or transmogrification piece with the Artifact, denoting the significance of obtaining it even after its reign of supremacy as a usable item is over.

Reality Bites

Get it? Bites? Alright, nevermind...
Get it? Bites? Alright, nevermind…

If only it were that easy, right?
Despite laying out an Artifact model that I think could work and coexist with the existing legendary model, there are numerous problems and shortcomings that I’m all too aware would lead to the idea not being feasible.

  • First, there’s the sheer amount of work involved in implementation: What I’m essentially proposing is an experience with the depth of something like the Green Fire quest chain (which, fun fact, was supposed to be even longer and more complex than what ended up on Live), yet with the general availability of the Eye of Sulfuras from Ragnaros in Molten Core. From a development standpoint, that’s asking for a large amount of resources to be devoted towards a segment of the game that only a lucky few out of an already small elite pool will ever experience. Note that we haven’t even clearly established whether Artifacts would be class/role specific (in which case they’d reach an even smaller number of players), or whether we’d design entire Artifact experiences around multiple classes/roles (which, if you stayed true to the spirit of the concept, would entail making multiple questlines).
  • Second, despite my attempts to eliminate “allocation drama”, there still exists a great deal of other drama that these items could cause. Imagine killing Heroic Siegecrafter Blackfuse on a farm night, and suddenly having that underperforming applicant who you were probably going to fail receive the quest item instead of a main raider or officer? Even worse, suppose it was that buyer you told to hit the boss and then go die in a corner? If the item is as powerful as I’ve suggested it should be, you can bet that some guilds would attempt to aggressively poach anyone with it. Do you therefore bank on the trustworthiness of the lucky individual with the item?
  • I’ve explicitly stated that the quest chain associated with Artifacts would be hard. What if, as a result, you were faced with individuals that lacked the necessary skill or ability to complete said quests? Whatever group you were raiding with at the time would want you to acquire your new, overpowered item as quickly as possible; they would therefore presumably not be too happy if you were unable to progress in the chain due to personal issues.
  • While Artifact availability might cause them not to make a major difference in the macro level of raid progression and ranking, they could certainly cause a great deal of strife within guild. Would it really be fun for multiple raid groups to hinge strategies and reliance on the presence of one individual who happened to wield an item of such power? Would it be fun for players in competing roles to know that, assuming relatively equal play, they were always going to be outperformed by the wielder? How would these items be treated in scaled content such as Challenge Modes, where gear is not supposed to provide an innate advantage outside of certain stats being more useful? What about Arenas and Rated Battlegrounds, where legendary items became a much complained about and sore topic among the PvP populace?
  • Even if my initial concerns were seen as “acceptable” by both the playerbase and by Blizzard, we come to our final problem: The mere existence of such items would still be greatly upsetting to some. There’s nothing unique or special about this- there has always been a degree of upset/envy over the existence of items that difficult to attain. That’s part of what makes them fun. But if left entirely at the mercy of RNG, such items can also make passionate, hardcore players feel cheated out of a prize that they felt they deserved compared to whomever attained it. Remember: There is a reason multiple players, including myself, are opposed to the bonus loot system being introduced in WoD. While I posit that the rarity of Artifacts should dissuade players from treating them like they would bonus items, I cannot confidently say that my intentions would match results.

A song for another day

Shadowmourne-Molded-40419

Ultimately this post has been less about any concrete/realistic analysis of game mechanics, and more a fun thought exercise that’s been brewing in the back of my mind for some time.

As I stated in my first blogpost on the matter of legendaries: Despite what’s been lost, I consider the Mists of Pandaria legendary model to be a success, and one that I’m glad is largely staying intact in Warlords of Draenor. In order to recapture some of what was lost, I’ve tried to present a type of item that I feel could occupy the niche that legendaries once did, and also take that feeling to all new heights by virtue of what an ordeal it took to get it.

While the majority of what I propose in this model is probably not feasible or attractive enough to where Blizzard would consider approaching something similar, I do hope that some elements of it resonate within those of you who have experienced past incarnations of legendary excitement. Perhaps there’s a sweet spot I’m missing that could mitigate the majority of the problematic aspects I’ve mentioned, while still preserving that feel that I’d like to be associated with Artifacts?
Regardless, I hope you enjoyed reading my scatterbrained fancies in this post- they say jotting down and fully fleshing out even the silliest of ideas can be a healthy thing to do!

In other news, Blizzcon is fast approaching. While I will regrettably be unable to attend, I hope to hear from many of my friends as they meet for the first time. Be sure to share in the festivities online, so some of us can experience them vicariously!
See you all in Patch 6.0.

Sentrytotem Audits: Come one, come all

Yet another “Quick Note”-esque post.

Sentrytotem is one of the newer community sites that has popped up in MoP, but has received a pretty positive response from the community thus far. I expect it to become a hub for a general multi-class/spec discussion in WoD if it continues in such a fashion.

One of Sentrytotem’s special features is its “audit” system: Players are able to submit armouries and parses of their characters to “Class Experts” for feedback on their performance, outlook, etc. Some classes/specs have multiple Experts, and it’s even possible to specify your preference for the auditor by mentioning it on your ticket.
As you may have guessed from the title of this post, I’ve signed up as a consultant for DPS DKs, and encourage anyone interested in constructive critical feedback to put in for an audit. With a good 6 months of MoP playtime left, now is as good a time as any to to bust out that DK alt- or, better yet, make the sensible choice of mainswitching to one!- and get on track to getting the most of it.

Special shoutout to some close friends who also serve as class experts on the site, especially Mendenbarr, who is also a DPS DK expert- he introduced me to the site in the first place!

Leading with Lightning: An interview with Moshne

This week, I was fortunate to have another friend graciously accept my request for an interview. Moshne has been known to dabble in Shaman theorycraft, and also has an item that drops off Ordos named after him. He frequents the AJB forums, and can sometimes be found at MTG tournaments. For those of us in <Something Wicked>, Moshne is also our GM and Raid Leader. As someone who has played the game since Vanilla, he brings a nuanced and experienced perspective on numerous paradigms within the game today, as well as a keen analysis of things to come.  Thanks for being with us here today Moshne!

Hello! Tell us a little bit about yourself. How long have you been playing WoW? What class(es) do you currently play, and do they differ from what you played in the past? Besides WoW, are there any other games (not limited to PC games) that you enjoy playing?

I started playing WoW shortly before the open beta. I originally started on a rogue, as I wanted something completely different from what I’d been playing in Everquest (I was a Shaman and a Bard there. The WoW shaman around the BC era is a pretty good hybrid of those two EQ classes.) I’ve played mostly continuously since then, taking a small break during Vanilla when the servers were too unstable. Outside of WoW I don’t play a lot of games anymore, it takes a fair bit of my time. Between tiers I play a lot of the Civilization series and (shamefully) way too much Puzzle and Dragons lately.

<Something Wicked> has been around for quite some time. Can you briefly take us through the history of the guild? Was it founded with high-end progression in mind, or was that something that it grew into?

We created SW in mid-late Vanilla with the idea of being a raid focused guild. I’m not sure we really knew how to define “high-end” progression at the time, but we had a similar mentality as we do now – do as much as we can with a very trim schedule. We have been a three night guild since the beginning, though I think we’ve gotten better at it since then. The guild originally formed through probably pretty typical means. We absorbed a flailing guild, recruited what we could and eventually trimmed ourselves down into something that was a bit more manageable. There are some colorful (sometimes less than noble) details, but those are best saved for getting out of me during late night Mumble chats.

In addition to being GM of <Something Wicked>, you’ve also been its raid leader for quite some time. Looking back, what have some of your most memorable moments as a raid leader been? Do you find yourself nostalgic for certain elements of raids that are currently lacking (3-tank encounters, 40 man raids, etc)?

I’m absolutely nostalgic for some of the things that have vanished. I miss multitank encounters specifically, not necessarily because the encounters were better, but I appreciated the guild design that it supported. Most of the things I miss in the past are related to changes in raid philosophy that have altered the way I’ve recruited or prepared for raids. BC was a high point for me from this point of view, as I appreciated balancing the various utility roles that have sort of vanished from the design paradigm since then. The most memorable points for me are the ones that demonstrated the community within the guild:

  • Killing Illidan was when we really felt we were a “legitimate” guild. It was a tangible victory for a lot of people when we’d prior to then been pretty considerably behind the curve.
  • When we transferred to Whisperwind at the end of Wrath every single raider came along for the transfer, even the initiates we had at the time, and all of the non-raiders who were actively playing. It really showed me the level of community we’d built within the guild.
  • A few years ago we had a guild meetup in Las Vegas. We had some eye opening surprises finally getting to meet people we’d been playing with for years. I discovered we had a charismatic group of raiders that I found were great to hang out with outside of the game. I’m still in contact with many players, some of which were there and I consider them to be good friends. I’m not sure if Margaritaville in Vegas is actually a good bar, but I have memories of it being fantastic because of the memories made there.

Speaking of raid leading, can you share your thoughts about the state of raiding this expansion? Does anything about the raiding paradigm stand out to you as having been particularly fun or, on the other end of the spectrum, particularly boring?

The Good: The encounter design has been fantastic. There have been a number of new feeling mechanics in a game that is nearly 10 years old, which is a fantastic feat. My favorites, in no particular order: Gara’jal, the first tier Sha, and Siegecrafter. Surprisingly, I also have fond memories of the earlier outdoor bosses as well.

The Bad: The beginning of the expansion felt a bit grindy, but it seems this has been acknowledged.

The Ugly: Pacing, pacing, pacing. The first tier was about a month or two too short. ToT could have been a few weeks longer, and now, SoO has been out for too long, with no date for it to end. This is a mistake that has been made before, and Blizzard is aware of how it affects players. I’m disappointed to see it made again with little discussion about it from the devs.

Factional imbalance among raiding populations has been brought up a lot this expansion. As a raid leader for an Alliance guild, how have you found recruiting to be over MoP? Do you feel that better racial balance in Warlords of Draenor will have a meaningful impact on this imbalance?

I think faction imbalance is a major problem and it has absolutely caused a negative impact on my guild. A number of players are just not willing to come over to the Alliance side. I don’t think this is because they just like Horde more, but as a purely economic/practical concern, it is more expensive and risky to come to the minority faction for raiding. If they join us, and it doesn’t work out, they are looking at more likely than not having to pay the faction transfer fee again. It makes more sense to just stay on the side with more guilds. I’d like to see the server transfer and faction transfer fee to be merged together rather than separate so players can pay the same amount to join any guild, regardless of faction. This might actually make the faction imbalance worse (as Alliance players could go Horde), but it would make the downside of being on the minority faction significantly less. It doesn’t matter if I’m in the last guild standing on Alliance side, as long as it isn’t twice as expensive to join us. I don’t think the racial changes will do a thing. I think the racial imbalance before was overblown, and really wasn’t the reason the imbalance exists. People are going to join the faction that has more people, it just makes sense. You see it in every game with factions; the racials were just a nice scapegoat. The changes feel good, but they aren’t fixing the real problem.

Getting back to MoP for a moment: What has your experience as an Elemental Shaman been across various forms of content? What do you feel are some of your spec’s biggest shortcomings, and what hopes do you have for your spec and the class as a whole in WoD?

Elemental has been hamstrung by being given too much movement and burst. These are things that are advertised as class assets, but good players minimize the amount that movement affects them, so being balanced against it ends up being a net loss. Finally, concerns about our burst (mostly in PVP) has made scaling issues. All that said, the class has been mostly fine this expansion. I have minor complaints, but they are being addressed in WoD already. Removing the constant ability to cast while moving should go a long way to fixing the devs hesitation to increase our damage.

On a larger scale, what have you thought about class balance as a raid leader this expansion? Have you felt compelled to stack particular classes/specs for progression, or avoid others? How does this compare to your experience in earlier expansions?

Honestly, I thought it was fine. I’m hardly a Blizzard apologist, but I really didn’t have many class concerns. I was one of the people complaining about melee problems early on, but it never really impacted my recruiting, and honestly we’ve been pretty melee heavy most of the expansion, and I never felt like it really held us back. The only class stacking that comes to mind in MoP is really just warlock supremacy. There have been a handful of fights where we’ve wanted some niche ability, like DK grips, or some rogue gimmick, but it never really affected recruiting in a major way. My biggest “stacking concern” this expansion has really been anti-healer stacking.This isn’t in favor of any one class, but against an entire segment of the raider population. There was a notable downward pressure on the number of healers required and against certain specific healers. “Class Balance” arguments tend to focus on DPS, but I think most DPS just can’t see the forest for the trees. If there was anything broken in class design this expansion, it was in the healing department.

Warlords of Draenor promises a number of major changes and new features to the game. While we (sadly) aren’t in Beta yet, what have some of your initial impressions about some of these features been? Examples include Garrisons, the item squish, stat changes, etc.

I don’t really care about the item squish at all, it is a non-event. If I was forced to have an opinion, I’d call it positive just because it might make people comprehend data more easily. The stat changes, I’m withholding judgment on. I have some concerns about a world where reforging is gone and secondary stats become more important when other issues with secondary stats aren’t being answered (capping stats, and disproportionate scaling being my personal peeves) Garrisons I’m sort of in a “wait and see” pattern as well. If they don’t matter for raiding, I probably won’t care about them. If they do matter, I’ll probably hate them. But hey, I loved pet battles and I assumed I’d dismiss them too, so we’ll see!

If there were any one announced decision/change about Warlords of Draenor that you wish could be averted, what would it be and why?

I’ll admit I haven’t had my ear as close to the ground as others. I’m in sort of WoW apathy mode right now until there is actually a game to play again. My only real concern right now is not having shared lockouts between the different raid tiers. I’m worried there will be pressure to run multiple runs of the same zone a la ToC. I’d consider that a massive failure.

It’s pretty hard to believe WoW turns 10 this November! Do you think <Something Wicked> will do something special to celebrate? Speaking of celebrating, how has it been meeting guild members in real life at events such as Blizzcon?

I’d like to think we’d done something. That is around the time of BlizzCon. There has been some talk of getting a guild house and maybe having a bigger get together. Nothing really set in stone. I think I addressed the rest of that above, but it is really the highlight of running the group. Without that first Vegas meetup and subsequent Blizzcon get-togethers, I’m not sure I’d still be playing. I play for the community and that is really the biggest thing.

Tell us the first word/phrase that comes to mind when you think about any of the following: “Mythic Raiding”, “Melee vs. Ranged”, “Bonus Gearing” and “Amber-Shaper Un’sok”!

Mythic Raiding: Feels like New Coke branding

Melee v. Ranged: Are the DKs and Rogues really complaining about fight design?

Bonus Gearing: The Loot System will endure.

Amber-Shaper Un’Sok: I hate bug zones.

Last question: Why do the birds cheep so much whenever you queue your mic?!

They are just really friendly. The mic picks up their sounds much more loudly than they actually are. When I call home, I hear them like the raid does, but sitting around they are just background noise. I suspect the reason they talk is they hear people through the headset and are constantly responding to it. Happens to me when I’m on the phone too. They just really want to say hello!

Multi-Spec Specialisation: If we but dream…

Greetings from analysis central!
The current lull in information disclosure up till the WoD Alpha becomes publicly available (cough!), means that most of us in the community find ourselves with a surfeit of time to discuss existing or proposed featured in Warlords of Draenor. Most recently, I began a discussion on a topic that I found pertinent: Multi-talent specialisation, and whether it can or indeed should be a future feature.
In the post, I hope to reflect and build upon some of that discussion.

Specialisation as a concept: A quick overview

It’s ironic that I refer to “Multi-talent” specialisation, given that MoP talents are no longer innately tied to specs. While it’s true that some classes currently have talents with effects that differ vastly according to spec (and hence may as well be “spec specific”), the majority of talents still seem to follow a loose goal of attempting to have at least some appeal for any spec played by a class. There are, of course, notable exceptions to this such as Roiling Blood for Frost Death Knights!

Prior to MoP however, “talents” denoted a series of both passive and active abilities that were ostensibly presented as choices a player committed too. Once enough talents in a particular tree had been selected, the player’s character “became” that spec- Restoration Druid, Enhancement Shaman, etc.
There has been a great deal of debate amongst the playerbase concerning the role that specialisation plays in defining character identity. For instance, my friend Lhivera believes this to be a matter of tantamount importance that should take precedence over other matters of convenience in the game: A Frost Mage should be defined as a Frost Mage, and the option to “respec” into Fire or Arcane should either be a difficult choice, arduous to accomplish or even impossible.

To be fair, such a view represents a line of thought that Blizzard has not seemed to share even in the early stages of the game. The ability to switch from one specialisation to another has always been present in-game, and I’d argue that it’s never been one with overly strong restrictions attached to it. The biggest downside/turn-away for me would likely have been a limitation based on the number of times one can respec over a given period of time- a limitation that has never existed.
So what has acted as a roadblock (or series of roadblocks) for spec switching in the past?

The Limiting Factor: From Vanilla till WoD

A number of factors have tied together to form limitations for characters wishing to respec. My friend and fellow theorycrafter, Hamlet identified three which I’m further expanding upon here:

  1. Money. Each respecialization costs a certain amount of gold when visiting a trainer. Over time this gold cost increases, but caps out before it gets out of hand.
  2. The UI: Respeccing usually means having to reevaluate a number of UI elements such as action bar settings, macros and even raid frame/indicator placement. This can be quite taxing for the unprepared.
  3. Inconveniences other than the UI. Respeccing also costs time. It requires having to journey to a capital city or location where a class trainer might be present, and spend time there. It can also require completely separate sets of gear if the player intends to play a spec or role that differs greatly from what they previously played. Separate gear can also mean needing to Gem, Enchant and Reforge that gear differently than the character’s previous spec.

For a Vanilla WoW player, I can see why these shortcomings represented a significant obstacle towards respeccing. There were a myriad of reasons that aided in this being a reality:

  • Gold (particularly in high amounts) was much more difficult to attain.
  • Travelling wasn’t nearly as easy with no flying mounts, and even ground mounts being a difficult goal for many to attain.
  • New sets of gear, particularly for high-end gaming, were difficult to attain given that raiding was largely monolithic and at one “standard” difficulty per instance.

Now let’s fast-forward to the present situation in MoP. We’ve had a significant talent system revamp, whereby changing talents is no longer tied to specialisation, and largely ignores most of the above limiting factors- some UI issues aside. More importantly however, the circumstances surrounding the original limiting factors have changed greatly. For instance:

  • Gold is no longer difficult to attain. This can’t be emphasised enough- the amount of gold generated via 3-4 daily quests alone is sufficient to cover the base cost of respeccing.
  • Traveling back and forth form capital cities is much easier in a world where 310% Flying Mounts are the norm, and Hearthstones are on a 15-minute cooldown. Let’s not forget class/profession perks like Death Gate and Wormhole Generators too!
  • UI complexities are able to be greatly mitigated (if not entirely overcome) with addons such as Action Bar Saver, ReforgeLite and Bartender.

The fact of the matter is: Respeccing, when required, is no longer nearly as inconvenient as it once was. This is not to say that it is not inconvenient to some extent, but that the ceiling on its attainment has been greatly lowered.
You’ll also note that up until this point, my blog post has solely referred to respeccing under the lens of a character only being able to hold one specialisation at a time.
That brings me right to my next point.

Enter: Dual-Talent Specialisation

Making respeccing less difficult has been part of the natural progression of the game. While its limiting factors could probably have been enforced, it’s likely that they were allowed to ease in the hopes of encouraging more versatile play amongst an increasingly growing population. Still, up until Patch 3.1, a character was only ever capable of holding one specialisation at a time. You were either a Blood or a Frost Death Knight, assuming you knew how to select talents properly!

The introduction of a feature that allowed players to simultaneously hold two, unique specialisations and corresponding glyphs that could be switched around outside of combat with nothing but a simple button push changed that paradigm forever.
What I find particularly interesting about how the feature was implemented, was the way in which it was introduced to us: One of the points put forward by Blizzard at the time was that Dual-Talent Specialisation allowed hybrid classes to utilise alternative roles more easily. I do not say that it was the only justification they used for adding the feature, but that it was definitely a major line of reasoning at the time.

Why do I find this interesting? Well, mostly because the subsequent implementation of the feature gave it much more versatility than simply fulfilling the aforementioned goal. The developers could have made Dual-Talent Specialisation only available to Hybrid classes that could actually utilise different roles. They could also have potentially placed restrictions on these classes to ensure that their second spec had to differ in role from their original one, although I admit that I imagine this would have been exceedingly difficult to guarantee with how the WoTLK talent system was coded; not to mention the fact that all 3 Death Knight specs and 1 Druid spec had both Tanking and DPS capabilities.
In the end, such a move would likely have made the feature a lot less popular and seem unfair to pure DPS specs. Indeed, one of the benefits (as I see them) of the way in which Dual-Talent Specialisation was introduced was that it allowed more stubborn “purists” to maintain two versions of the same specialisation with minor adjustments to talents/glyphs for versatility. I myself recall maintaining two variants of my Unholy DPS specs (one optimal for AoE, the other single-target) for such purposes.

Of course, the introduction of such a feature wasn’t without its controversies. Some, such as Lhivera, argued that a “fourth wall” of immersion in an RPG world had been broken with the introduction of such a feature. They argued (and still do) that character identity as defined by a specialisation was important to maintain and that the option to change such an identity (should it even exist in the first place) should never be a trivial matter.
While I myself do not agree with such a sentiment, I can respect where it comes from. Regardless: Dual-Talent Specialisation was implemented, and has been a feature of the game for quite some time.
The only question now becomes: Does it stop there?

Present Imperfect?

So, here we are in Mists of Pandaria.
Swapping talents, specialisations and gear-sets has never been easier for players, and WoD promises to make it even more so with some of the announced gear changes. In short order:

  1. Every secondary stat now brings mitigative value to tanks, while Hit/Expertise are gone.
  2. Tier pieces now “morph” to grant appropriate bonuses to correct specialisations.
  3. Reforging is gone (one less step of customisation), and Gemming/Enchanting will become much rarer on different pieces of gear.
  4. The only gear that currently promises to be Tank/Healer only are pieces of Jewellery, and possibly trinkets.

Combine these facts with my earlier points about how easy it is to already switch talents, and one thing becomes clear: If there were ever an opportune time to introduce multi-speccing specialisations, this would be it. Thus, I’ll rephrase my earlier question: Should Dual-Talent Specialisation continue to represent the end of the line for speccing options?

You’ll also note that my original question on Twitter asked people to come up with theoretical reasoning behind why Tri-Specialisation was a bad thing. However, my guildie Esoth brought up a valid point: Why stop at Tri-specs? Imagine a system whereby it were possible to not only maintain three specialisation profiles, but also “sub-profiles” within each spec with different talents/glyphs.
For instance, I could not only switch between Blood, Frost and Unholy freely, but also switch around saved variants of each spec.
If Dual-Talent Specialisation did indeed kill off some individuals conception of specs defining character identity, then it’s fair to see that further enhancing that concept won’t do any further damage in that specific regard.

There is, however, a major difference between implementing the option for Tri-Specs (or Quad-Specs in the case of Druids), and the full “Multi-Spec” system I mention early. While the former would remove one of the last remaining inconveniences of having to visit a trainer occasionally, the latter would remove any need to switch glyphs/talents point blank.
Individual acts such as paying for Tomes of the Clear Mind, having to manually switch talents and glyphs, and the subsequent time they require may seem trivial (and thus, removable) on their own, but collectively form some of the last vestiges of continuously interacting with specialisations. Would this necessarily be a positive for gameplay?

Changing Tides… Hopefully?

As I hope I’ve illustrated in the post, there is a strong case behind why implementing Tri-spec, were it a goal, would make sense in WoD. This, however, doesn’t mean much unless it is a goal for the future.
As it currently stands, the majority of limiting factors behind spec switching outside of Dual-Talent Specialisation are trivial to get around. My friend Hamlet, whom I mentioned earlier, stated that he felt the significance of some of these costs (specifically, monetary-wise) should be increased if the developers wish to retain them. This is an understandable sentiment- why keep barriers that aren’t really perceived as barriers, but rather as nuisances?

Other costs, such as action bar/keybind setups likely need addressing as they present the wrong kind of barrier- a player should never feel hesitant to switch specs simply because they cannot stomach the thought of having to redo their UI. While add-ons such as ABS do address this issue for some players, it is my hope that their functionality is incorporated into the game’s core UI, making it universally accessible.

Realistically, there would probably be a much less enthusiastic response to the notion of full multi-spec switch capability (i.e. allowing more than 3 set spec profiles to be saved) than to Tri-speccing due to how much gameplay it would remove. Even now, I acknowledge that the implementation of Tri-spec capabilities in the game would essentially invalidate the need to ever visit a class trainer for someone who did not maintain two variants of the same spec, and also eliminate a potential gold-sink (not that it’s one right now!).

Perhaps it’s fitting to conclude this post with a followup to the original question that inspired it: Do current respec requirements add meaningful gameplay, and will they continue to do so in WoD?
I think that I’ve made my thoughts on the topic clear- how about you?

Interviews: A Quick Note

I’d apologise for the fairly sporadic rate of posting that’s been going on over the past 2 weeks or so, but the majority of you are likely already aware that I’ve had severe computer issues to deal with- not to mention that I guaranteed sporadic posting when I first began this blog!

I did, however, wish to make a note about interviews on this blog, such as the one I posted a few days back. Recall that this blog is strictly for my personal use/analysis, and thus has no particular community role or niche to fill.
That being said, some of the feedback I received in response to the interview made me think that it would prove to be a fun exercise to repeat in the future. I like that this is a space where I get to voice my own thoughts, and I can see the potential in occasionally hosting other voices as well. I’m very fortunate to be friends with a number of WoW players whose views and role(s) in the community I find quite interesting and worth sharing.
The fact that I’m able to conduct interviews in a purely textual setting, on a relatively unknown blog also allows for a much more relaxed atmosphere- something that some people who might not feel comfortable in a larger, spotlight-esque situation can also appreciate. Finally, the fact that I’m likely to only approach people I’m personally acquainted with means that there’s no set pace or time constraints under which I’d need to operate.

So, tl;dr? Expect more interviews in the future. I make no guarantees about who, when and how, but expect them nonetheless!