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!

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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?

Goodbye to WoW: On startling realisations and new affirmations

It is with regret that I announce my imminent departure from WoW and the gaming world forever.

I was struck by an epiphany at exactly 11:59 pm last night: I am set to complete my third legendary cloak on an alt this coming reset. While on one level I was impressed with my ability to dedicate myself to a mind-numbingly excruciating experience, on another level I was utterly horrified. Have I truly become so bored and disinterested with what the game has to offer that I turn to a gruelling, months-long questline on multiple toons instead of partaking in the joys of random Battlegrounds, Pet Battles or simply running my toons off cliffs for hours in a row?! Am I really prepared to continue this trend with fourth or even fifth cloaks for fresh alts, whilst Mists of Pandaria drags on till the end of summer?
No. No, this requires drastic action that I absolutely must take. Not even the promise of the Warlords of Draenor Beta tomorrow is enough to dissuade me.

Clearly, I have no choice but to go cold-turkey: I am quitting WoW and deleting all of my characters immediately. I do not make this decision lightly, but I still see a bright future ahead of all this madness. Therefore, I intend to fully repurpose this blog, Son of a Lich, #Acherus and any other theorycraft I may have contributed toward the community, all towards my newest hobby!
Join me, won’t you?

Wowhead Guides: Ask, and ye shall receive!

This is just a quick note to announce that my new ‘Fresh to 90’ guides for both Blood and DPS DKs are now up on Wowhead. These guides are intended for players who have just reached Level-90 on their Death Knight, and act as primers for an introduction to endgame play.

Although the majority of my DK-centric work will continue to remain at Sonofalich, I’m also opening this post up as a more informal means for readers to get in touch about questions concerning the guides. As always, remember that you can get answers to almost all of your questions in #Acherus as well- especially if you’re ready for more advanced play on your Death Knight!

What If? Exploring the potential closure of Class Role Forums

Yesterday’s news concerning the closure of the Class Role forums for EU posters raised some debate on Twitter about what implications this might have, particularly if this practice were applied to the U.S. forums as well. As it turns out, US players needn’t have worried- Nethaera confirmed that that there were presently no plans to do so.
In this light, the closure of the EU forums is perhaps more of a reminder of the disparity that exists (both player and developer activity-wise) between the U.S. and EU forums. I could devote this post to discussing this disparity further, but it would probably diverge too heavily from my intended topic. So, for the sake of succinctness, let’s agree: The U.S. forums are currently a lot more active than the EU ones, and thus potentially closing any of them would probably result in a more vigorous response from the community.

I began to consider a “What If” scenario- suppose the Class Role forums on the U.S. side were also slated for closure? First thing’s first, let’s be clear: The current Class Role forums are divided into Healing, Tanking and DPS. The stated logic behind shutting them down on the EU side is that there is a desire to concentrate player discussions in existing forums.

In the past, it’s been no secret that the WoW developers have not paid as much attention to the Individual Class forums as they did to their more broad spectrum Class Role counterparts. The stated rationale has been that the former are largely filled with pointless whining and lobbying for buffs, which thus results an echo chamber effect that detracted from more valuable feedback. This is not to imply that the individual class forums have not had their uses- only that, for the purposes of feedback, it has thus far suited the developers to pay more attention (officially, anyway) to the Role forums.

This has meant that a great deal of the player community that actively participates in the forums has come to recognise the Class Role forums as more of an “official” avenue towards Blizzard-Player communication (social media such as Twitter aside).

Let’s analyse some of the potential Pros and Cons such a move could have on the U.S. forums:

-On one hand, it can kill off a great deal of useful, inter-class discussions. Being able to have knowledgeable players compare mechanics side-by-side can sometimes be useful feedback in an of itself by showing the developers how players perceive things. The developers recognise this, and have said so in the past.

-On the exact flip-side, more often than not, inter-class discussions quickly descend into “Blizzard loves your class/spec more than mine!”-esque whinefests. Just for the sake of proving my point, I loaded up the Damage Dealing forums and clicked on the first random thread that caught my attention. I’ll let the results speak for themselves.

-Concentrating feedback can be a good thing because it means less spread out forums for the developers to trawl through. It’s a matter of simple math here: Going through threads on four potential avenues of feedback is easier than going through seven.

-Conversely, it can also mean that a lot of that potential feedback is lost when one is restricted to specific class roles. Sure, the intrepid Rogue or Warrior poster can stop by the Death Knight forums, but chances are that they will be limited in how much inter-class perspective they can offer before they stray into the “not on topic” offence.

Ultimately, all one can do is speculate. The harsh truth of the matter is that the majority of WoW forum posters will not be affected by these changes, given the discrepancy between EU and U.S. activity. There’s plenty of debate and discussion to be had here about how this negatively affects the EU community, and perhaps this move should give U.S. forum-goers something to consider about the current state of our own forums.

That’s all from me for now though. Until next time, have a pleasant evening.

Beginnings: Welcome & Introduction

Welcome.

If you’ve stumbled across this corner of cyberspace chances are that you’re, at the very least, familiar with the popular MMORPG, World of Warcraft (WoW). Within the WoW community, I’m known as Magdalena: An experienced Death Knight player and theorycrafter who leads the #Acherus IRC, a channel dedicated to the advancement of the WoW Death Knight community. I also raid (present hiatus excluded) with <Something Wicked>, an Alliance guild located on US-Whisperwind.

While I’m best known for my aforementioned work with a specific class, I wish to make something clear: This blog is not DK-centric. Anyone interested in my thoughts and posts about Death Knights would be best served by visiting my other blog: Son of A Lich (SoAL), owned and managed by web-designer extraordinaire (and fellow Death Knight), Heartless. Additionally, this blog will in no way impact my work on SoAL, which will always be my primary focus for matters concerning DKs and the the #Acherus community- if nothing else, I’d be a fool to toss aside the opportunity to be able to blog with an editor as amazing as Heartless!

I intend for this blog to serve as a space that encompasses my wider thought and opinions about games, online communities that I’m a member of, and even some real life topics that may have nothing to do with games! While WoW will still likely be its central focus, it will be in a much looser format than what readers might expect of me based on my posts on SoAL. Post frequency and length are also variable, and largely depend on how important I consider an issue to be worth talking about in a relatively unstructured format. It also bears mentioning: The thoughts and opinions expressed here are mine alone, and not representative of anyone else unless expressly stated.

I’ll conclude for now by preempting a question that I know would be otherwise asked: I’ve utilised “festerblight” in this blog’s web address because it’s not just a mark of the DK community which I’m a core member of, but is a phrase that I specifically coined for a playstyle that was concocted in #Acherus. As such, Festerblight serves as the perfect moniker that associates a blog with me- Death Knight related or not.

Until next time!