Upcoming Itemization Changes

August 25, 2009 at 2:14 pm (WoW General)

Bear with me, this is relevant.

Once upon a time, I worked for a company in the pharmaceutical industry.  I worked at said company for around six years.  In that time, I noticed something – every team of people who took over management at the higher levels decided, for whatever reason, that reorganization was an imperative.  Now, there were two primary ways to organize the general area I was in – you could organize based on what product/therapeutic area people were working in (i.e. “the oncology team” working together), or you could organize based on job function (i.e. the statisticians together, the data managers together, the project managers together, etc.)  It almost didn’t matter what was chosen, what mattered is that every time there was turnover in the upper levels, the new management decided it was crucial that it be done The Other Way.  Most people wouldn’t much have cared which way was chosen, but the constant reorganizations were wearying, and cost more than any marginal benefit that came from whatever the new organization might have been.

The relevance to WoW is probably obvious.  Itemization is undergoing another revamp, and is apparently going to resemble the simpler days of yore.  No more attempting to decide which is better, 22 points of haste, 17 points of armor penetration, 14 points of crit, or 16 points of strength (“Oh wait, I’m a caster, never mind.”)

On the one hand, I honestly found myself on more than one occasion (particularly leveling alts) throwing up my hands and guessing as to which piece of gear was better (yes, you may all commence telling me how terribad I am for not immersing myself in quite as much detail with any other class as I do my warlock).  Part of me thinks I’ll miss making those trade-off decisions on my warlock, but honestly, I think I probably won’t.  And I don’t think most players, whose assessments of gear choices come from an addon, a spreadsheet, or gear rankings on a website, will either, the cries of a handful of wannabe-hardcores notwithstanding (for the genuine hardcores, for whom the statistical analysis of one sort of gear’s benefit versus another’s was a major part of the fun they derived from the game, you have my condolences.)

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Soul Shards Are Dead, Long Live Soul Shards

August 22, 2009 at 1:09 am (Warlock)

So, the wow.com live blog is a bit cryptic, but to the extent I can discern what Blizzard announced re: soul shards, I was largely right, I think.  It sounds like soul shards will largely resemble runes as a resource, and they will be consumed with a new spell, Soul Burn.  Casting Soul Burn will, apparently, burn a shard for the duration of the combat, but the next spell will be amplified – Fear would become instant cast, for example, and presumably a damage spell would just do more damage.  So basically, we’re looking at soul shards actually giving us some cooldowns to burn.

If I’m understanding this correctly, then I’m thrilled.  Not only because we will, at long last, have five bag spaces, but because this adds a level of tactical complexity to the class that wasn’t there, which I like.  Decisions as to when to burn a shard, coming to understand the effects of burning a shard on all of our (many many) spells….it sounds, in short, completely awesome. (“What, like a hot dog?“)

I’ll wait until Blizzcon’s over to comment on much else, but suffice it to say, this expansion is going to either (a) be completely freaking brilliant, or (b) utterly wreck the game.  Completely altering all the existing zones the way they are is seriously gutsy.  I’m actually looking forward to leveling more alts through Eastern Kingdoms & Kalimdor, though, which I didn’t expect would ever be the case.

I really hope somebody stresses to Blizzard this weekend, though, exactly how cranky their player base is going to be if they don’t increase the number of toons per server.  I’m going to be really unhappy if I can’t have  a Worgen on my home Alliance server.

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Make Up Your Mind

August 21, 2009 at 7:29 pm (WoW General)

Okay, so since time immemorial (well, since TBC dropped), I’ve heard and read members of the (classic) Horde griping without end about being saddled with the blood elves.  The blood elves were simply too pretty to be Horde (forgetting the fact that, as a matter of lore, The Sin’dorei and their bitter, fascist little elven collection of hovels up there in Silvermoon certainly belong in the Horde, as anybody who knows the significance of the name Garithos will understand).  Kids, you see, played Alliance (with their aesthetically appealing races that more sophisticated gamers wouldn’t touch).  Trendy gothy-loving anime-freak poseurs played blood elves.  And probably read Twilight too.


As probably everybody reading is perfectly aware, the mmo-champion-leaked info about Cataclysm turned out to be correct, and the Horde is getting goblins as a playable race, while the Alliance is getting the worgen.  And, if one spends any time in the forums, one sees Horde players are…shall we say…underwhelmed with this development.

Seems to me, the Horde got an aesthetically-unappealing (well, by conventional human standards) race that survives on their wits.  A race with character and humor.  Meanwhile, the Alliance got werewolves.  And Horde players are spitting nails.

Now, what this illustrates is the real issue many Horde players have with the blood elves, and it has nothing to do with who plays them, or some sort of inconsistency with the character of the Horde.  It’s because blood elves (particularly excessively-pretty blood elf males) make insecure teenage boys even more insecure.  Which certainly calls into question the bill of goods Horde players are rather fond of selling regarding the vast maturity differential between them and the “kiddies” who play Alliance.

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The Persistence of Culture, or, Why I Hate Enchanting

August 19, 2009 at 2:51 pm (WoW General)

So, I’m reading the WoW.com “WoW Rookie” article on one of my favorite ranting subjects, but one I hadn’t thought about for a really long while – Enchanting, disenchanting, shards, and so forth.  And as I always do when the subject comes to mind, I found myself wishing I had some soapbox upon which to stand, to loudly declaim why I think Enchanting is profoundly broken.

And then I remembered:  Oh yeah.  Now I do have a soapbox.  Lucky for me.  Not so lucky for you.

All crafting professions can be nasty to level to 450, but some are nastier than others.  They range from the absurdly easy (Alchemy) to, well, Enchanting.  Enchanting is as nasty to level as it is (mine is still stuck in the 430s) for two reasons:  (a) because its “nodes”, if you will, are incredibly rare, and (b) because the culture of WoW distorts, in a profoundly destructive way, every possible market for enchanting and enchanting mats.

Re: the first point – my blacksmith, if I put my mind to it, can go out and farm mining nodes for a while, and end up in good shape for mats.  Ditto leatherworkers with skinning, or alchemists/scribes with herbalism.  I cannot do the equivalent on my enchanter – greens drop too rarely to be reliably farmed, and blues and purples cannot be obtained except in groups (about which, more later).  The level of scarcity this imposes on the materials cannot be understated.  Scarcity increases (substantially) the auction house cost of mats.

The other factor that increases the auction house cost of mats is that enchanters have no other way to speak of to make money with the skill.  In WotLK, Tailoring and Blacksmithing were given BoE epic recipes to make and sell on the AH.  Alchemy has always had potions and flasks, along with transmute cooldowns, to make money, and Jewelcrafting and Inscription make money hand over fist.  In all cases, the end product is something people (a) are used to buying on the auction house (gear, gems, glyphs), and (b) don’t have a years-long history of obtaining for free.

The latter point is especially important.  Inscription was supposed to solve this problem – enchanters could, at long last, level by enchanting scrolls, and then sell those scrolls on the auction house.  Finally, we could be a normal crafting profession!  Not so much.  The primary reason for this being, the mats for recipes above 400 or so remain ludicrously expensive due to scarcity.  This tends to create substantial risk that your enchanting scroll won’t sell (particularly when people remain unwilling to pony up for enchanting because “lulz ur just clickin a button”, which I desperately wish were not a literal representation of the most common non-enchanter take on paying for enchants).  Therefore, it remains preferable, financially speaking, for an enchanter to level the skill by doing the “free with your mats” enchants.  In fact, it’s worse – it’s actually a financially reasonable decision to offer to pay people to let you enchant their gear, if it gives you a skill point (which I’ll refer to as the Trade channel market).  This is something of a vicious circle, of course – the people who do this destroy the market for AH enchants, which makes it financially non-viable to level with AH enchants, which drives more people into the Trade channel market.  It’s classic Tragedy of the Commons – something we recognize in the real world is a market failure, and usually justifies some form of intervention into the market.

I suspect that part of the reason the Trade channel market persists, in addition to the cost of mats, is that the bulk of the WoW player base is simply not used to paying for enchants, so they won’t do it (which of course further feeds the race to the bottom).  They do not consider enchanting, or disenchanting, to be a commodity worth paying for.  And enchanters, in pursuit of their own personal financial best interest, prove them right.  This comes out every time you see the endless debate crop up re: distribution of shards from instance runs.  Now, I think some of my fellow enchanters get greedy in these discussions (no, we’re not entitled to every single unneeded drop in the instance), but the refrain from the nonenchanters is, overwhelmingly, “Why are you being rude?  It doesn’t cost you anything to disenchant for people?”  Well, true.  However, first, I don’t see you crafting me a bunch of potions/flasks/gems/glyphs/Titansteel sets/Ebonweave sets/etc. free with my mats (unless you’re a guildie, but then, I happily (dis)enchant for my guildies, so that’s a separate question).  That wouldn’t cost you anything either.  Why don’t you do it?  Because gear, potions, etc. are tangible items (well, as tangible as anything in an MMO is), and everybody understands that the crafter should get to make a little something on the deal to compensate them for their expertise.  Well, it sure as hell cost me to get Enchanting leveled to the point where I could disenchant that drop for you in the first place.  Or where I could give you that snazzy enchant that you think a 10s (I kid you not) tip adequately covers.  And given I’m just going to end up buying this same shard that I created back from you in order to level my profession, it makes me cranky.  If it pumped enough enchanting mats into the economy to substantially drop the price, well, that would be one thing.  But it doesn’t, because they’re still too rare.

So, while Blizzard is looking at rebuilding all of the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor from the ground up, perhaps they could take a look at Enchanting while they’re at it.  Other professions, in various and sundry ways, have their terrible aspects (nobody takes a crafting profession to get rich, and Tailoring was such a crashing disappointment in Wrath I dropped it entirely, a decision that hurt quite a lot, given my first epics were from tailoring, and given I’d already made myself a flying carpet that I now can’t ride).  In fact, I think Blizz needs to take a look at every crafting profession, and possibly even revisit the fundamental concept of them.  But the Enchanting market is fundamentally broken.  When Enchanters are paying people to let them use their skill (a skill they’ve already paid major gold to level)  so they can level it up further, this point shouldn’t even be arguable.

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Shards Announcement Incoming

August 19, 2009 at 8:52 am (Warlock)

So, as Blizzcon is imminent, so too is (supposedly) some announcement of the upcoming changes to soul shards.

And a few other announcements too, of course.

I gave my own thoughts on soul shards and their problems.  What I can’t tell, at this point, is whether Ghostcrawler is overselling a cosmetic change, or whether soul shards are going to be essentially unrecognizable at the end of this revamp.  Because to live up to what Ghostcrawler’s selling, we’re talking about the need to create an entirely new resource-system and slap the name “soul shards” on it.  And I find myself, despite myself, growing excited at what this may mean.  Which suggests there’s a danger here – if we’re talking about a tweak (They now stack!  They’re now in the currency tab!  They’re now green!), I’m going to be severely disappointed (even if I’m happy to have my bag space back).  Unless we’re talking an entirely new system, GC has simply oversold the incoming change, and is going to get a pretty severe backlash.

One thing I’ve noticed, as I’ve been playing my mage (now level 71, and proving ridiculously fun – mages have more “sexy” abilities than warlocks could ever dream of, which is a source of massive, festering resentment (for me), and a topic for another column), is that warlocks have far fewer fun  cooldowns than my frost mage has.  Think of the decisions a frost mage makes as to when to summon their elemental, when to pop Icy Veins, Cold Snap, and so forth.  It gives the feel that frost mages have a degree of “reserve” power, where you can draw on it when really necessary.  This actually makes the class feel more powerful as a whole.  Demo has a couple of cooldown-type abilities (Metamorphosis being the primary one), but Affliction and Destruction do not (Death Coil’s on a cooldown, but it’s not the same thing – that’s about getting out of a jam, not boosting personal power in some way.)  My trinkets have all “On Equip” effects, so I have no trinkets to pop.  So, in a raid, when raid leaders call out “okay, hitting X%, pop all your cooldowns and trinkets”, I tend to do exactly the same thing I was doing before – I have nothing else to do.  My only cooldown is Soulshatter, which is no fun at all (mages, on the other hand, even get a fun aggro-dump!)  So my guess would be that consuming shards will give a similar cooldown-popping feel.  Consume a soul for a 10% spellpower increase for 15 seconds, or something similar.  3 minute cooldown.

Which means there’s a nerf incoming.  Because they don’t want to buff us overall (we – well, two of our trees – don’t really need it, at least in PvE), so our performance without using the new SS mechanics will be knocked down a peg.   We’re about to get more complicated, which intrigues me.  But we’re also about to enter that buff-nerf cycle that happens whenever a class’s equilibrium is disrupted.  Buckle your seatbelts.

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August 15, 2009 at 8:42 am (WoW General)

Well, this is….different. (warning:  MASSIVE spoilers, if true, for the next expansion).

For the benefit of those who wish to be surprised, I’ll put my thoughts after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Sigh. Figures.

August 14, 2009 at 10:06 am (Raiding)

Alas, Blizzard is backsliding.  Per Zarhym re: the new Onyxia mount:

The drop rate will be extremely low. One day I will have it, though as soon as I loot it I’ll probably be struck by lightning on a sunny day and attacked by a shark, all while in the presumed comfort of my living quarters.

One thing Blizzard did quite nicely in a couple of cases in Wrath is move away from the lightning-strike model of mount drops (Ashes of A’lar, Attumen, etc.).  Obtaining the bronze drake requires a hard-mode performance of CoS.  Obtaining the Twilight or Black drakes requires a hard-mode performance of OS.  However, if you accomplished these (I’ve done the first, but not (yet) the second), it’s a 100% drop rate.  Rare, to be sure (well, the OS drakes are, anyway), but worth the attempt.  Because you absolutely can get both, if you’re willing to put in the effort.  It’s within reach if you put your mind to it.

There is no point, however, in attempting to go for a one-in-a-thousand mount from a once-a-week boss.  You can do absolutely nothing to improve your chances.  In a given year, you’ll get fifty-two attempts.  That’s a 5.07% chance your raid will see it drop at some point over the course of a year.  Then you have to win the roll (if you’re interested in the mount, unless the drop rate is different between 10 and 25 man, I strongly suggest going 10-man).  This is not something to aspire to – the return on investment, time-wise, is far too weak.  This is the in-game equivalent of buying a lottery ticket.  Lotteries are a tax on people who can’t do math, and this mount is an incentive for those same people.

People will do the instance (just as they do Malygos), but the mount will not be a motivating factor (just as nobody does Malygos to get a blue drake, and nobody’s grinding Kael’thas at 80 to try to get the big fiery bird).

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Love. This.

August 12, 2009 at 11:36 pm (Raiding)

I was sort of wondering if Blizzard was doing anything special for the five year anniversary.  They are.

I do wish they’d restore the attunement quest chain that I never got to finish, but in the absence of that, I love the idea of getting to experience some actual semblance of what the original raid was like (doing the level 60 version at level 80 isn’t even close).  Plus, I really really want the mount.

And I really want to know about those “big plans” for the 3.2.2 content patch, of which this is apparently only a part.

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August 11, 2009 at 10:14 am (Navel-Gazing)

Have a busy week in store, so this will be a somewhat low-production week.  Some collected thoughts:

  • It has occurred to me that one of the perils of blogging under my own character’s name, and not having made a secret of it vis-a-vis my in-game friends (indeed, my guild’s website has, in what was probably not one of my most clever moves, a link to my RSS feed), is that there are limits to how candid I can be about the joys of running a guild.  Which is a pity – I’ve had many, many things to say that, alas, I can’t (or, more to the point, I can’t and still be a good guild leader, as one doesn’t air dirty laundry in a non-anonymous  way).  Things are going reasonably well (we downed our first two 25-man bosses as a guild yesterday – Flame Leviathan and Deconstructor – both with only 21 people.)  Still, the need to self-censor is annoying.
  • “From Level One to Level Awesome!” will continue shortly.  Next topic will, in all likelihood, be pet management (in light of the upcoming arrival of level 10 and Morgulion’s second pet).
  • Also currently in progress – my joint column with Shayzani.  Stay tuned.
  • Yes, I will be applying for the WoW.com warlock columnist position.  Wish me luck.  Of course, given the slavering hordes of Warlock-playing WoW players, whoever gets the position is going to need all the luck they can get.

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Trial of the Champion

August 8, 2009 at 9:23 am (WoW General)

Okay, so I finally got around to doing the new five-man instance in normal and heroic mode.  My first thought is that they really do want a pretty serious gear reset pre-Icecrown.  Because TotC drops a lot of epics.

My second thought it, Tirion Fordring and the entire (*&#$ing Argent Crusade needs to hand off leadership of the war against Arthas to somebody who will take it more seriously, and handle it more competently.  I’m thinking the Winterfin murlocs, perhaps.  Let’s see, the Alliance and Horde have been slaughtering each other in Icecrown, largely in reaction to the events of the Wrathgate (well, that and the fact that Varian Wrynn and Garrosh Hellscream are jackasses who need to be lined up against a wall and shot for undermining the war effort).  So Tirion’s response is to build….an arena.  Where the two sides will kill each other.  Under the Argent Crusade’s banner.  Yeah, that won’t have a problematic effect.  When five players massacre twelve of the other faction’s soldiers in the first fight, including three city Grand Champions (each individually vastly more powerful than a player character)?  Yeah, that will facilitate unity, and totally not breed resentment of the sort that will fatally undermine the war.  Cripes, just what the Alliance-Horde relationship needed – the angst of a Red Sox-Yankees rivalry added on top of it.

Or how about this – the Argent Confessor fight?  She brings nine Argent Crusade underlings into the arena with her (each one individually more powerful than a level 80 player character).  And then offers them up to be slaughtered (while she, of course, puts a stop to the fight before she dies – to borrow a line from Pink Floyd, “‘Forward!’ she cried from the rear/And the front rank died.”).  All quite explicitly to test the PCs.  What about those poor underlings?  Seems to me those three Argent Priestesses could have been freaking useful in, I don’t know, maybe killing the undead of Icecrown?  You know, those wandering bony-looking guys right the *(&$# outside?

This isn’t even incompetence.  This is treason.  At least the Scourge don’t slaughter each other for fun (or phat lewtz).  Are we entirely sure that one of the twelve thousand dreadlords-we-thought-were-dead isn’t running the Argent Crusade, just like the Scarlet Whateverthefrak?

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