Tuesday, May 26, 2009

[Druid] New Forms at Last!

I can scarcely believe it! When Blizzard said new forms would be on the backburner for us, I figured it was waaaaaay in the back (somewhere next to the dance studio), but now it's coming. It's really coming!

In our next major content patch, druids will find a host of new textures for two major forms, cat and bear. There will be five different designs for each of these forms for the Horde and Alliance. Night elves can choose to change their cat and bear look at any time by visiting the barber shop and changing their character's hair color, while tauren will be able to change which look they use by switching skin tones in the barber shop -- a new feature for tauren in the next major content patch. Given that there are more hair colors and skin tones than unique form looks, some colors and tones will overlap with these new textures. The hair and skin colors chosen will, in most cases, correspond with the color seen in the look of each form. Some similar colors that may share a particular cat texture will not necessarily share the same bear texture.

It sounds like players won't directly get to choose their new bear form, so much as the bear skin will correspond with the color of the character's hair (if a night elf) or skin tone (if a tauren). While choice would be nice, it does make sense that the character's bear form would resemble the character itself. (And yay for the tauren being able to change skin tones? The female tauren seriously only have five hair styles, and we didn't get any new ones with WotLK.)

Tying the bear form to hair color/skin tone means my main, being a brown cow, would probably end up with this skin:

Whereas my semi-twinked 59, being a black cow, would probably look like this:

I really like the druidic touches to the form, with the arm bands and the stone pendant hanging from the neck. I'm not sure I like the darker one as much though. Maybe because it's not actually black like my tauren.

The polar version looks really nice and I wonder if we'll see an upswing of white cows comes 3.2. (If you want to see it, click the link at the top of post.)

I'm hoping somewhere down the road we'll see new moonkin and tree forms as well, but every druid has a cat and bear form, so these new skins will be immediately usable by all druids.

I wonder if we'll finally see a fix for the tauren cat form's mouth always hanging open.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I got an Honorable Mention!

My arena team had just finished 3s for the night and we were transitioning our playtime to battlegrounds when one of my guild leaders informed me that the results for Blizzard's Global Writing Content were in.

I'll be honest, I was a bit afraid to look. I mentally psyched myself up to look at a list of names and see that I wasn't on there. And I had the time to do it since my browser was taking its sweet time loading. It's always really slow if WoW is up.

So slow that I tabbed back into WoW in time to see Cursedhoof (my proofreader, and also the only person in the guild to know the title of my story) announce that I'd gotten an Honorable Mention.

There I am, second from the bottom. "By Whatever Means Necessary," my story about a paladin who goes to Northrend in search of his wayward sister, was good enough to merit a mention.

I'm a little disappointed, because I know I slacked off during a period while I was writing this story, wasting time that could have been better spent on composition, and there wasn't nearly enough time for me to finish the in-game research I wanted to do. Looking back I can kick myself for all the time I'd spent goofing off when I could have been writing. Maybe another couple drafts would've made this one a winner.

But that said, it's still rewarding when I think about how many hundreds if not thousands of entries my story had to rise above so that at the end of the day it would still be memorable in the minds of my readers, and thus earn me a place on this list.

I might not have won, but I'm still very encouraged.

It's going to be hard to go to sleep tonight.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Doing Things the "Real" Way

Since I have two 80s and I'm active in both raids and arena, I'm generally pretty busy when I'm on WoW. I rarely log on and have a night where I'm thinking "Wow, I have nothing to do." I'm still trying to finish my Icecrown quests with my paladin, and I've been at it for a couple months now. The Argent Tournament? I'm finally a champion of Thunder Bluff, but hardly an exalted one, and I only have a day's worth of tokens to put towards the non-combat pets I want.

My guild does 25-man Ulduar 3 nights a week, an optional 10-man Ulduar potentially 2 nights a week, and then we often have a PvP night in somewhere (in addition to the night or two that my arena teams play). There's usually something going on with this guild if a person wants to keep busy.

When I'm on I'm usually raiding, and then after raiding, I do a few dailies, and that comprises my night (except for the arena nights, in which case replace raiding with arena). I might get into a PvP night if it's on a weekend, but if it's Wednesday then I'm usually taking my one offline night a week from WoW.

Sometimes a person wants a break though, not from WoW in general, but from guild responsibilities, to have a little quiet time, and I typically find it in one of the alts I have scattered on other servers, and that brings me to the topic of this post.

The other day I logged on to a level 34 warrior alt I have. She's a fierce one, being a troll who dares to wear one of the non-pretty female troll faces and a head full of dreads. Yep, perfect for a fury warrior of the Horde. I've been itching to dps an instance with her ever since one of my guildies spoke to me about his fondness for the fury spec, and at level 34 Scarlet Monastery was right up my alley.

Except, predictably, there were only dps and healers in LFG. Well, I wanted to run something, and dammit, if I would have to tank, so be it.

We cleaned out SM Graveyard without breaking a sweat. Then we decided to try SM Library.

It might just be me, but I have "fond" memories of wiping in SM Library. The respawn rate is terrific (in the worst way possible) so that a wipe in the later half almost guarantees respawns at the start. Now only that, but the mobs run and like to bring back their friends, and there's that awful patio chamber near the beginning with LOS issues, ranged mobs, and their scarlet hound pets. This is a popular leveling instance, but there are so many ways things can go wrong. I've wiped multiple times on various alts running with appropriately leveled groups, but despite that, it's a fun instance and I have a certain fondness for it.

And there was an important difference this time. I was the tank.

The dps was not that good (I was second on dps even though I was tanking in defensive stance), one of the two shadow priests even got lost trying to find the way from SM GY to SM Lib (clearly a new player), the dps never focus-fired a target, and the mage who was #1 dps liked to AoE just a little too much and then Frost Nova the mobs just far enough apart from each other that my Thunderclap wouldn't necessarily hit all of them.

But despite that, I liked it. I tab-targeted through the mobs, watching Omen like a hawk to see which needed more threat. I Thunderclapped every opportunity, I applied Sunders and Revenge liberally to the mobs most in need of threat, Heroic Strike if I had the rage to spare. I watched my group's portraits to see if anyone lit up red to show they'd pulled threat, and then I'd Taunt off them.

Nothing's a good test of one's mettle quite like dealing a group that is just this side of sloppy. Besides, it was SM Library. It was potentially difficult, we did have runners who brought back their friends (what I wouldn't give for Hamstring in defensive stance), and there was one fine moment when I was tanking five mobs at once and had to blow my Shield Wall in order to make sure my healer could pull me through, but you know?

It was fun. There was only one death, the 29 priest had accidentally body pulled a mob before I could save him, and it ended up a fine run overall.

Because the dungeon was SM Library there wasn't that much risk. It was dangerous, sure, but people don't have crazy repair bills yet and it's nice playing in an environment where there's that kind of leeway. If people pulled aggro it wasn't going to be a two-shot on a clothie, and yet there's still enough going on that I can be proud of doing things like LOS pulling and tanking multiple mobs at once.

A lot of raiders like cruising straight to end-game on their alts, but I get the most enjoyment from the leveling process by doing things the real way. This is now my fifth character that has run though SM Library with an at-level group, and she probably won't be the last.

Side Note: Though it was fun holding aggro over a bunch of uncoordinated puggers, I still have yet to dps an instance on my fury warrior. I want to try out Berserker Stance!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

[Paladin] Goodbye My Nitro Boosts

Despite all the nerfs that engineering gets hit by, despite all the complaints that it doesn't have any worthwhile self-enchants, I've been reasonably happy as an paladin engineer. Do I wish it was better? Sure. But I've had my fun with target dummies, repair bots, the portable mailbox, parachute cloaks, mote farming, the goblin rocket launcher (favorite way to do the first pull in Mechanar back when it was possible to tank as holy), and of course the overpowered goggles I could make before I hit the then 70 or now 80 level cap.

I admit one of the reasons I selected engineering over blacksmithing back when I first created Gillien was because I wanted the goggles. They looked cool, and blacksmithing had very little to offer a holy paladin that didn't come out of the Black Temple. And I found that despite all the whining about the profession, it actually wasn't half the pain to level that I thought it would be (I made a tidy profit while leveling through all the vanilla content).

Recently Blizzard took away the stealth detection from my goggles, which was a bit annoying, but to be honest I didn't use my goggles for my PvP helm. I'd taken a spare PvE helm with a fair amount of haste on it and socketed/enchanted it specifically for PvP.

What bothers me at the moment is the nerfing of my Nitro Boosts.

After several attempts to balance the Nitro Boots ability in the arena, we have decided that we currently do not have an acceptable solution. Until we are able to better balance this ability it has been shut down in the arenas. We fully plan to continue working on this item and we intend to adjust it in upcoming patches.

Last night's arena games may very well be the last time I'll ever do my favorite escape move (Hand of Freedom followed by Nitro Boosts to LOS an opponent who's snared me).

The Nitro Boosts had already been nerfed from their earliest iteration, but even nerfed, those 2 seconds of increased speed were fantastic. Nobody expects a paladin to sprint away from them.

Apparently they were too fantastic.


Crygil goes on to say:

We have plans to make certain that this item is still worth the investment made in it. So don't vendor it just yet.

But the thing is, it's not like the boots are something I'd vendor. They're my WG PvP boots, and the Nitro Boosts (there are no Nitro Boots) are a self-only "enchant." I don't think I can wait for a future patch to fix them (because while turning off the Nitro Boosts in arena is easy to do, compensating their nerf in other ways requires testing so we probably won't see anything until the next patch) so I'm going to have to enchant them with something else in the meantime.

I'll have a choice between the +22 stam enchant or the Tuskarr's Vitality for +15 stam and increased run speed. I'm already using a Tireless Skyflare Diamond for my meta to get a run speed increase, so going with the latter of the two boot enchants will mean getting a new meta, and if I get a new meta I'm strongly considering the one that reduces the duration of silences.

Monday, May 18, 2009

[Paladin] Making Progress in Arenas

With the passing of Out of Mana I'm not entirely sure where to get my holy PvP fix. Unlike PvE, which can be theorycrafted to death, PvP is more of an art. What talents you take, what spells you cast, matters much more on your group synergy than what a stranger on a forum says. That isn't to say that cookie cutter talent specs don't exist, because they do, but what works may vary by a handful more points from person to person than it would in PvE.

Unlike previous seasons, where everyone started off at 1500 and moved up or down according to their performance, now everyone starts at 0 and has to work their way up. In a way it's nice, because losing generally costs the player nothing and winning results in a big gob of points as the team rating makes its way to the players' matchmaking rating (which is, in a way, their "real" rating since that's what determines who fights who and how many points earned for a win).

On the other hand, that does mean a bit of grinding. Even at 40 points a win that's still a lot of matches to get up to 1250 (the first rating it's possible to buy anything at). The grinding does have some use, being that new teams can get used to each other and develop strategies without fear of just sliding down the ratings ladder, but it feels longer than it has to be, especially since the MMR still chooses opponents of comparable skill. There is not necessarily any steamrolling to be done on this grind.

I'm on two teams so far this season; 2s with a survival hunter, and 3s with an unholy DK and that same hunter. My focus is primarily on 3s since it's time intensive to grind out two teams and we get more arena points for the larger team. The hunter and I might invest more in our 2s if gearing becomes an issue (it's harder to get rating in 3s than 2s), but for now we're fine.

Pillar joined the battle (our team name) started at 1291 going into the weekend and ended at a tidy 1494. We're no longer getting 40+ per win now that our team/personal ratings are much closer to our matchmaking rating, so it's taking us progressively more wins to make any headway. A match against an equivalent team might net us around 10-12 points, 20 if we take down a team rated over 100 points more than us (man, was that sweet), but only 7 if we beat a team well below us.

I'm surprised at the range of teams we fight. We're hovering in the high 1500s for our MMR (though we did break 1600 for a short period last night), but the teams we've fought have ranged from the high 1300s to a whopping 1800. And yes, the 1800 smoked us. We did manage to fight a couple 1700s teams to a near standstill though.

Our consolation is that if we lose we generally end up losing to teams ranked above us, so in the end our rating continues to climb. One 1700 team in particular smacked us repeatedly over the course of last night. We didn't lose a lot of points to them, but it didn't help our win-loss record.

This is my first season actually seeing my team ranked on the Armory, and I'm rather surprised about it. We're 981st based off the 1291 rating we had last week. I'd heard that 3s are a lot less popular than 2s, and arena itself may not be quite as popular has it'd been in the past, so I suppose that's why we got a rating without even breaking 1300. Or maybe other teams just haven't grinded out to this point yet. It'll be interesting to see what 1494 gets us after maintenance this week.

My team's at the point where we're starting to tweak out specs and our strategies. I'm running a 52/19/0 spec with Divine Grace and Imp. Hammer of Justice, but even though I love using my stuns, I'm thinking of changing those two points out to Imp. Devotion Aura. Generally when we lose it doesn't feel like we're losing because I didn't interrupt their healer fast enough. It feels like we're losing because I couldn't keep my team alive. (On the other hand, it's extremely gratifying hitting the healer with a HoJ just as they or one of their teammates is about to die, since that usually nets us a win.)

Burst can be something vicious in 3s, with two dps focus-firing someone, particularly when they focus on our hunter. Having Imp. Devotion Aura will give me stronger heals and I'll still have DG for mitigation. I'm not that good at it yet, but I'm trying to get better at using DG and Hand of Sacrifice when I'm not being focus-fired as a way to mitigate damage to my teammates. Especially since I have Beacon of Light, if I can bleed damage off my teammates during early burst I can heal myself and the Beacon target at the same time.

I'm still working on getting off Aura Mastery too. I tried making a macro tying it to Holy Light (like my Divine Favor + Holy Shock macro), but for some reason it won't work even though AM doesn't invoke the global cooldown so I'm currently doing an awkward Ctrl+3, 3 button combo to first use Aura Mastery and then Holy Light. It just seems like it shouldn't take me two button presses to do what rightly should go in one, but I'm not sure why it's not working.

Next weekend we should hit 1550 for sure (I want my [Furious Gladiator's Pendant of Dominance]), though I'm hoping for 1600. I won't have the points to buy the Furious gloves yet, I'm still down a bit from having bought the [Deadly Gladiator's Libram of Justice], but my teammates will be able to start getting their gear and the higher rating let get me squeeze out more points come each Tuesday maintenance.

Monday, May 11, 2009

[Druid] Ghostcrawler on Wrath, Starfire, and Eclipse

Ghostcrawler wrote:

The basic design problem for Balance, as I know you know, comes down to Wrath and Starfire just being very similar spells. One is always going to win out by virtue of damage or cast time. Eclipse was our attempt to make which one wins more dynamic. I think it accomplishes that, but I think it's also fair to say that there aren't a ton of druids who are in love with the talent. Or maybe it's more fair to say that there are druids who just can't stand it. It's also not swell that the talent has driven many druids to mods to help manage it.

I'm one of those druids who picked up a mod for Eclipse, not because I'm a mod enthusiast, but because I felt it was mandatory in order to maximize my dps. It would have been a disservice to my raid to not pick it up. There's a 30 second internal cooldown to Eclipse and since the game does not tell the player when that cooldown is over or about to be over, the best thing to do is pick up a mod that will track it.

This prevents the player from accidentally proccing the wrong Eclipse and also lets them maximize their dps by pumping out their nuke of choice (whichever they have the idol for) without fear during the cooldown phase.

But the fact that a mod is so useful, perhaps even necessary, for maximizing the dps granted by a single talent is wrong, and it's good to see that Ghostcrawler realizes this. He was extremely vocal about pushing Eclipse on moonkin as a way to make gameplay more dynamic for us, but I really don't see that. I'm still nuking. I'm still refreshing my dots. The only difference is that I now watch a few bars winding down on a mod I didn't have before and I follow a couple of new rules I picked up that only exist because of Eclipse (i.e. don't refresh dots during an Eclipse, or if you do, only right at the beginning). I'm using both nukes in a single battle, which is admittedly different, but dynamic?

I have no control over Eclipse, and due to its random nature it can proc at times I can't even take advantage of it.

I actually rather enjoyed what I experienced in Burning Crusade, where the rotation used changed based on gear, idols, and possibly how the raid itself was composed. There was the low mana consuming rotation (IS/SF), the medium mana rotation (IS/MF/SF), high mana rotation (IS/MF/W) that you could potentially use in Kara and ZA. Then there was the MF/SF rotation in T5/T6 gear, and finally SF spam in Sunwell (which I never saw).

I liked changing my rotation as my gear changed, because it felt like progression. But my rotation in Ulduar isn't any different from the way it was in Naxx.

Ghostcrawler says that the problem comes down to Wrath and Starfire being too similar, but the reason I changed between the two back in my ZA days was to manage my mana pool (a problem that is sadly no longer an issue). If I knew I had the mana I used Wrath (higher dps, but higher mana cost), and if I didn't I used Starfire (more mana efficient). If mana was still an issue, then the difference between using Wrath and Starfire could again be a real choice for moonkin, where what the player used could actually change from fight to fight based on how long the moonkin suspected the fight would last and how much it would take out of them.

Instead all a moonkin does now is spec into a few regen talents (which used to be mandatory!) as necessary to make sure they don't run dry. It may be an important thing to do from a talent perspective, but it doesn't require on-the-fly judgment in a boss fight itself.

I remember changing my rotation mid-fight, going to a Wrath rotation to burn down a boss because I had the mana, or going to Starfire to conserve myself.

It just doesn't happen anymore and I think that makes being a moonkin more boring than a lack of an Eclipse.

Friday, May 8, 2009

And sometimes luck just happens…

I am not a mount collector. I still ride the same good old kodo I've had since vanilla WoW and level 60. When Attumen dropped his rare mount in Karazhan I was going to pass except that the raid leader insisted everyone roll. I've passed on every bronze drake from CoT I've ever seen on my druid. I have flight form. It doesn't have a cast time. It's convenient. Why bother?

The other night I was finishing up my Children's Week achievements and specifically I was doing the Argent Tournament dailies to fulfill my requirements for Daily Chores. One of them involves going out to Grizzly Hills to kiss some frogs. I did my frog-kissing business and started back for Icecrown, and the trip involved flying through a small portion of Storm Peaks. And that's when I saw it…

A dragon I'd never seen before sailed into view and I moused over it, curious to see what it was.

I remember I was still on vent with one of my guildies, and the first thing I said was "Oh my god. I have to kill this!"

I'd found the Time-Lost Proto-Drake. Of all the random luck…

I know people in guild who have flown around looking for this guy, and just by crazy blind luck I'd stumbled across him on my druid who has no need for an epic flying mount of any kind. Worse, it was late at night, hardly anyone was even on in guild, and the guildie who I knew wanted the mount the most (and who I would gladly have aggroed the mob and held it there until he arrived) had already logged.

I dithered only a moment before I flew around the bloody bastard, who was flying too high to be aggroed from the ground, and got him to chase me down into the ravine on the western side of Storm Peaks. And I killed him, netting myself one Reins of the Time-Lost Proto-Drake

So now the druid who doesn't really care for collecting mounts has a rare one. And my guild is telling me that I better fly around on it. It's such a habit to break though. Flight form is still very convenient, but when I remember I'm trying to bring out my new proto-drake.

I mean look at this!

I have four mounts now; my kodo, a hippogriff I bought just so I could do the Fa-la-la-la-Ogri'la achievement, an AQ bug mount from a fun run, and now my rare proto-drake.

Sometimes luck just happens… but in retrospect it would have been nice if I'd stumbled on this with my paladin, then I might remember to ride it more often.