A draenor you can believe in

I have a confession to make. I really love parts of the Warlords of Draenor opening quest content, for both the Horde and Alliance. I’ve been very critical of Blizzard in the last few months, particularly since Blizzcon’s announcement of Warlords of Draenor. I haven’t just been critical, I’ve been outright mad at several points along the way. In particular, I’ve criticized Blizzard’s male-focused marketing. In particular, rather than highlighting all the great women in Blizzard’s games, they either didn’t highlight them at all, or the only information we had portrayed women in a negative light. My feeling about the marketing flaws is unchanged, but I feel differently about some parts of the early questing experience.

There are some really great attempts at having interesting and diverse characters – even if those characters aren’t important enough to put in the marketing material. However, there are still areas of weakness in the story development that reflect some of the same processes that went into the biased marketing materials. So, in this case, I love a game that is still problematic in some ways. However, there are some really great women in Draenor, and so it seems like Blizzard was listening at least a little bit about what everyone wanted. I’ll explain several examples below.

SPOILER WARNING! This post contains lore spoilers of importance to Warlords of Draenor. You have been warned about SPOILERS.

Draka

We meet Draka early in the Horde starting zone. I was somewhat disappointed originally when Durotan ran off and left Draka behind to guard their home area. However, we do have some nice quests in the home area and Draka is involved in some of the quests. In some ways, it bugged me that Draka didn’t fight to stay by her husband’s side. However, splitting them up allows some space for Draka to have her own story pieces, rather than running the risk of being portrayed as a sidekick. At the very least, she is present and accounted for in the Horde starting area.

Draka’s Sister

In the Horde starting area, we are introduced to a new female character: Draka’s Sister, Lokra. She has a really well developed escort quest. This flips the traditional “save the princess” quest on its head, where we escort a female character to rescue a male character. This includes saying “…The Iron Wolf claims our attachments make us weak… that love makes us vulnerable. He is wrong”. This quest chain overall shows a lot of depth of the character as you work together. However, even then, I dislike the phrasing of the way that Durotan reacts once you return from the escort quest. So, in some ways, Durotan turned a great quest into a mediocre quest by being kindof a jerk (in this case, the wowpedia quest “Description” is Lokra’s text, and the “completion” is Durotan pissing on her seemingly unnecessarily if you want to read for yourself). Inspite of Durotan ruining the end of the quest, Lokra’s actual character development across the quest is really well done. I think it’s really Durotan himself who doesn’t live up to my expectations in his interactions within the Horde starting zone.

Yrel’s early quests

The part of Yrel’s story that I criticized in an earlier post seems to come later in the storyline than what I’ve been able to complete thus far in Shadowmoon. We find her in the opening area, kicking ass. Along with Velen, we serve as Yrel’s mentor for a large portion of the questing in the alliance  Shadowmoon valley starting area. As of this point, Yrel and Maraad aren’t in a romantic relationship. However, some of the early released scripts referred to events that happened late in the SMV starting area – suggesting that Yrel’s story development may extend long into the expansion (and it’s unclear whether or not Yrel and Maraad will have a relationship – as they didn’t seem to know each other very well in the starting quests). At the very least, if they do develop a relationship, it will be long after we have been introduced to her as a character. At the very least, the current quests are different than what people described in some of the early demos of that starting area. Yrel suffers a great deal of loss in the starting area quests, and they have (so far) done a pretty good job of developing her character. I’m slightly more optimistic about this character now, though there’s plenty of room for Blizzard to mess it up later. Update: Dave Kosak did confirm she’s not in a relationship with maraad.

Rulkan

There are other notable women in the quest chains of the starting zones. One of the notable figures was Rulkan, who was the wife of Ner’Zul (the “big bad” you have to defeat in the SMV starting area). Rulkan helps you find him, and shows you the history of how she refused to follow him to join the Iron Horde. While Rulkan was originally a member of the ‘dead wives club’ in the original storyline, she is alive and has a position of leadership in the WOD alternative timeline, and provides hope that other notable women may play a more prominent role in the new content. These little hidden gems of questlines make the world feel populated by a variety of characters with interesting stories and histories.

Conclusion

While Blizzcon and the subsequent marketing left a bad taste in a lot of our mouthes, the actual quest designers working on the starting area have done a decent job of trying to have diversity in the quest NPCs we encounter. They do this with more or less success in some areas, but the game that I played in Beta is substantially better than the one that was advertised to meat Blizzcon. The developers may not always get things right, but at least it looks like someone is trying. My previous concerns still remain – that video games have a problematic culture that needs to be addressed (see, for example, the recent IeSF e-sports debacle).  However, I believe that some people at Blizzard may be working to make their Draenor a world you can believe in. For that much, I’m grateful that our voices have been heard. We may even see Aggra head out to Draenor at some point. I hope that the development of Warlords of Draenor keeps holding up these ideals, and that future promotions can feature some of these great women of Draenor more prominently so that everyone can see them. In the end, diversity of characters makes for a better game.

Improvements for guild perk system in Warlords

The guild leveling system was originally meant to be a reward for guilds. People who worked together got rewards. For the first ~6 months, this guild leveling system was awesome. After a year, or two, things went terribly wrong.

The level 25 elephant in the room.

However, in recent years, the guild leveling system, as well as the cash flow perk, has been discouraging people from making new guilds. This has been particularly problematic as it has directly contributed to the decline in the number of people willing to start new raiding guilds, and thus the decline of the raiding population that helped keep the social element of the game intact. Even for social guilds, people only trusted level 25 guilds to have their best interests in mind.

Instead, many people starting guilds have been doing it for the purpose of predatory behavior. That is, someone would start a guild and then spam invites to any new player who made a character on the server. Once people were in the guild, they would be abused for leveling purposes, and then kicked from the guild as soon as the guild hit level 25. Then, that guild could be sold to the highest bidder. Since people couldn’t start new raiding guilds unless they bought a level 25 guild, that created a market for people who abused new players for the purpose of leveling and selling guilds.

The cash flow perk was also problematic in that it earned money for the guild leader along the way, which then was not shared with the rest of the members in a predatory leveling guild. In most real guilds, this cash flow perk did not come anywhere near covering the costs associated with raiding and the repair feature. So, the cash flow perk was able to be abused by predatory guilds (e.g., to a single person who wasn’t giving anything back to the guild members), but wasn’t providing any substantial bonus to real guilds who were using the money (e.g., guild leadership that used the money to supply the guild with needed resources).

Since most new guilds were assumed to be predatory (even when someone actually had good intentions), most good players would not join a guild that was below level 25. This meant that as a new guild officer, you couldn’t recruit quality players, and you burned out of leadership before you even got started. Since all good guilds were level 25, the way to know that the guild was good was to refuse to join any guild that wasn’t at max level. Thus, the cycle of needing to buy level 25 guilds to show legitimacy has been a huge problem that Blizzard has largely ignored. That is, until today.

Social groups will always die and fade if given enough time. So, guilds were always going to fold after their leaders got tired. The leaders were always going to get tired. The problem with guild leveling is that it created a barrier for entry for new guilds and new leaders. That slowed down the creation of new guilds to a much slower speed than guilds were folding, and led to a cascade of other related problems that make guild leadership unappealing to new players. Prior to Cataclysm, there were always new guilds to replace the ones that went away, but that ended with the guild leveling barrier of entry.

The solution to the guild problem.

Blizzard has announced that they are removing the guild leveling system from the game. Every guild in the game will be treated as though they are level 25. If you are in a guild, you get all the benefits of being in the guild without having to level the guild.

They are also removing the problematic cash flow perk. Instead of guilds making money from the cash flow perk, they are putting epic BOEs back into raiding dungeons for guilds to be able to sell. This was the primary way my guild funded all of our repairs and materials prior to Siege of Orgrimmar removing epic BOEs.

Guilds will still have fun bonuses in Warlords.

With the worry about the changes, there are several important things to keep in mind:

  • There will still be the basic perks that came from being in a guild. Things that people really liked, they will still mostly get (though there will be fewer individual perks in the perk list – combining things reduces confusion and “bloat”). For level 25 guilds, nothing important really changes with what they announced.
  • There will still be guild achievements. With all the talk of removing the leveling system, achievements are still something really important that were of benefit to real guilds (and weren’t all that helpful to predatory guilds). Achievements have been updated for guilds continuously every expansion, and are the main ways that all the level 25 guilds differentiate themselves anyway.
  • Purchasing guild bank tabs is still going to require resources, thus there will still be plenty of opportunities to feel like your new guild is progressing in working together to accomplish goals.
  • Without the cash flow perk, it will be easier to get shared guild resources in ways that require working together and doing normal guild behavior (e.g., actually running instances or raids as a team).  Additionally, getting people to donate shared resources will be easier without people thinking the cash flow perk is actually doing something  (when in reality, it never was).
  • People who want to start new raiding or social guilds no longer have to give money to people selling pre-leveled guilds. Instead, we go back to the days when people who wanted to start a new guild had the resources available for them to do so. Thus, people can start new raid teams without being at such a huge disadvantage. The guild perks are now bonuses, rather than a system that punishes new players.
  • If people do only the dungeon and scenario guild challenges, your guild can get around 5,500 gold per week. This number increases if you do any of the other perks, with several thousand more gold available from the more difficult challenges (e.g., battlegrounds, challenge modes, and raids). Seeing as how my guild only got 600 from the cash flow perk (excluding guild challenges), convincing our guild members to complete the challenges is a better source of income than the cash flow perk ever was. You have to subtract your guild challenge total from the perk UI because the game adds those values together.

This is a change that should have positive impacts on the game. The guild level shackles were going to cause a huge problem when people needed to make new guilds in Warlords of Draenor. Now, those shackles have been removed – making way for an era of new guilds. While it may take a long time for the fear of predatory guilds to fade. It is normal for old guild leadership to burn out, but it’s not normal for potential new leaders to be scared away from trying. In time, trying to be a new guild leader may be seen as a positive thing in the community, instead of a negative. As old guild leaders burn out, lets hope that new people can now be encouraged to try to take up the mantle of leadership. It’s still a lot of work to be a leader, but without Bizzard tying our hands behind our backs, it’s now a function of the leader’s effort and skills at leading to make new guilds a success. Go forth and make friends.

Resto druid early alpha changes

With some pretty major changes to druids in the latest round of patch notes, I thought it might be helpful to take a look at some of the bigger changes, and analyze why I think things are in an okay place in terms of the beta development.

Enhanced or Changed Abilities

  • Lifebloom is now limited to a single stack, instead of having 3 total stacks. The base healing was increased to compensate. This frees up more time in the fight, and means that if Lifebloom actually blooms, it won’t be so bad.
  • Wild Mushroom no longer has a bloom effect. Instead, it just provides a short Efflorescence ground-targeted HOT and then goes away after the 30 second duration ends. This will now have a 30 sec cooldown (e.g., you want to plant it when people are unlikely to move for 30 sec), though it doesn’t currently have this cooldown on beta.
  • Wild Growth also still has a cast time on the current alpha build, but resto druids still maintain a fair amount of movement ability while healing overall.

Active Mana Regen – or not.

An earlier set of patch notes introduced the concept of active mana regen, where you would hit innervate and then stand around doing nothing (or just casting wrath) until the innervate finished. This “sit around and wait for mana” plan turned out to not be such a great model across all the healing classes. So, they’ve now removed innervate again.

We may not actually need active mana regen if they just make it such that normal spell usage will leave you in a good place in terms of your regen values. Standing around doing nothing for 6 seconds, or having to organize regen rotations for our raid, was also not entirely appealing.

Other Removed Abilities

  • Barkskin was removed, but now you have access to two charges of Survival Instincts, which is actually more potent. Survival Instincts is still shifting me into bear form when I use it in alpha, though this may not be intended. We also still have Ironbark.
  • Some hybrid bear/cat abilities were removed from resto druids, including: Faerie Fire, lacerate, maim, (mangle is now bear only – with shred no longer having a positional requirement for cat), maul, might of ursoc, rake, etc.
  • Removed crowd control: Hibernate, nature’s grasp,
  • This is in addition to the already planned removals of nourish and symbiosis

What are the remaining hybrid abilities?

  • In bear, you have: taunt, mangle, frenzied regen, stampeding roar, primal fury passive.
  • In cat, you have: Prowl, Shred (now the primary cat damage ability, though you can’t apply a bleed to increase its damage), ferocious bite (your only finisher now), primal fury passive, and dash.
  • Your primary caster damage is: wrath, moonfire, and hurricane.
  • The level 90 talents can still provide hybrid utility.
  • Travel form has merged the ground travel, water travel, and flight form all into one single button that is supposed to morph when you change environments (this is currently buggy, and likely to undergo change depending on whether or not the bugs can get worked out).

What is the primary healing toolset?

  • Single target direct: Healing Touch (long cast time), Regrowth (high mana cost), Swiftmend (instant-cast, but has a cooldown and requires a HOT on the target), nature’s swiftness.
  • Single target HOTS: Lifebloom (1 stack, still limited to 1 target), Rejuvenation (mana cost similar to healing touch)
  • AOE HOTs: Wild Growth (1.5 sec cast time, 8 sec cooldown, short duration), Wild Mushroom (instant-cast, 30 sec cooldown and 30 sec duration, ground-targeted), Tranquility (channeled for 7 sec, 3 min cooldown), Genesis (high mana cost, emergency heal, consumes all your rejuvs and applies that HOT healing faster).
  • Passive effects: Living seed, omen of clarity
  • Other: level 15 talents, level 60 talents, level 90 talents, and level 100 talents all provide new healing spells or augments.

What is the primary utility?

  • Crowd control: roots, cyclone, choice of level 45 talents, and choice of level 75 talents.
  • Movement: Dash, travel form, level 15 talents, stampeding roar
  • Survivability: Ironbark (yourself or others) and survival instincts (yourself only)
  • Other spells: rebirth, revive, nature’s cure, Mark of the Wild, Teleport: Moonglade, and Track Humanoids can be toggled on and off in the tracking map selection.

There may also still be other abilities I haven’t covered besides those above. Overall, considering that the toolsets of all classes are shrinking in the next expansion, with few exceptions, the remaining spells should be ones you use relatively frequently. Additionally, they preserved enough of the bear and cat utility that you have buttons you can use to do cat or bear things if you really strongly have a desire to play hybrid at some point. Resto druids still seem to have a great healing toolset (though I’m not a big fan of genesis), and for early alpha – resto druids really feel like they are starting at a good design position.

Moonkin early alpha changes

What expansion would be complete without a complete re-design of Eclipse and moonkin’s toolset? With the start of Alpha for Warlords of Draenor, one of the biggest changes to druids has to be the brand-new Eclipse and Starsurge mechanics. While we don’t have a finalized set of changes in Alpha, we have enough of the bones of the rotation to have a good idea of how things feel overall.

A quick summary of major moonkin changes:

  • We have a new Eclipse. This is now a 40 second cycle, that cycles on a timer (no longer influenced by spell casts). This new cycle now is smoothed out, such that we no longer have rotating cycles of 0% benefit or 100% benefit from our mastery stat. Instead, at the zero point, we now gain partial benefit from mastery, that increases gradually to 100% as we go from 0 to 100 on a cycle.
  • Moonfire now changes to sunfire at the zero mid-point, but has a significantly increased duration, such that both DOTs can be up the majority of the time. Since our DOTs still snapshot Eclipse, you technically want to cast your DOTs at the 100% Eclipse point to benefit the most from your mastery.
  • We now want to use our cooldowns at the start of our rotation, especially celestial alignment, that allows us to start our DOTs together at the beginning of our rotation, to maximize DOT up-time.
  • Starsurge has been redesigned. It is no longer an instant cast in your rotation. Instead, the goal is to hard-cast starsurge, and starsurge now buffs either the next 2 starfires or the next 3 wraths (depending on when you cast starsurge in the Eclipse cycle phase). You get up to 3 starsurge charges, and shooting stars now gives you additional charges instead of making it instant-cast.
  • You cast wrath from the zero point when solar “procs”, and then cast starfire from the zero point when lunar procs (e.g., the mid-point).
  • When you end combat, Eclipse continues until you hit the zero mid-point, with Eclipse always going towards Lunar before Solar.
  • Starfall and Hurricane our are primary AOEs, and starfall was changed to reflect this (and you can’t use starfall in your single-target rotation as it shares charges with starsurge now). Starfall does arcane damage and hurricane does solar damage (with no more lunar damage equivalent of hurricane). Shrooms are no longer part of the AOE damage rotation, and are instead primarily used as a slow for pvp.
  • See the post by Cyous for more about how the Eclipse implementation will work.

Remaining problems:

  • Right now, we only have a 30 second (instead of 40 second) cycle for Eclipse in alpha, meaning that most of the changes are difficult to evaluate, given that the entire rotation is squished into less time (and we can see the fact that the hectic feeling rotation doesn’t allow for effective starsurge use in the 30 sec cycle). Additionally, sunfire is  is only lasting about 15 seconds, instead of the 30 seconds that moonfire lasts for me, which ends up feeling really confusing in the rotation (the astral showers passive is unintuitive at best).
  • Moonkin has a movement DPS problem. Given that the instant damage of moonfire and sunfire comprise our only source of movement DPS, you now have to decide whether the initial damage is worth using it while moving, or if losing the mastery from your DOT is such a big penalty that we now have zero spells we can cast while moving. Right now, the direct damage portion from moonfire and sunfire may actually be a bigger bonus than allowing for high mastery bonuses for the DOT. Thus, moonfire and sunfire have a confusing (and conflicting) role in our rotation. While movement was supposed to have been reduced, random un-named quest mobs are still requiring me to move every 10 seconds or so and are already interrupting my rotation, leading me to believe that resorting to moonfire/sunfire spam may actually be an effective raid DPS strategy (especially given that the frequent and nearly constant interrupts on some quest mobs outside of instances have prompted some people to abandon their super slow cast-time rotation entirely).
  • We will still be tempted to use DOT-cleave as an AOE strategy if we are forced to frequently move, as channeling Hurricane has always been a risky endeavor. Our AOE will also interact awkwardly with Eclipse, given that Hurricane no longer morphs to the arcane version, and starfall is now on a shared charge system with starsurge.
  • We currently don’t have functional glyphs, as all our old glyps were designed to interact with the old Eclipse strategy.
  • Our User Interface was primarily designed for the old style of Eclipse. Thus, there are not good indicators to let us know when to re-cast our DOTs (e.g., when the 100% Eclipse marker is, now that the sound and graphic procs at 0%), or when to cast starsurge, as described in the next point:
  • We get two different Empowerment buffs from Starsurge: One we get that buffs starfire only in Lunar Eclipse, and one we get that buffs sunfire only in solar Eclipse. If you cast starsurge too close to the zero mid-point, you will lose the benefit of these procs when you swap to the opposite damage type. Also, if you cast two starsurges in a row, the same empowerment buff doesn’t stack from multiple starsurge casts. So, you want to cast 1 starsurge followed by your starfires/wraths, before you cast a second starsurge. Since shooting stars randomly gives you additional procs (and you can have up to 3 starsurge charges at any time), mastering how starsurge fits into your rotation will require addons for tracking. We don’t have a good indicator to let us know how Starsurge is interacting with our rotation (e.g., to utilize starsurge you have to watch 4 different UI places: Your Eclipse bar to see whether or not you should cast starsurge (e.g., is Eclipse going to pass the zero point soon, negating your Empowerment buffs?), the buffs on the top right of your screen to see if you have empowerment charges remaining, the actual charges remaining on starsurge itsself, and the graphic that comes up for shooting star procs to let you know you got an extra charge. Thus, while the original starsurge was something we just hit when it came off cooldown, casting all three of your charges in a row is detrimental to your DPS and starsurge now becomes a serious “noob trap”.
  • Having starsurge serve as essentially a resource means that we should have a default UI element under the Eclipse bar that tracks Starsurge/starfall charges, to allow us to more clearly manage Starsurge as a resource, similar to the way that we manage Eclipse. Having those charges identified as a resource means that new players are likely to figure out sooner that starsurge shouldn’t just be cast down to zero, and minimizes the number of places we have to look on our screen to track the interaction between starsurge and our eclipse rotation. Additionally (or alternatively), the lunar/solar empowerment buffs should be better identified in the default UI in some way.
  • They are playing with the idea of instant-cast starsurge, which would definitely help both movement (e.g., PVP), and helping starsurge feel like it fits in the rotation better.

Conclusions:

Overall, I like the idea of the new Eclipse mechanic (the “ramp slowly up & down” version is close to something the community pitched earlier in the Eclipse development, when the periods of high and low damage became an obvious problem). It makes us less dependent on our gear for the Eclipse rotation, which was a contributing factor to my decision to stop playing moonkin in Mists of Pandaria.

I’m still not a huge fan of the starsurge changes at this point, as I feel it makes moonkin more difficult for new players to learn than the original Eclipse design (counter to the stated design goals). To experienced players, however, it still may not provide enough depth for mastery (e.g., I still feel quite strongly that moonkin are still difficult to learn, easy to master). However, this may be largely solved by the 40 sec Eclipse rotation coming “soon” (as opposed to the 30 sec version implemented in alpha now), and potentially with UI changes that make tracking starsurge more intuitive (e.g., playing with the default UI for moonkin feels like it works against your success). If my biggest complaints, however, are about an interface problem (which could be solved with addon support), then we’re starting off in an okay place.