Long Distance Travel: Better with flying mounts

With the slow times waiting for beta to get started, one of the hot topics that keeps popping back up is about the convenience of travel with flying mounts. The forum community for WOW seems to be relatively split between people who think it would be a good idea to not let people fly at the level 100 cap in Draenor, and people who think that we absolutely need flying mounts at level 100.

I’m personally in the camp where I think we need flying mounts at level-cap because taking twice as long to get anywhere we need to go is unacceptable to me. To prove the point about why we really need to be able to fly at max level in Draenor, I’m now going to present two scenarios in Outlands with and without flying mounts.

First, here is the size and scope of Draenor compared to Outlands. If anything, the full size of Draenor is slightly larger than that of Outlands. The layout and size overall, however, is quite similar.

Outlands_Draenor_Scale

 So, how long does it take to travel in Outlands with and without a flying mount? For the first test, I went from the summoning stone by the Black Temple and attempted to travel to the summoning stone for the instances in Netherstorm. Due to how flight paths are laid out, these are close to the longest distances you can travel. This is made even more difficult by the fact my mage didn’t have high enough reputation to get the closest flight path to Black Temple (since those require either Aldor or Skryers reputation grinds).

Running on the ground & use of flight paths: Thus, from the summoning stone by Black Temple to my closest unlocked flight path takes a 2 minute walk via ground mount (it would have been a 1 minute run to the closer flight path that I didn’t have access to). The flight from Shadowmoon Valley to Netherstorm takes between 6 and 7 minutes, depending on which flight paths you take. My current route took 6 min & 23 sec to fly. This is partly due to the fact that it doesn’t take a direct flight path between the two points, but instead takes a circular path around the longest way possible. These gryphons appear to be afraid of the open spaces between the zones:

Netherstorm_Run

The complete journey took 8 minutes and 46 seconds to get from Black Temple’s summoning stone to the summoning stone in the Vortex Fields of Netherstorm, using only a ground mount and flight paths.

Netherstorm_Run2

Direct flight with a flying mount: Flying back from this summoning stone in Netherstorm to the Black Temple summoning Stone using a direct path on my flying mount, however, was much quicker. By the 2 minute mark, I’d made it from Netherstorm to almost the other side of Hellfire Peninsula.

Netherstorm_Flying1

By flying directly on my flying mount, I cut a 9 minute trip into a 4 minute trip:

Netherstorm_Flying2

Another example without flying mounts (Shatt -> Coilfang Reservoir in the neighboring zone):

Using a shorter bechmark of travel in Pandaria, I went from A’Dal in the middle of Shatt to the entrance to the Coilfang Reservoir pipe. Using flight paths and ground mounts to travel took just over 4 minutes (including landing in Teldrador and having to take the elevator, and swimming in the lake).

Coilfang_Run

When using my flying mount directly between the same two landmarks, the return trip instead took 1 min and 44 sec. So, in general, travel in Outlands without a flying mount takes twice as long as flying somewhere directly yourself.

Coilfang2

Same problems in Pandaria: If you think that this problem is unique to Outlands, I’d like to point out that the flight paths in Mists of Pandaria often have the same problems of taking long and indirect paths across the world. For example, it can be really awkward to use flight paths to get to the timeless isle. From the Shrine to the timeless isle takes about 3:40 seconds (so the path below is slightly longer than that). I haven’t had time to finish my bench marking, but direct flight should be about a minute faster for this path in Pandaria, though getting dismounted over the water on your flying mount is a little bit annoying:

Timelost_flightpath

In conclusion, unless somehow this flight system that Blizzard uses is significantly upgraded, including more direct paths from place to place, we’re going to run the risk of doubling our travel times at level 100 trying to get around the world to different zones. We’ll spend less time playing with our friends, less time actually paying attention while traveling, and instead spending more time going afk on long flights. Unless the flight path system is actually fixed, we are really going to need the ability to  fly places directly ourselves with our flying mounts at max level so we can spend more time playing with our friends.

There are other problems with not having flying mounts available to us. Those other problems include the travel time in terms of resource farming (e.g., herbs, ore) out in the open world vs from the comfort of our own garrisons (that would discourage us from stepping out our front door).

While people call longer travel time “immersive”, I really don’t see how immersed in a game you are when you are spending 3 to 10 minutes on twitter/forums/facebook or otherwise AFK while the flight path takes you between two points. If they want us to actually spend time immersed in the game, flight paths need to get us where we need to go quickly so we can deal with not having access to flying mounts in Draenor. If they really want us immersed in the game, they can fix flight path technology to allow us to spend more time playing and less time “/afk flight path”. If we had to do combat in the air while taking the flight path, that might be more immersive. Until then, though, slow flight paths aren’t going to increase the enjoyment of the game.

This old flight path technology is really a long-standing problem for Blizzard. Even with the faster flight paths now than when Vanilla WOW launched (with a 20 minute trip from Darkshore/Moonglade to anything on the south size of Kalmdor in Vanilla) it still takes 10 to 13 minutes to fly on the flight paths to fly from Darnassus to the southern tip of Kalimdor. I just don’t have that much time in my 1 to 3 hours of play time every day just for getting to where I want to go now that I’m almost 10 years older than I was in Vanilla WOW and have more life responsibilities. Some days, I just want to be able to get where I need to go.

Level 90 boost: Resto druid reminders

Pre-orders for Warlords of Draenor WOW started today! With all the new people using their free level 90 boost, I thought now would be a good time to remind people that my level 90 resto druid beginner healing guide is available for any new druids who pop up from the level boosts.

Welcome to level 90 new restoration druids! Don’t know where to start?

Now that you are all caught up, you can start testing out your healing in the proving grounds before you take your new healer out for a spin in some dungeons or raids!

I hope you enjoy your new class! The cinematic Blizzard made with the gnome being boosted up to 90 was really awesome, so if you haven’t seen it, you should take a look! See you in Azeroth!

I used my free level 90 to pick up a warlock. Also, the collector’s edition / digital delux mount is a grown-up Anzu that can now fly (called a Dread Raven), along with a mini Dread Hatchling pet. This mount and pet is a great fit for any druid. Here’s my new warlock taking the mount for a spin!

Warlock_Mounted

Druid healing is changing in WOD

The greatest fear of a video game player, especially in World of Warcraft is the concept of being “nerfed.” Thus, all changes in World of Warcraft are usually categorized as a “buff” (positive change), or a “nerf” (negative change). However, with WOD, we seem to be moving to a new system entirely where the rating scale of buff & nerf needs a new dimension for which to evaluate change (e.g., something more lateral rather than up or down). For the purpose of this post, I’m going to talk about PVE gameplay, since I haven’t done much PVP the last few expansions.

I’ll start my review of the healing Dev Watercooler with something I tweeted in response to the buff vs nerf question in response to concerns about heals being less effective in WOD if they heal for less health: “At some point, it’s like asking if a lime is a nerfed lemon just because its smaller.” It’s helpful to think of the healing changes in a more neutral metaphor. In Mists of Pandaria, our heals are all like lemons, and we make lemonade in raids as we keep everyone’s health full. In Warlords of Draenor, we now have limes. These share many of the same properties as the heals we had in the past, but the entire system changed to the point where you are now making limeade, an equally effective but different tasting drink. Just because limes are smaller than lemons and are a different color, it doesn’t mean that the new limes are nerfed lemons. Got it? Okay, with that in mind, lets review WOD’s healing changes:

The current healing paradigm:

While somewhat of an over-simplification, this is roughly the problem in MOP that the developers want to fix:

  • As health pools got bigger, healing size needed to scale up in a similar dynamic manner to keep up with the large health pools. We also needed more healing tools to deal with increasing demands in raid encounters. As heals got bigger, health pools got bigger, tool sets got bigger, encounters got more difficult, the damage needed to make healers “work for it” had to become really spiky after 10 years of snowballing class changes, PVE changes, and PVP changes that all accumulated over 10 years.
  • In some cases, people are dropped down to 10% of their health and have to be healed up in a short period of time. With being able to be dropped from 100% to 10% of your health in 1 second (and 10 seconds to get 10 to 25 people healed up to full), you have to keep people above 90% of their health or they’re likely to die from the big hits. While it used to just be the tanks being threatened, it’s now all 10 to 25 people in your raid all getting hit at the same time, and you have the AOE tools to bring all 10 to 25 people up from the brink of death with all the smart AOE heals.
  • This makes healing really “twitchy” in terms of reaction speeds, so people rely more on AOE heals, proactive healing, and ground-targeted spells to reduce the decision-making process to keep up with reaction speeds. You use a small toolset of multi-target heals where in most cases, it almost doesn’t even matter who you are targeting, as long as you are targeting someone (or the ground as it may be). You are measuring the speed of people’s healing more than the decision making processes of the healer. You just need to know which heals to mash as fast as possible, with some variations based on situation.
  • With the heavy amounts of movement and raid damage, everyone wants instant-cast AOE heals in raids that come with limited decision making, can be cast while moving, and challenging healers becomes encounters like the early stages of learning heroic Thok where the fight requires a ton of gimmick mechanics and burst damage to pose any real challenge to the healers at all. On any “farm” content, my healers often complain about being bored because as soon as people’s health pools increase to the point where they’re only being dropped to 40% of their health instead of 10% of their health, the game provides no healing challenge.

Healing System Changes in WOD:

  • Fewer instant-cast spells: Many of the AOE healing spells are being turned from instant-cast spells to spells with cast times. This should be accompanied by fewer silences, less crowd control, and potentially lower overall movement.
  • Fewer spells overall: With WOD removing approximately 20% of the class abilities across classes, some spells are being removed from healers (though we don’t have access to a complete spell list of spells!).
  • Lowering healing output (& damage done) relative to the size of a player’s health pool has several huge implications: When heals could trivially increase your health from 10% to 100% in a few seconds (e.g., if 3 seconds of healing theoretically totals 90% of your health), damage had to hit you for 90% of your health to be meaningful. When spending 3 seconds will only heal 30% (instead of 90%), then damage only has to hit you for 30% of your health instead. So, in WOD, people are likely not going to spend all of their time at 100% health, which is okay because there won’t be threatening abilities that drop you from 100% to 10% and require you to be healed back up to full in 3 seconds. There may be more time when someone sits at 80% health and isn’t actually in danger of death.
  • Lower randomness from crits: Critical strikes with healing and damage will be 150% in PVP and 200% in PVE, such that burst PVP damage & burst PVP healing are both going to be lower overall. It’s hard to tell how this will impact the relative value of crit for healers.
  • Thus, when people ask if the healing output change is a nerf, that’s really an impossible question to answer. It really isn’t a nerf to the ability for healers to keep people alive because the system in which those heals are going to be used have changed, too. You used to have lemons, and now you have limes, but that doesn’t mean they nerfed lemons. They just changed the whole system and how spells & encounters interact. Instead of being required to make lemonade, you are now required to make limeade, and you will still feel like you have the tools to do your job.
  • This is more like Vanilla or Burning Crusade style of healing in terms of the relative size of heals we used vs health pool size, rather than the insane frenzy of Cataclysm & MOP healing.  Most people weren’t going to instantly die if someone didn’t heal them in the next 1 second. However, druids won’t just be relegated to “lifebloom bots” or “Healing Touch Bots”, but will have the benefit of an interesting toolset allowing for using more than one spell.

Specific changes for druids:

Now that you have the whole context, here are some of the specific things we know based on specifics they gave us:

  • Wild Growth now has a cast time, similar to changes made to other classes. Rejuv and other single-target HOTs weren’t on the list of instant-cast spells getting a cast time. Instead, this list appeared to target AOE heals.
  • Efflorescence is now permanently tied to Shrooms (no more glyph) – confirmed via twitter.
  • Spells like Healing Touch, Rejuv, & Efflorescence (tied to Shrooms) are all now “high efficiency” spells.
  • Spells like Regrowth and Wild Growth are “high throughput, lower efficiency” spells.
  • Nourish is being removed. We don’t know what other specific spells might be removed.
  • Your healing style will probably feel similar to today, though you may need more of your single-target heals in raid situations – if the frenzy of spamming everyone and keeping everyone topped off starts to die down a little bit over time.

I hope this helps with interpreting the changes coming to healing in WOD!

Diablo 3 loot changes: Now more rewarding

One of the most important things for the longevity of a game is the reward system. If your game isn’t rewarding enough, then people are going to tire quickly and find another game to play. This seemed to be the curse for Diablo 3’s initial release.

The problems with Loot 1.0

The completely random loot system made it such that you were unlikely to actually have good gear drop that was appropriate for your character. Instead, players often saved up gold until they could buy appropriate good gear on the auction house. In addition, everything dropped tons of low quality loot that people either realized was worthless and left on the ground, or would fill up players’ bags so quickly that gameplay was constantly interrupted with returns back to town to sell the nearly worthless items. This made the primary reward system of Diablo 3 stop feeling rewarding after a while.

The loot item level was also tied to the specific content. So, the easiest mode gave you gear that was lower level than the harder modes. This meant that many more casual players were often doing content where the gear wasn’t level-appropriate. My Wizard was often getting gear that was 10 levels below the level I actually was. This meant that nothing could actually drop that I could equip, but I would often die too much in the difficulty setting that was appropriate for my character. Since most of my gear was purchased from the auction house, anyway, there wasn’t any real reason for me to keep playing the game after a while, so I never hit max level on any characters in the game.

When I talked about World of Warcraft’s loot system a while back, I talked about how if the primary source of reward didn’t come from random drops, that WOW would get boring quickly. This is essentially what happened with Diablo 3. When you got too much bad loot from random drops, and your primary source of “good” loot came from buying things with gold, there wasn’t the excitement over wondering where your next upgrade would come from. You knew your next Diablo 3 gear upgrade would come when you earned enough gold to buy it from the auction house and what you wanted came on sale. That made the sense of adventure dissipate quickly – there wasn’t any sense of exploration to find fun rewards (unless that reward came from trying to farm things  you could sell on the auction house to make lots of gold – but with fewer people to buy things as they got bored, this wasn’t sustainable either).

The fixes with Loot 2.0

The latest 2.0 patch for Diablo 3 came with a couple really important changes that make the game a lot more rewarding:

  • Removal of the auction house means that your gear can’t primarily come from buying it with gold or real money. There are still vendors and crafting systems in the game, but your best items aren’t going to be what deals you score in the auction house. This also means you don’t have to waste time hunting for good loot deals on the auction house every time your character levels and you need better gear. This is incredibly important because this change allows for the following other changes to work:
  • Gear is less random & more character-appropriate. It is more likely to drop items that are appropriate for your character. This means that a caster whose primary stat is intellect will primarily get intellect gear, and not strength gear. There are still some random items that could be given to your other characters, but the chances of getting great gear that is appropriate for your character was greatly increased.
  • Gear is always level-appropriate. If you want to run the game on the normal-mode setting, you’ll no longer get gear that is 10 to 40 levels below your character’s current level. Instead, every difficulty level has a chance to drop things that are level-appropriate for your character.  The higher difficulty settings, instead, reward you with things like increased rates of experience gain. This allows people to choose their own difficulty setting in a meaningful way, and allows you to choose your own adventure and still get appropriate rewards.
  • Less “vendor trash” loot means you take fewer trips back to town that interrupts your game-play. Gear that drops always has a chance of being meaningful to you, so you aren’t being flooded with meaningless junk. Less meaningless junk means you won’t be tempted to leave things behind just to free up bag space, you can spend less time visiting your neighborhood vendors, and you can spend more time killing monsters. So, their philosophy of less loot overall, but more meaningful loot when it drops, means the game feels a heck of a lot more rewarding.
  • More legendary items with more appropriate stats. Even low level characters are likely to see legendary items drop (I got one great legendary item within two hours of playing on a level 50 character). While still appropriately rare, legendary item drops provide a much more clear sense of reward and accomplishment, since they are less likely to be disappointing flops. Instead, you are more likely to want to equip them and show them off to your friends.

Speaking of friends, Rewards aren’t just about loot! The game now has a better social system in place. You can now join clans (kind of like being part of a guild in WOW) to be able to chat with your friends as you play. In addition, your friends in the clan can see some of your accomplishments, so that you are going to get more social rewards for things you accomplish in the game. Your friends can know what you are doing and send along congratulations when you get a really awesome legendary item.

So, if you picked up a copy of Diablo 3 and abandoned the game along the way, I think it is definitely time to take a second look. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how much more rewarding the game can feel when they have a more functional reward system. It turns out that you don’t actually need an auction house to buy gear if the gear you want is actually achievable along the way. I hear that the new expansion coming in a few weeks has other great features that is going to dial up the fun factor in other ways in terms of the content available to you. However, it takes a great designed reward system to make the game worth playing. I think they have now gotten closer to what we all wanted Diablo 3 to feel like from the beginning.

(I’ll get to talking more about WOW content once we know more specific changes to druid & mage spells for WOD. Hopefully “soon”).