Archive for the ‘News’ Category

The road to Mists of Pandaria – What is worth fighting for

I’ve been tinkering with the idea of restarting The Lazy Tree for a while now, more so with the launch of MoP fast approaching. I had the name and subject of my next post (posts?) clear in my mind. However, I was not happy with the direction I had taken TLT in and I felt like I had nothing worthwhile to say anymore – which is a bit silly, I know, as a blog is often filled with random thoughts and venting rants.

 
What happened then?

 
First, I have received an email from an old friend in a server far far away. She is going to run a WoW charity marathon in a couple of months; I will talk about the event at length in a future post, however I just wanted to mention how happy I am to see more events like this taking place (think of the DS race Athene organized a few months ago, without the fanboys). Not only it’s a great way to raise money for a good cause, it’s also something that really helps building a better sense of community in World of Warcraft. The Lazy Tree might not be the most followed website in the WoW blogosphere but I’ll be happy to help in any way I can. More to follow soon(tm).

 
Second, Blizzard released the Mists of Pandaria cinematic trailer today. Somehow that feels like the real start of the path leading to MoP, even more than knowing its release date, the sign that things are getting serious. Anyhow, I am very impressed with the trailer.

 
The obvious comment is that the animation is gorgeous. If a WoW movie is ever coming out, I hope it’s CGI instead of actual actors and scenery – as long as it’s produced by Blizzard Studios (that doesn’t sound bad). Not only it’s amazing to watch, but they also managed to have the two characters in the opening scenes tell a story only through their expressions and movements, as there is no dialogue in the trailer – only a narrating voice at the beginning and the end.

Two soldiers – one an Orc, the other a Human – are stranded on the shores of an unknown continent after a bloody naval war. After a moment of confusion, the Horde grunt quickly recollects himself and starts exploring the area, aware that there might be survivors from both sides around him. The Alliance man does the same and makes sure to be prepared to fight – they are both veterans after all, as the scars on their bodies tell us, and act as such. Only one thing concerns them: having to fight on unfamiliar ground.

The above is inferred in just half a minute. No explanation is needed as you easily understand their motives through their expressions and movements.

The two warriors eventually meet and start a grueling fight, only to be interrupted by none other than Chen Stormstout. Not having a clue of whom or what they are facing, they both turn their attention to the furry creature and do the only thing they can think of at the moment, i.e. they seek to swiftly terminate his life.

Of course Chen is having none of that murder nonsense and easily schools them with a non-lethal weapon, his bamboo stick, despite their combined efforts. We even get a bit of light-hearted humour as the Alliance soldier is forced to lend the Orc his sharpened stick after they get their collective arse handed to them a first time (I will admit I had a good chuckle there). As the two soldiers lay powerless on the ground, the mist unravels and they are treated to the beautiful scenery of Pandaria, while the narrating voice (Chen?) reminds us that the Pandaren know what is worth fighting for – protecting their kind and their homeland.

What’s up with the Panda face on Chen’s barrel?

That means, they certainly won’t let the Horde or the Alliance come and raze&pillage their peaceful continent… also, there are certain spirits on Pandaria which would draw strength from a new conflict, but that wasn’t mentioned in the trailer…

Right, so there is some fine CGI and great storytelling, sounds amazing right? Well, I do think that Blizzard did a great a job with this trailer, and those are not the main reasons.

We have been told before that 5.0 will be focused around the Pandaren and the Alliance-Horde conflict. We are treated to plenty of Alliance vs. Horde in the trailer. Even though they momentarily team up against the unknown menace, the early part of the trailer is all about Horde and Alliance focusing on killing each other – the thought of being stranded on alien ground, maybe forever, doesn’t seem to shake the two soldiers. That part was well done and we haven’t seen some actual WARcraft action in WoW trailers since the Classic cinematic (I refuse to call it Vanilla), although I will admit that it would have been hard for Blizzard to screw up that segment.

Now there is something else that needed to be done in the trailer and wasn’t as easy. That’s establishing the Pandaren as the central figure of the expansion. Yes, of course they are the new playable race, they have a whole new continent named after them, they look cute et cetera et cetera… Yet, what does the average player know about them? Pretty much nothing. I have read around claims that the concept of a Panda-like race has been around for a while, but as someone who is certainly not very knowledgeable about WoW lore, I have no idea what to expect from the Pandaren. This might be a very uninformed claim but in my opinion, the risk was there; the risk that people might stop at a swift look and perceive Chen’s kind as a shallow attempt to capitalize on the popularity of a certain movie character and asian culture.

 
That’s where I feel Blizzard did a great job. Especially compared to the Alliance and Horde characters, Chen is made to look very strong, both in martial prowess and in intellect. He easily defeats his opponents yet has no desire to see them dead. Why? As explained later, the Pandaren only seek to protect their kind and preserve peace. Chen is made to look wise and very clearly above the grueling dispute of his opponents, allowing himself a glimpse of a chuckle at one point.

Yes, his fight scenes might look a bit campy and corny at times, but like I said it’s just some light-hearted humour that doesn’t seem out of place in Warcraft. It certainly doesn’t take anything away from the fact that Chen was made to look in any possible way like the star in the trailer; that was the right thing to do, and it was a success. In only a couple of minutes Blizzard managed to clearly put across the main points of at least what the Pandaren fight for, what are their motives and why should we like them, giving them some needed depth to the eyes of a casual observer.

TL;DR a very good short movie (yes, I dare to call it that) that sets the pace nicely for the first few months of Pandaria and gives a strong sense of adventure and excitement. Let’s hope that the actual content will live up to the expectations.

EDIT: fixed some spelling mistakes, but the spacing between a few paragraphs is still… weird. I will look into that.

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Chapter VII – Tora! Tora! Tora!

Blizzcon 2011, Anaheim. Blizzard Entertainment shocks fans worldwide by revealing Mists of Pandaria as the next World of Warcraft expansion.

Although it had been revealed that a MoP trademark was registered earlier this year, the thought of an expansion focused on the forgotten continent of Pandaria, and its inhabitants the anthropomorphic pandas Pandaren, was met with a very strong reaction from WoW players.

“Complete surprise is achieved

The introduction of this post would have been so much better had Blizzard based MoP on the Japanese culture and imagery instead of the Chinese one. There seem to be a lot of sakura trees on Pandaria though, that’s for sure.

Anyhow, I like what I have seen so far of the new expansion. The scenery is certainly impressive, and the change in dungeons and raid environment will be most welcome from me. I started raiding in Icecrown Citadel, which of course had a captivating backstory, yet a very bleak look; then I moved on to Cataclysm, where raids and dungeons so far have been mostly huge rocky caves. At the beginning of the expansion I couldn’t even tell BRC, Grim Batol and the Stonecore apart because it was all a massive blur of maroon/purple/dark brown in my mind; as well as Blackwing Descent is designed, it doesn’t even compare to the stunning Throne of the Four Winds, which is a lone gem in a sea of dullness.

I am not sure about the Pandaren yet, but I have enough faith in Blizz left to believe that they’ll make a decent enough job to give them an adequate background. The new Monk class sounds interesting enough and, being the manga geek… I mean connoisseur that I am,  I have already “reserved” a number of variations on the Genma Saotome name for my future Pandaren Monk.

The new features like Scenari and Challenge Mode were met with a blank stare from me (I pretty much stopped reading at “The rewards for delivering top Challenge Mode times will be mostly cosmetic in nature” and skipped to the next section). I am kinda surprised at how the Pet Battle System is a total Pokemon clone, though. I guess the people at Nintendo are cool with that.

The talents overhaul seems like a move into the right direction. I don’t agree 100% with the notion that we were left with cookie-cutter talent builds, but as a druid I like how the new talents are mostly focused on utility; being relatively new to the druid class, I am still learning how/when to use bear/cat abilities while healing and it’s something I definitely enjoy.

Speaking of druids, I was happy to see Blizzard acknowledege the Resto AOE healing issue in one of their Q&A sessions. Apparently we’re getting new tools, such as healing mushrooms, and according to the MoP talent list we will be able to choose Force of Nature as a healing cooldown (I’m guessing it will be something similar to the current Paladin ability Guardian of Ancient Kings). This sounds exciting but it does nothing about the issues we might face in patch 4.3, although they might have something different in store for us.

Finally, the lack of a major villain has been met with very different stances. In my opinion, it is definitely a plus at this point. Back in WotLK there was a lot of doom and gloom but it felt justified; the Lich King threatened to swarm Azeroth with his legions of undead and we were constantly reminded of it. Almost every bit of questing and raiding was aimed towards the final do-or-die confrontation with Arthas. There was a strong sense of urgency throughout all of Northrend.

On paper, the same could be said for Cataclysm, with the Twilight cultists threat and Deathwing burning and destroying left and right. In practice, it fell flat on his head. People are stuck afk’ing in SW/Org except when *Cata’s main villain* is sighted, at which point players will run to get burninated and win the coveted achievement. The Twilight cult feels more like a joke. Having portals take you from Stormwind to pretty much everywhere doesn’t help. It doesn’t matter that we have the whole 1-60 experience reshaped by the destruction Deathwing brought – it just feels wrong.

So far, so good. However, something that happened at Blizzcon left a sour taste in my mouth.

So much fail

A lot has been already said and written about the Corpsegrinder fiasco. I am not here to discuss morality and sexual orientation, and I have actually rewritten this part of my post after some consideration. I am not going to put the blame on George Fisher; while I certainly do not approve of people randomly throwing around homophobic slurs, it was Blizzard’s choice to invite him and show that interview. What really ticks me off is the choice to introduce mr. Corpsegrinder as a WoW fan – someone we should, somehow, actually look up to.

Sadly, in that video he comes off as a total homophobic, unintelligent brute who likes to run his mouth and blabber about how Alliance is made of queers. I can’t understand how anyone in their right mind would cheer for that. Basically, the message coming across is that Blizzard caters to male high-schoolers with an IQ lower than a monkey’s – with all due respect to monkeys and intelligent high-schoolers.

Korenwolf of Paw Prints at the Portal already explained what’s wrong with the whole affair, probably better than I ever could. That was an astonishingly bad, mind-boggling PR move from Blizzard and they are very lucky that the story didn’t make it to national news outlets. I never wish unemployment upon anyone but whoever thought it was a good idea to air that interview – even in censored form, which only makes things worse – should be fired on the spot… except that this brilliant idea probably came from the higher-ups at Blizz.

World of Warcraft has literally millions of subscribers, from the most diverse countries and backgrounds. There are old people, housewives, kids who play WoW. With Mists of Pandaria the general consensus, which is probably spot on, seems to be that Blizzard is looking to a younger audience to expand the player base, or least looking to new kinds of gamers. There is nothing wrong with that. I like WoW and I’m happy that as many different people can enjoy it as well, as long as it doesn’t turn into Hello Kitty Online (which I might enjoy anyway). Yet the message coming from their biggest showcase of the year goes in the completely opposite direction, giving new strenght to years-old stereotypes. If that’s not a dumb move on Blizzard’s part, I really don’t know what that is.

Chapter V – Everybody else is doing it, so why can’t I?

There’s a new buzz in the resto community, and of course it’s the upcoming nerf of both Wild Growth and its associated glyph. While there’s nothing set in stone yet as it’s still only PTR, patch notes coupled with GC’s attitude were enough to make trees worried about the viability of resto healing in 4.3.

“But Rayze, we already know that!”

Alright, alright, I’m fashionably late to the party. Admittedly, I noticed the announcement right away, but I was busy staring at the amazing Tier 13 Priest set. The little warlock in me just loves headpieces that look like a mask, and the designers actually managed to give the set a unique flavour – although there’s a kind of resemblance to the Gemini armour from Saint Seiya(*). I went to share my enthusiasm with my guildies on our forum, and my post was met with replies such as “Why do I have to look like a statue?” “All hail your new pharaoh!” “…sicked up chocolate box crossed with a chess piece…” “Dude, it looks terribad on [insert non-human race here]!” “Thanks Blizz for transmogrification” etc.

[2. Trade] [Rayze]: Resto druid LF guild with some sort of fashion sense, please /w me.

…Very well. Let’s discuss the nerf then.

By itself, it is totally fine. Not only Wild Growth is ranked #1 by far for healing done in most of my logs, it’s also one of those kind of “cast and forget” abilites as it’s an instant smart heal – it will heal the most injured targets in range without the need for me to actually select targets or position myself according to range (see Holy Radiance). As many have said, some sort of nerf was expected for patch 4.3. Why am I even commenting on it then? Well, the explanation from mr. Nerfbat himself seems to suggest that we should be grateful as we apparently will be gifted with the chance to choose between glyphed WG and non-glyphed WG, which I guess implies that we have many major glyphs left to gather dust simply because they were over-shadowed by the almighty WG glyph.

Excusez-moi?

Look. I understand that a major glyph which gives a flat percentage of bonus healing with no drawbacks of sort needs to be revised. But what is mind-boggling here is how GC seems to blissfully ignore the fact that there are no good major glyphs beyond those three we currently see employed – not to mention that Glyph of Healing Touch does nothing if you aren’t specced into Nature’s Swiftness. Glyph of Innervate is almost useless since 4.2, and Glyph of Thorns is “meh” at best.

Aside from this blunder (?), the nerf to WG sparks a question. We know that resto druids don’t have access to shield effects nor have the ability to quickly refill health bars. Our strength lies in mobility and the tremendous, constant healing that our HoTs provide. I have read comments suggesting that at the moment resto druids are the kings of farm content. I’d like to disagree; even when first faced with abilities such as Nefarian’s Electrocute, we managed to find a way to work around the lack of burst healing (pre-hotting people before Electrocute went off to save the GCDs for the aftermath).

However, if WG’s strength is going to be reduced, how are we going to make up for the drop in healing output, if a growth in raid-wide damage with the advent of the Dragon Soul raid is to be expected? I went looking through our arsenal of healing spells. We have four single target non-hot heals, only one of which is instant and doubles as an aoe heal but has a CD; barring WG, one aoe heal on a 3 mins cooldown; and two HoTs, of which only one is spammable and the other can be cast on unlimited targets only under certain circumstances.

The most obvious answer is then Rejuvenation, at least when not in Tree form. When we have to quickly bring the raid back to an acceptable health level, that seems to be the faster, dependable answer. Of course I might be overlooking things, but Ghostcrawler has already said that “this (the WG nerf) may or may not be sufficient to nerf Resto druid throughput overall”, so don’t expect any of our other healing spells to receive a buff anytime soon. I know that we were far from being able to spam Rejuve at will only a few months ago, but with the increase in Intellect and Spirit on gear and the tier 13 2-pieces bonus, we are getting closer and closer to a situation where mana is not a relevant issue anymore unless you’re casting nothing but Regrowth.

This is where both Blizzard and many comments I’ve seen around the web seem to miss the mark. If Rejuvenation spam will be resto’s answer, what will the nerf actually accomplish? The actual problem is not only that WG is currently too strong, but also that it’s too easy to use it effectively because its use requires very little thought. I don’t like how Crabby plainly states the problem (“Resto AOE healing is too strong”) yet makes no effort to look at the root of the issue besides “WG is broken”. Resto healing numbers are very high now not only because we have at our disposal impressive abilities like Tree form and Tranquillity, but also because we can use our strongest non-CD tools (WG and RJ) more liberally compared to when resto druids were struggling and Wild Growth received a buff (i.e. pre-4.1).

I am not complaining that resto healing is too easy, far from it; however, why not give us major glyphs which enhance our lackluster single target heals? How often have you cast Nourish and Healing Touch in raids lately, especially as raid healers? If GC is really that worried about the glyph of WG, why not introduce a glyph which makes Nourish work like Binding Heal, for instance, at the cost of more mana; or a glyph which gives Regrowth back a useful heal-over-time effect. If Blizzard really see resto’s healing output as too strong, please feel free to nerf WG even more, but at least give us the tools to make up for it with the individual players’ skill. I know that we’re close to the end of Cata and it’s a bad time to make major changes to how a class works (oh wait, Holy Paladins say hi); however, a plain nerf to Wild Growth actually accomplishes close to nothing, and with the ignorant comment about glyphs, feels like a slap to our collective face.

(*) No, I am not suggesting that they look alike. Or maybe I am. That’s just the first thing that sprung to my mind after seeing it.

Chapter IV – Wake up and smell the coffee

It was a quiet sunday morning and I was running through my usual WoW routine – checking the AH, making sure add-ons are updated and reading my favourite blogs/news sites – instead of doing actual stuff when I ran into this, the list of Tier 13 set bonuses.

Usually I am a bit skeptical towards these early announcements, especially when there’s nothing on the PTR yet. However, I fancied doing some commentary while the news is still hot for a change, so… here we go.

TIER 13 SET BONUSES PREVIEW – DRUID

Restoration, 2PAfter using Innervate, the mana cost of your healing spells is reduced by 25% for 15 sec.

Thumbs mildly up. I like the Cata model of having a mana regen ability as the two-pieces bonus for healers. You can get it reasonably early and it’s always useful, both at the beginning of the gearing process and later when you start reforging spirit away. The fact that it’s a set bonus means that it doesn’t take up precious itemization stats.

It’s interesting to notice that the two-pieces bonus for both Resto Druids and Shamans procs from a mana-regen ability (Innervate for druids and Mana Tide Totem for Shamans), while it procs from healing output cooldowns for both Priests and Holy Paladins (Power Infusion/Lightwell and Divine Favor respectively) instead. On the one hand, I like having it tied to Innervate as often the healing-intense part of a fight is not at the beginning; thus you can wait to Innervate before a heavy raid damage phase, when you have consumed some of your mana bar and will make good use of the mana discount.

On the other hand, Innervate is the only resto spell with a cooldown comparable to those abilites from other classes (only Power Infusion has a 2 mins CD, rest is 3 mins), which was a very simple reason for the developers to pick Innervate, I guess. Wait, Tranquillity has a 3 mins CD as well, but it wouldn’t make much sense to tie something like “After using x the cost of your spells is reduced by 25% for 15 sec.” to a channeled spell.

Restoration, 4PYour Rejuvenation and Regrowth spells have a 10% chance to Timeslip and have double the normal duration.

I am not sure what to do of this one. I will assume the exact meaning is that when you cast Rejuve or Regrowth you have a 10% chance that the HoT will last twice as normal. The one from Regrowth is pretty much irrelevant. If you get a proc when casting Rejuvenation, that means you will have a 24 seconds HoT which of course heals for twice as normal. A 24-seconds Rejuve on the tank doesn’t sound exciting but it’s not bad either – you will save one second of casting time and the mana needed to recast it, as you usually want to keep Rejuve rolling on the tank.

A 24-seconds Rejuve on a raid member does sound bad though. Even with the Cataclysm healing model, in fights where there is a substantial amount of raid damage you can’t afford to spend 24 seconds to top a player’s health out – you will have to supplement it anyway with Wild Growth, Efflorescence or something else. As much as a stronger Rejuvenation might sound good, it’s not very useful if it procs on raid healing – it won’t make the difference and will result in heavy overhealing. I’d rather have a chance to see Rejuvenation heal for twice the amount in the same time span, although that might be a tad too strong.

So… I guess that for the time being, this deserves a thumbs down. It would be nice to know how the 4-pieces bonus exactly works with Gift ot the Earthmother, by the way.

– – –

While I was at it, I took the time to look at the Warlock set bonuses. I still keep an eye on all things warlocky even after changing my raiding toon, and secretly hope for Mage nerfs which will not come.

BONUS TIER 13 SET BONUSES PREVIEW – WARLOCK

2P — The duration of your Doomguard and Infernal summons is increased by [15|45] sec and the cooldown of of those spells is reduced by 4 min.  (45 for Demonology, 15 for non-Demonology.)

Not a fan of the different duration/cooldown for Demonology. I love that spec dearly, but does it need a buff compared to Affliction and Fire, I mean Destruction? Four minutes less of CD means you’ll be able to use it twice in most fights. At least it makes sense with Demo being all about, well, summoned demons.

Anyway, unless there’s an incoming nerf for Demonology, I don’t really understand the reasoning behind this one. I do like the fact that you get a plain dps buff with two pieces, although I am not sure how much of a dps increase this will actually be, especially if you’re not demo. Btw, this just made me notice there’s a typo in Zharym’s post. >_>;

4P — Soulburn grants a 10% increase to your spell power for 10 sec.

At a first glance, I was all thumbs up for this. Soulburn clearly has not had the impact Blizzard expected it to have and is trying to make it more meaningful. Then I realized there are multiple issues with Soulburn-related procs.  Although the cooldown is fairly short at only 45 seconds, Soulburn is a dps cooldown with a finite number of ‘charges’ per fight. Demonology managed to find a use for Soulburn-powered instant-cast summons as doing so provides a notable dps boost under certain circumstances, while Affliction is still stuck with empowered Seed of Corruption.

That means Affliction players will have to start using an ability (soulburn) which is pretty much useless at this moment unless on an adds-heavy fight, while Demonology warlocks will have to gauge the impact of pet-swapping vs. 10% more spellpower for a limited time. To add insult to injury, Soulburn is the only way for the former to get their pet back up quickly in case it dies, while the latter can already do that at no cost thanks to Demonic Rebirth (feel free to notice how little I know about Destro *sigh*).

If Soulburn had no charges but maybe a longer cooldown, this set bonus would make more sense, although it still wouldn’t be balanced for all specs. Overall, while I like the reasoning behind the design (making Soulburn feel like it’s actually one of the signature Warlock abilities), I feel that this Soulburn ‘buff’ is actually a few months late, and not very well thought-out.