Elemental, Opinion, Shaman, WoW

Playing elemental on beta; also, quests

I’ve not played beta nearly so much as I’d like, and I do (shock! horreur!) have other interests besides elemental shamans.  Still, over the weekend I spent a few more hours in Vashj’ir, making it about 30% of the way through level 82-83 through a series of very creative and fun quests centring around the naga/Alliance (or Horde if you’re Horde) conflict and, at a guess, perhaps 80% of my total way through the zone.  The main difference from my last serious play session is that all mobs in the new 80+ zones have a lot of health now – about 40k for a level 82, if I recall rightly.  Spells are still doing the same or less damage as they are on live (and remember, no Strength of Wrynn/Hellscream’s Warsong) and you lose haste and crit as you level up, so 40k is a decent chunk of health to get down.

Wall breakers:

  • Excursion: Quest design
  • Back on topic: Elemental questing
  • Talents/spells
  • Shaman lore

The spoiler-level of this post is very low.

Excursion: Quest design

The health thing is, by the way, absolutely a step in the right direction.  Ironically, WoW questing – originally a genre-shattering departure from the incessant, lengthy and punishing grinds required to move up the level tree – has become itself an incessant lengthy grind.  Even fully heirloomed characters have to complete a vast array of quests to reach a new level, distinct from traditional mob-grinding only in that (a) you can’t just kill one area’s mob over and over again and (b) sometimes you have to do stuff other than killing.  In every other respect, questing in WoW has become simply grinding with lore.

I actually find it very tiring, especially with my health condition – while levelling to 80 at the start of Lich King, I could only manage one or two hours a night even though I was on holiday at the time.  This is because levelling felt like a process of constantly and aggressively having new quests forced into your path which you were required to complete in order to continue.  And if you really wanted to have “fun”, you had to read and understand the quest text and lore and personalities – which, given the character limit for quest exposition and increased reliance on scripted events and NPC speeches, was a vast amount of information to be taking in for every minor errand.

I do enjoy WoW questing and WoW lore and the integration of the two.  What I really want to see is quests that are far more significant in requirement and reward.  For example, instead of sending us out to kill 10 boars and then coming back to kill 10 bigger boars and finally assassinating the Boar King as part of a chain slowly leading to eventually finding out that the Forsaken are BREEDING EVIL BOARS!!! – a process which may reward you with 15 semi-related side quests, 2 breadcrumb quests to other areas, 8 random greens, a blue and a quarter of a level’s worth of XP – I’d rather a single quest that required you to find out the reason for the sudden infestation of morally questionable pigs and sort the problem out.  Such a quest would have to be occupy the same sort of time as the alternative but focus more on the player’s ability to cope with, say, genetically enhanced evil boars, long journeys to other areas to question NPCs, or whatever.  The trouble with the sort of journeys and NPC interaction I just described in the present quest game is that it takes too long for the reward.  Some of my favourite quests in vanilla were those that sent me all over the freakin’ world – but nowadays I’d eschew such missions because the time you spend travelling is time “wasted” when you could be doing easier quests for the same meagre rewards.

What I’m saying is, one significant task with a significant reward is preferable to 20 insignificant tasks with insignificant rewards, where “rewards” are defined as XP, items, gold, lore or any of the other traditional quest accoutrements.  Cataclysm’s higher HP mobs, phasing, dynamic quest continuation technology (I dunno what you call it, but the fact that you can complete a quest and take the next one without returning to an arbitrary NPC or item) are in this sense all steps in the right direction so far as I’m concerned.

Back on topic: Elemental questing

So yeah, 40k mobs as an ICC-10 geared elemental shaman.  My beta character is not quite as decked out as my present live toon because she was copied over fairly early in the testing process when I hadn’t got so many upgrades from heroic modes, but she’s still pretty kitted in 251 or above gear – a notch above the premades and certainly better than the vast majority of characters who’ll level through Cataclysm content after the initial rush of hardcore WotLK raiders.

I find it very satisfying to have to devote more time, effort and skill use to killing otherwise mundane quest mobs.  Also, the mobs often have some sort of ability that will annoy you unless you counter it using one of your own class abilities.  One-shotting everything certainly makes you feel powerful, but it also makes the game seem a bit silly and trivial.  So yeah, like the higher HP.

However more effort required to kill stuff really highlights the problem of default UI + elemental design.  Range is a big one: the range indicator on the standard UI is tiny and placed on the bottom left of the screen, well away from the action.  The vast majority of our spells have cooldowns, which are also displayed only on the bottom left of the screen in a tiny spiral of slightly darker icon under slightly brighter icon.  The duration of our DoTs/debuffs is displayed, somewhat counter-intuitively, at the top left of the screen under the target frame, with a vast sea of screen real-estate in between.  Appearing briefly somewhere in the middle of this wash is the combat text alerting us to procs as well as the damage we’re dealing and taking; and way over to the top right is a display of our buffs and debuffs.

Keeping track of our cooldowns while also keeping track of our health, the target’s health, the length of our shock debuffs, whether Lava Surge is proccing or not and our totem situation is a mess, a horrible, painful mess.

Talents/spells

Throwing Lava Surge into this situation is hideous.  I utterly hate the talent.  Partly it’s just a problem of inexperience, having to watch for a proc I’m not used to without any of the traditional UI aids I’d use on live servers, and partly it’s a UI problem.  But I don’t like the design of the talent either, and the fact that in the blizzard-designed UI it’s so problematic to actually use does not do it any favours.  The sad thing is that with 40k health mobs, having your Lava Burst suddenly come off cooldown should be great.  But it’s not, because chances are you’re already trying to use another spell instead, and with all that’s going on you’re unlikely to even notice it’s ready.  And if you’re used to timing your Lava Burst really carefully based on your LB cast times and FS duration, chances are you’ll find Surge procs an irritation rather than a boon.

Most of the procs I get happen so close to when the cooldown would finish anyway that I don’t have time to react, justifying my earlier fears.  The talent in its current format just doesn’t work.

Lava Burst itself is presently not being affected by the cast time reduction of our talent tree bonuses, which means it takes the same time to cast as Lightning Bolt (only without any of the additional coefficient bonuses that come from a longer base cast time).  I don’t know if this is intentional or transitional or what.  I don’t dislike the change as much as I feel I should, partly because I’ve always felt Lava Burst makes more sense as something big and meaty, and partly because as a raider I get a bit fed up with all my spells casting so fast :)  But I can’t say I like it, either.  It just is.  Hopefully it’s either a bug or part of a more serious planned change to Lava Burst.

Unleash Elements is broken for me – no damage and no buff either – so I’ve not been able to get a feel for what it’d be like solo.  It should be great solo, and usable once per mob with the higher health pools.

Spell range is an issue, with Flame Shock/Lightning/Lava having a nice long range, Unleash having a sort of medium range, Frost Shock being short range and Searing Totem only kicking in when the mob’s sitting on top of us.  It’s in this situation that the old totem mechanics really start to look a bit silly.  I like the idea of searing totem as a stick which spits fire at stuff, but we’ve lost ToW so it’s the only really logical choice of totem to drop for our 10% spellpower buff.  But the pathetic damage it does compared to our other spells and the fact that it only starts to attack a mob that’s right on top of us – and is therefore at least half dead anyway – is a bit bemusing.  For bonus points, my typical reaction to a mob reaching melee range is to drop earthbind and move a few steps away.  In this situation, the mob immediately turns around and whacks my Searing Totem dead.  Good job team.

Update: Actually this often happens whenever a mob gets close to my searing totem, whether it’s rooted or not and whether I’m there or not, if the mob has any sort of secondary target preferring ability, if it’s wind sheared, or if it’s done any sort of special attack which affects its position.

It feels wrong as elemental to have mobs get up close and personal in the first place, when pre-75 I’d frost shock them before they got close and post-75 they’d be dead by the time my Lava Burst hit.  At 80-83, Frost Shock is on cooldown too long for it to be useful at snaring mobs before they reach us.  In this situation the loss of Booming Echoes is very palpable.

The weird thing about that, actually, is that it was one of our more interesting talents and seems like a good choice for at least part of an optional utility talent.  Instead our tree and subspec options are presently filled in with passive mana or survival talents (or the impressively irrelevant Improved Shields), which aren’t especially interesting and don’t contribute anything to our playstyle.  I don’t know how far along shaman talent trees are; I hope the answer is “not very” at least compared to, say, mages.  The lack of designer comment in our class discussion thread suggests to me that shamans haven’t yet reached that stage of the design process, and there are plenty of great shamans commenting and discussing the issues (though the focus seems to be on enhancement, with its greater number of problems).  Let’s hope we’ll see the trees get more streamlined, interesting and focused as builds progress.

Shaman lore

One thing which is cool about the new content is how big a part shamans play in the developing story of the Cataclysm.  Shamans did play a role in the story of WotLK, mostly in the Howling Fjord and Borean Tundra quests (for Alliance and Horde respectively); Alliance particularly were reminded in an early encounter with the Lich King that he was once a shaman too.  But after that shamanism really faded from sight, being supplanted by the more prominent paladins and priests of the Crusade and death knights of the Ebon Blade, as well as the Dalaran mages and warrior/hunter archetypes of the various faction leaders present in Icecrown.  The being that was Lich King was once a being that was a shaman, but the WotLK-era Lich King was pretty much entirely evil Arthas and nothing else (this was explained quite clearly in the Christie Golden book, I believe).  The final confrontation with Arthas featured some relatively minor paladin-related coolness but I wasn’t really all that bowled over by the story.

By contrast, shamans and druids are already really significant in Cataclysm and I expect they’ll continue to play a big role right up until the end of the end-game.  As these are two of the game’s more interesting classes in terms of background and practice I think it’ll be good fun to see the lore develop from a player’s perspective.

This is especially apparent to me in Vashj’ir where shaman NPCs are constantly saving the day (if you actually count how many times you or friendly NPCs are directly saved by shaman NPCs as you quest, it’s quite wonderful).  In this environment actually playing an elemental shaman feels great, because you feel even more like a natural part of what’s going on – a hero not because you’ve wandered in bored after killing bad guys in the snow, but because this is your area of expertise.  Like the expert farmer, you’re out standing in your field.  And when your field is the great, mysterious, dangerous watery expanse of Vashj’ir or the pillared and crystalled halls of Deepholme, it feels pretty great to be out standing in it.

Discussion

11 thoughts on “Playing elemental on beta; also, quests

  1. Bad news, is that there was a blue post saying that Shaman are one of the “more done” classes.

    Source: http://blue.mmo-champion.com/t/26262927372/a-few-words-on-talent-tree-design/

    Quote: “I’d say that at this point in time, the trees that are farthest along are mage, rogue, shaman and warrior.”

    Posted by Melissa | August 10, 2010, 9:05 pm
    • Aye, I read that, but I think(?) since then mages and warriors seem to have been really dramatically improved. It’s also hard to know exactly what’s meant by “furthest along”, because even “far along” can be a very long way from “finished”. Shamans were previewed before the change to 31-point trees as one of the “more developed” classes and yet the change we’ve seen since then is remarkable both in terms of how much has changed and in terms of how much hasn’t. If that makes sense!

      If our trees are close to final then I really struggle to see how a choice between having more passive mana or taking less passive damage is interesting or fun, or how there’s any sense to adding a flat 3% crit to the start of our talent tree, if they’re not just placeholders for redesigned talents to be added in those slots later. It doesn’t even begin to correspond to their stated goals for Cataclysm talent trees. The mana thing could be helpful for PvP or offhealing but it’s still a stretch from there to “fun”.

      Admittedly there’s also the AoE from imp. fire nova but that’s a bizarrely un-elemental talent – surely we’d be using earthquake most of the time making it irrelevant? – and again, it’s at heart a straight DPS boost rather than the promised utility.

      Other than that, I’m wondering about Unleash Elements, Lava Surge, Lava Burst and totem placement. We still don’t know if Unleash is going to be useful in a rotation or even supported by our spec, or if Lava Burst is meant to be a 2-sec cast, or if Searing Totem is going to get a range boost, or if the present Lava Surge is really the best they can come up with for making an interesting rotation. All of these things are big glaring holes in the elemental game which to me suggest that we’re further from being finished than is implied. (The alternative is not something I’d like to consider.)

      Hopefully what “far along” means is that they know what they want to do in terms of important spells and mechanics, as well as talent tree structure and design direction, but still need to work out details and put in some pieces.

      Hopefully.

      Posted by Charles | August 10, 2010, 9:20 pm
  2. A quick comment about the interesting-ness of classes. While shamans and druids are interesting from a lore standpoint, and while they do have some great NPCs in Malfurion Stormrage and Thrall, I, as a mage, would just like to elevate my main class a bit. I’d say that magi are pretty great, and especially the human ones (and not only because I play one) because of one thing. Dalaran.

    This is because if you look at the older lore, when the humans bargained with the elves about killing trolls and being taught magic, what they then went and did is build their own, enlightened city, housing a majority of the most brilliant minds in the Alliance. This reminds me of, for lack of a better comparison, Bioshock (and of Randian philosophy in general) and some of the old Greek philosophers. And that they, with all their brilliance, thought that they could stop the Scourge speaks volumes about their hubris.

    Another part that speaks about this is that when the (slightly insane) blue dragon aspect realises that our current use of magic might be a bit over the top, instead of trying to come up with a solution we throw adventurers at him until he dies.

    Which is part of why I like the whole idea of playing a mage. They’re all, at the end of the day, addicted to the idea of their power, even if they’re not admitting it, and they’ll fight even the blue dragon aspect to keep it.

    So yeah, mages are awesome and Antonidas 4 lyfe yo.

    Posted by Clav | August 11, 2010, 6:53 am
    • That “attitude” of mages is something I really enjoy when playing my own mage, especially in battlegrounds. My impression of my shaman’s character is that she’d be deeply concerned about the morality and danger of fighting the Horde when there are so many other threats out there, but I’m pretty sure my mage just wants to blow stuff up.

      There’s a lot to be said for the Dalaran mages’ ability to fly their city to Northrend and keep it there, totally safe, in Arthas’ front yard and despite being constantly attacked by blue dragons. Though of course Arthas’ whacky endgame means he was probably quite happy to let them sit there and send heroes into his bedroom. (Uh, that… didn’t really come out right.)

      Posted by Charles | August 11, 2010, 1:28 pm
  3. @ Lava Surge: I have yet to get in on some beta goodness, but I’d venture to place more of the blame on the default UI. Some procs it works great for, while others it is terrible. Perfect examples come from the warrior class; their Overpower ability will light up with text yelling “OVERPOWER!” whenever it becomes available, whether it’s from the opponent dodging or from the Taste For Blood talent. On the flip side, the free insta-cast Slam procs from their Bloodsurge talent only show up as a short term buff, and you get the prompt for Slam, but it’s so tiny that without a 3rd party mod, you’ll miss a ton of free slam procs. I picked up Event Alert specifically for my warrior (but I’ve found it useful for other classes) and easily went up 1k+ on DPS just from not missing those slam procs.

    Posted by Kazgrel | August 12, 2010, 3:55 pm
    • The UI is certainly part of the problem, but I guess the greater part is probably that I just don’t like Lava Surge as it is now. The way it interacts with haste and fixed cast times and cooldowns and the very minimal impact it’d have on long-term DPS, which have already been discussed here and elsewhere, have me so theoretically opposed to it that when I then have to struggle with the UI to actually make use of it I’m left feeling distinctly hostile.

      Posted by Charles | August 13, 2010, 2:06 pm
  4. Was this before or after that have buffed LvB damage? They clearly want to make LvB the center point of the Ele rotation, and make talents around it worth taking. They have also made it clear they want Crit to be worth taking, so either there is some change in how LvB and crit work, or they are blind and I am sad.

    With unleash weapon, EM, and LvB procs, we have an interesting enough rotation that is easy to learn and hard to master, and im happy enough with it, getting the most out of AoE with a channel + cleave + totem + nova + TS will hopefully be a challenge also and something you are rewarded in your DPS to do more than /earthquake.

    My biggest concerns are that once again the only change in resto and ele dps is procs / cast times / coefficients, even though the spec might have all it needs, it seems inadequate vs all other hybrid classes (although this is something I kinda like about shamans – and I guess earthquake makes up for it… just wish they had made magma + nova + CL + TS our aoe, and earthquake was some other spell used for more than aoe). The other is the shield situation, where Enhance gets lightening shield talents, resto gets water shield talents AND earth shield, but ele just wears water shield cos they can.. not that they even need the mana.

    Posted by Zuzum | August 19, 2010, 1:00 am
    • This was before the slight LvB damage buff. They’ve talked about making crit worthwhile recently and seem to believe that it’ll be OK with the generally lower crit rates – which is, to an extent, true: high base crit through talents and raid buffs was a contributing factor to the low value of crit for shamans in LK. But, well, only a contributing factor. With haste lower across the board and more LvB damage (shorter effective cooldown + overloads) crit will be even less valuable than before. So yeah, I think if they want crit to be a stat elemental is genuinely happy to take then more work is needed.

      We’re also apparently going to get to use Lightning Shield somehow, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some crit interaction on however that works. Maybe LS will “fake proc” (ala imp. water shield) on LB crits, for example. And they’ve also talked about making Earthquake conclusively more desirable than Fire Nova. So the next couple of beta builds could be really interesting!

      I have to confess I’m not super keen on Unleash being a part of the normal elemental rotation at present due to the complication of cooldowns it involves. We’ll see.

      Posted by Charles | August 20, 2010, 12:37 am
  5. I also don’t like the concept of lava surge, or procs in general. Any mechanic that makes me watch the gui more and the area around me less is taking the fun out of the game (for me). The relatively simple rotation is what I love in elemental. Anyway, it seems they build in power auras, to make your life easier. :)

    http://www.mmo-champion.com/content/1938-Power-Auras-Mages-TP-UI-Howling-Oak-Blue-Posts?s=f18285a2d36462110496b56ccb40b526

    Posted by Ecco | August 20, 2010, 4:25 pm
    • Procs can be cool if they don’t feel punishing. The big problem I have with frost mages in LK, for example, is how horrible it feels to not get a Fingers proc for ages and then have 4 or 5 in a row while Deep Freeze is on cooldown. It’s too frustrating to be fun. Conversely, arcane mages have quite a cool proc in the form of Missile Barrage, which while annoying if you don’t get a proc does at least present you with a choice about how to handle it.

      Lava Surge in its current form isn’t a significant DPS increase. You could totally ignore the talent and not see much difference in DPS, on a long fight, between someone who took it. If it stays that way, it becomes something that could be a tiny bit more DPS for the expert player rather than an absolute core part of elemental DPS. That makes it less frustrating than Fingers of Frost, but also less rewarding than Missile Barrage. Which leaves it in a sort of uncomfortable place where you have to wonder whether it’s in any way “fun”, let alone actually useful.

      I still like the idea of having some kind of *fun* mechanic in our rotation which rewards us for paying more attention and reacting intelligently. Lava Surge isn’t really fun right now. Fulmination/Rolling Thunder, on the other hand, look like they should be a lot more fun and interesting!

      Posted by Charles | August 21, 2010, 2:21 pm
      • Yeah im really excited about Fulmination/Rolling Thunder too. The LvB proc talent dosent bother me but I agree its hardly fun, and if its not even very effective I can see it being dropped for something more fun. Perhaps it was never intended to be a huge DPS talent, but a fun option in the first place?

        I have to say im amused at the “reduction in burst damage mindset” we are going into cata with, yet everything about ele shamans is becoming more bursty. LvB procs + unleash weapon, and ES+6 charges of lightening shield sounds like a more bursty set of skills, even if the HPs are higher, to me.

        Posted by Zuzum | August 22, 2010, 11:30 pm

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