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.
- Excursion: Quest design
- Back on topic: Elemental questing
- 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.
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.
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.