There was a moment today when I had a sudden and wonderful realisation that I was the victim of what is either a brilliant practical joke or something merely amusing but unintended. I was sitting after lunch intently reading The Times‘ science magazine, Eureka, which had an excerpt from the new Stephen Hawking book that caught my eye and a few other interesting articles. Say what you like about readers of The Times or popular science magazines in general (in my defense, I am a frequenter of neither – this was a second hand copy from a nearby table), but you have to concede that lurking wrinkle-browed behind the cover of such a publication is likely to win you more kudos than, say, perching purse-lipped past the glossy facing of Celebrity Gossip Magazine or whatever. Even if you do read it during lunch.
So one of the articles in this particular magazine requires that you flip the publication upside-down to read it, an exercise which I completed fairly effortlessly and without much thought. Shortly thereafter someone who’d been sitting nearby while I ate and read and looked interested for the last 30 minutes turned to me and asked me a question – and I looked up from the magazine, then down at it again, then again at the person who’d asked me the (unrelated) question – who was now also looking at the magazine – because all she could see was the clearly and unambiguously inverted cover, complete with impressively sciency-picture and car advert. And there was this sort of prolonged, shared embarrassed pause as we both realised that, while clearly maintaining this facial expression of interest and thought and continuing to ignore the majority of conversation around me, I was blatantly holding the magazine upside-down. Real smart that.
Everyone had a good laugh about it, so I’m left wondering if the editors realised the consequences of their decision to feature the short opening piece on bats upside-down or if it was just a funny accident.
Anyway, <insert clever segue here>, it’s been a while since I posted anything about the Cataclysm beta. News from that has just been flooding in lately, hasn’t it? Yet I still managed to log in today and see a bunch of things that surprised me or I hadn’t read about before, so either I’m not paying as much attention as I thought or people aren’t writing as much about beta as I expected.
So here’s some pretty random stuff I found interesting, some or most or all of which may be common knowledge.
All the classes and specs in the beta are rapidly approaching a state where they seem complete. Indeed, with the 4.0.1 PTR now apparently active, Blizzard obviously feel they’re getting close to the point at which they can release their changes to the live servers in preparation for Cataclysm’s release. Appropriately therefore, in the last few builds some significant round-outs have been made to some of the most lacking specs which really filled in some of the remaining gaps. Some big things of note to elemental:
- Earthquake no longer has a cooldown, meaning it’s now a spammable ranged AoE. And there was much rejoicing! Unfortunately it doesn’t trigger Clearcasting at the moment.
- There’s an interesting Major Glyph which makes Chain Lightning hit two extra targets but do 10% less initial damage, making it a 5-target super cleave. Not really sure how useful this will be with the 30% falloff but it’s pretty to watch on target dummies. This would make CL unattractive against single targets but with Lava Surge it’s going to be unattractive anyway.
- Chain Lightning‘s cooldown is now 3 seconds base, with none of our talents affecting it anymore
- Storm, Earth and Fire has become just simply “Earth’s Grasp“; with the Flame Shock boost merged into Lava Flows and the CL cooldown gone entirely, the talent now just turns Earthbind into Frost Nova. Which is cool, as dropping the marginal DPS increase makes it an optional/fun talent.
- Fulmination is now working correctly and is pretty bad-ass. But there are still no default “power auras” for Lightning Shield stacks. The damage is high enough that it’ll be a spell we want to cast a lot and there’s enough flexibility with it that it doesn’t feel punishing.
- There aren’t any power auras for Lava Surge either. Binkenstein made a feedback post recently which featured a critique of Lava Surge (along with pretty much all the remaining “holes” in elemental) and I really get the feeling the elemental community is uncomfortable with the talent. It’s hard to tell while soloing but, well, I don’t much like it yet myself. More below.
- Unleash Flame still doesn’t affect Flame Shock periodic damage and still doesn’t trigger Clearcasting. The former is now looking like a design choice while the latter is presumably a bug. At present we’ll be wanting to use it with Lava Bursts, assuming the numbers continue to make sense – the initial damage from Unleash plus the extra damage to Lava Burst has to be worth the “lost” portion of a Lightning Bolt cast.
The default UI has been vastly improved, but for elemental it’s still very lacking. Keeping track of Lava Surge (middle of screen for combat text alert), Lava Burst’s cooldown if surge doesn’t trigger (shaded icon @bottom left), Unleash Elements’ cooldown (shaded icon @ bottom left), the shock cooldown (2 shaded icons @bottom left), the Flame Shock duration (tiny shaded icon at top left), our Lightning Shield stacks (small number at top right) is HORRIBLE. See how I put that in capital letters and bold text? It’s that bad. It feels unworkable. Getting used to it will help, but all the fun drains out of it for me when I’m juggling that many cooldowns and priorities without anywhere near enough help from the UI.
Especially tough for me is that the UI doesn’t give you any numbers, just slowly filling or depleting shaded icons. Without firm numbers, we can’t judge in advance whether we’ll need to refresh flame shock soon enough that we should drop a Fulmination stack now or whether we can wait for more Lightning Shield charges, or how the next Lava Burst/Unleash cooldown is going to line up, or when Elemental Mastery might be ready – the latter exacerbated by the way its cooldown now decreases with every Lightning spell we cast. These aren’t critical problems with the “rotation”, but they do expose some things which I do think constitute rotation problems. The big issue here is really the UI.
Because of that it’s hard to tell how much the rotation needs to be changed and how much it’s just the UI not supporting it enough.
The Glyph UI is pretty cool though. Prime, Major and Minor glyphs are all in, though presumably we’ll see some more appear in future. Of interest is that you presently need a vendor-bought reagent to swap glyphs (i.e., replace a glyph you’ve already socketed). Before level 80 these sell in stacks of 5 for 30s, but at level 81+ they’re 10g for one before discounts. Presently they only sell from the inscription vendors, so changing glyphs mid-questing or instance is something you’d have to prepare for in advance.
Finally glyphs have icons associated with their spells, which makes it so much easier to keep track of them. I love that you only have to learn each glyph once and that the UI tells you which you’ve not learned yet.
I notice a lot of spell tooltips now give you tips about how and when to use the spell. Some examples:
I guess these are a work in progress as now some tooltips aren’t showing really important information, like say, damage (I wonder if there’s an option to turn damage display on somewhere in the UI that I’ve so far missed?) Interesting idea and should help introduce many of WoW’s core concepts to newer players.
Most ability tooltips now adjust properly for glyphs/talents, spellpower/attack power, et cetera, removing the need to do complex math to figure out how much it’ll hit for. There’s still no explicit critical damage information though.
The updates to the party/raid UI are very welcome and make it a lot more compact, customizable and well, useful. You can move it anywhere on the screen, sort by role or class or group or whatever, show or hide energy bars, class colours, and so forth. I don’t have an up to date screenshot but here’s one from a few builds back:
It’s still not quite as efficient as something like Grid, but with the healing paradigm changing to triage from ultra-super-speed-reaction-mole-whack-fest maybe that won’t matter. I do plan to give the default UI a nice long trial before I start using addons again, and changes like this are part of the reason why.
Professions and training
I know screenshots of this stuff have been bandied about plenty before now, but here are a few shots of the profession training interface:
Naturally, the UI’s still a bit buggy on the beta but it’s going to be a vast improvement on the old UI.
I noticed that all my “runed” spellpower gems are now “brilliant” intellect gems, which are red instead of yellow. Similarly all the hybrid spellpower/something else gems are intellect/something else and maintain their original colours. Again, this is the sort of minor but significant housekeeping change which implies they’re getting close to being finished.
You can now see your human form when you make a Worgen and even swap focus between the two models, but there’s no separate customisation – yet. The ability to swap models strongly suggests that there could be in future.
Eeeeeeh. Quests have been improved, quite a lot really, as I wrote before. I still don’t really enjoy them. Partly it’s UI issues as described above, but mostly it’s just the sheer amount you have to do. I don’t find it fun getting a quest which is basically easy, travelling somewhere nearby which is also easy, finding the mobs, killing the mobs (or whatever) then travelling back. It’s boring even when the mobs are dangerous and your spells are fun. In my opinion, WoW needs to reform the quest game much more than this – give us a very small number of lengthy, interesting, tough quests with far greater reward, so that every part of the quest feels like a quest. At the moment it just feels like crossing items off a shopping list.
Example of boring quest:
“Hi, I’m Enn P. Sea, I’m here to give you something to do. See over that hill there? Lots of boars. Kill some please. It’ll take you 40 seconds to run there on your mount and 3 minutes to get all the killin’ done. When you get back I’ll send you to my friend up the road who needs LARGER boars killed. Kthxbye.”
So you get the quest, check your map, evaluate whether you should do this quest now or wait until you have more quests in that area (even though it’s only 200 yards away, EFFICIENCY!!!), decide you’ll just run to where the boars are now, avoid the mobs on the way because they can be avoided and they’re inefficient to kill, kill the boars, run back avoiding mobs again, and turn in your quest… and go do exactly the same thing again. Except this time it’s felboars, or you have to collect gizzards which only drop from one in every three boars, or you have to collect fallen gizzards which don’t actually require you to kill boars at all so you try to avoid them. And so on.
Every quest in WoW is basically like that for me. The lore, the story, the combat, the exploration, the wonderous sights and sounds and jokes and whatever, it’s all overshadowed and made pointless by this shopping-list grind of find questgivers, find mobs, kill mobs, come back, find next quest, repeat several thousand times.
Which is a shame because Cataclysm’s quests are often really beautifully designed and cleverly conceived, and have a lot of fun elements. It’s just not fun to do hundreds or thousands of them to have to make any progress as a character.
Anyway, that’s just my opinion.
Most of the in-game music is now in place and wow, it’s once again utterly gorgeous – it totally transforms the play experience. As with WotLK, I strongly recommend turning music (and sound effects) on for your first play through of every Cataclysm area and dungeon. Some of it isn’t that great but most of it is atmospheric, evocative and appropriate to the area and storyline it appears over, and therefore expands what the game delivers. Many of the new creatures, spells, items and environments also have fun or interesting new SFX that it’s worth hearing at least once if you’re one of those crazy people who plays with no sound at all.
So yeah, development is definitely proceeding apace and we should see some of this stuff on live servers fairly soonish. Having said that, as Bink’s post highlighted there’s still plenty to be done (and where art thou, Spirit Link?) and plenty of feedback still to be given and received. On that subject, making class changes accessible on the PTR can only be a good thing – though lacking access to the full 85 levels worth of talent points is a bummer.
There’s not much specific opinion I can offer at this stage – I think the game’s going to be, overall, a lot better than WotLK and hopefully even a little more fun. The new environments and redesigned quests are great and the obvious commitment to balancing classes and, by extension, raids and PvP is encouraging – especially in light of the array of issues affecting especially late-expansion 10-man raids (must… resist… urge… to rant… nrrrgh). I guess having played WoW so long I now see as much stuff that I don’t like in the game’s direction and mechanics as stuff I do, but overall I think Cataclysm is quickly shaping up to be the best version of WoW yet.