Elemental, Interface, Opinion, Shaman, WoW

Musings from the Cataclysm beta

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.

Elemental

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.

Glyph UI

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.

The level 81-85 reagent for changing glyphs, as presently on beta.

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.

For some reason I forgot to take any pictures of my shaman's glyphs. This is obviously a (level 80) mage's glyph UI.

Spell UI

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 :D  (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.

Party/raid UI

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:

Party UI as of July, moved to the centre of the screen and with the focus frame placed above it and target's target showing. All done using the default UI and no macros or scripts.

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:

Mm, professional.

Took ages to cache and even then the display wasn't working properly, but you can see the idea.

Naturally, the UI’s still a bit buggy on the beta but it’s going to be a vast improvement on the old UI.

Gems

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.

The new Timeless Dreadstone, replacing the old Glowing Dreadstone.

Reckless Ametrines: the same but different.

Worgen

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.

Character customisation for a Worgen, showing both human and Worgen forms. The portraits on the bottom left toggle which is displayed in the centre.

Quests

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.

Music

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.

Rounding

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.

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Discussion

15 thoughts on “Musings from the Cataclysm beta

  1. Regarding spell tooltips not showing damage – when I logged onto the PTR yesterday I noticed that “Beginner Tooltips” was turned on by default in the Interface options. When I turned it off, suddenly abilities (I was messing with Primal Strike) started displaying damage numbers.

    Posted by Ishdarei | September 14, 2010, 7:15 pm
  2. I think what you mentioned about quests is interesting as it’s something more recent MMOs have learned and tried to move away from. And rightfully so. There’s a problem with your questing game when you’ve got an achievement for each zone which lists 0/1xx quests complete or thereabouts. That’s just quantity over quality, which inevitably leads to the fetch quests and shopping list phenomenon you highlighted. When you take a look at how recent MMOs or even singleplayer RPGs “do” quests, you’ll see that there often aren’t that many, but the ones that are there are lengthy with large story-arcs being contained in every one (this is a huge generalisation of course). I prefer that model, really, as it avoids a lot of the grind-feel WoW quests are still causing, and it adds a lot of weight to the quests you’re doing when you know there aren’t 2000 more of them on the continent.

    It’s a relic of WoW’s original design which they just don’t seem to want to get rid of. In fact they’ve been building on it more and more, just cramming more and more quests in every zone as if that’s an indicator for quality (it’s a good marketing tool, I suppose). It’s a shame that they weren’t more brave there for Cataclysm, as they were with a lot of other ancient mechanics and systems. A significant revamp could really revitalise levelling, but sadly I think it’s simply TOO big of a change to implement. Not least because there are undoubtedly loads of people out there who like the current quest game. In fact I don’t dislike it either, I just think I’d prefer a more quality- instead of quantity-oriented approach.

    What I’m always nervous about when reading this “near the end of beta” reports, is how the endgame is shaping up, as that’s an aspect you usually don’t hear much about until the game actually ships. Which is sort of obvious as it’s really difficult to test, not to mention low priority as most people won’t get to raids for example for quite a while. That said, despite the awesomeness of Karazhan, I’d still argue that both TBC’s and WotLK’s original endgame pve content were TREMENDOUS failures. TBC heroics were either incredibly buggy or incredibly hard, same for 25-mans (and this problem persisted for quite a while). Just plain unfinished, really. Then WotLK gave us the exact opposite: instead of arguably TOO MUCH raid content, it gave us too little, and instead of making everything super difficult everything was super easy. Also terribly boring if you’re looking at Naxx. And perhaps an even bigger problem at that point in WotLK was that I didn’t really find much to do at all in the pve endgame, which for me is just a game killer. Rep grinds were useless as Naxx just threw around epics like candy, the same went for heroics. No attunements to work toward, professions were pretty useless due to the lack of challenge and overflow of gear.

    Anyway I’m getting distracted and ranting, what I was trying to say was that I sincerely hope the endgame content will be as interesting and as much of a labor of love as the rest of the expansion seems to be at this point. Everything I’ve seen has been incredibly impressive, from the system and mechanic changes (like stats and talents, and FOCUS FOR HUNTERS AMG) to the UI changes, to the new zones and whole cataclysmic thing going on. It all seems very well thought-out and very well executed. I just pray the raid (and other endgame) content will be getting the same treatment, as WoW’s main appeal still rests with that for me.

    Posted by Razz | September 14, 2010, 8:43 pm
  3. Are fire elementals going to be at all useful in Cata? As of right now, unless I missing something, it’s completely useless for raiding, and little better when in a pvp situation.

    Posted by Gubjub | September 14, 2010, 9:15 pm
  4. @Ishdarei: Yup, that’s what I was missing – turning off Beginner Tooltips removed the hints and displayed damage amounts instead. I wonder what else is affected?

    @Razz: I guess it is too late in WoW’s life to make a change like that to the quest game, as there’ll be a lot of people who like, or at least don’t mind and are used to, the old format. It’d be the biggest change ever if they did it. I don’t know how long I’ll continue to have patience for levelling up though :(

    @Gubjub: If anything, Fire Elementals are more useful at present because we can drop them no matter who else is in the party (thanks to Totemic Wrath). There are still the same issues with targeting and fragility and the cooldown – I wouldn’t be hugely surprised if they persisted into release just because there’s been no comment on them yet. But as Searing Totem is also not yet “fixed” (targeting, range) there’s still a good chance they’ll make a pass on the Elementals.

    One other thing I forgot to mention: Worgen now have their proper accents and phrases for most things, which makes the Worgen area 5 times more awesome.

    Posted by Charles | September 15, 2010, 12:20 am
  5. I’ve been thinking about what puts me off from playing beta, and aside from RL stuff going on and things to do on live, having to use the default UI, which limits the amount of keybinds I have coupled with cooldown tracking along with the quirkiness of adapting (or at least trying to adapt) to Lava Surge (which I still hope gets changed, if not replaced outright) really dampens the experience. I’m having a lot more fun on the beta tinkering around in the goblin and worgen starting areas, the former of which I’ve run into 2 different game-breaking bugs (where you can’t continue doing the quests). Having just completed the worgen starting area, it’s pretty nice. Cool atmosphere and a reasonable story line make it an enjoyable experience.

    Posted by Kazgrel | September 15, 2010, 2:37 pm
  6. Interesting enough, the t10 four piece bonus on beta now says “Your Lava Burst spell causes your flame shock effect on the target to deal at least two additional periodic damage ticks before expiring.”

    What’s handy is that it currently is refreshing flame shock almost indefinitely, which means on the test dummy I have hardly had to refresh it at all at level 80, leaving a lot more room for Earthshock.

    On the level 80 mechanical dummy, without my t4 t10 bonus, I’m averaging around 8500 dps on the test dummy (again, this is the level 80 mechanical one, not the boss dummy) and around 10-11k dps on WITH my t10 4 piece.

    I have yet to try it on the boss dummy, but clearly the t10 4 piece bonus is substantial and made my rotation relatively painless compared to the rotation without the 4 piece bonus.

    Posted by Vanyr | September 16, 2010, 2:28 am
  7. @Kaz: I’m enjoying the Worgen area a lot more this time around than the first time, probably partly because the classes are more interesting now at lower levels. But I’m not particularly thrilled with either worgens or goblins in general and I think I’d enjoy their sumptuous starting zones more if I played them with a toon I really liked :D

    @Vanyr: That’s actually the same bonus as we have now, and it’s functioning the same way too – it’s just with Flame Shock’s base duration extended to 18s (or 27s with glyph) it’s possible to keep it rolling a lot longer than it is now with durations in the 7-9s mark. It was so ridiculous on the beta that I was wondering if they’d change it, but with itemlevel inflation so high as you level to 85 (making it unlikely to be worth keeping old set bonuses for long) and the bonus so irrelevant on quest mobs it’s possible they’ll just leave it be.

    However bear in mind that I’ve not tested without the 4-piece bonus, which means that the above was written even with the extra FS timer (though the variability of it was admittedly an extra struggle).

    Posted by Charles | September 16, 2010, 12:58 pm
  8. I have to say, while I like a lot of the new abilities, it felt very awkward to me on the pre-made level 85 I made which did not have the t10 4 piece.

    And of course, at level 80, I did not have to work in Unleash Elements, which simplified things a good deal.

    To me it felt like the rotation would be good if two things were addressed.

    First, the refreshing of Flame Shock makes the rotation feel awkward to me when you have to consider that Earthshock is on the same CD. Without the t10 4-piece, the duration feels insultingly short.

    Secondly, as you pointed out, a better way to consolidate the UI notifications we are looking at into one location would help tremendously. The way I had to keep looking in circles around my screen to determing what procs I needed to take advantage of made me feel like it would be a lot harder to pay attention to boss mechanics. It can be done with an addon I’m sure, but it would be nice to have a default UI that addressed the issue.

    I was surprised that Lava Surge did not bother me as much as I expected it would once I got a chance to try it out, but I still believe the Lock’N’Load style proc would be better. The fact of the matter is that I felt like most lava surge procs only let me get Lavaburst off a second or two earlier which, while is certainly a dps increase, just left me feeling a bit off-kilter.

    Posted by Vanyr | September 16, 2010, 10:14 pm
    • Yeah, I like the new abilities too (except maybe Lava Surge), but I don’t like having to manage them all. And we’ve still got totem placements and lust to manage, and interrupts and dispels and CC, not to mention Searing’s now depressingly short-seeming 60s timer. At this rate we’re at risk of becoming the new enhancement/feral druid of Cataclysm, which for a bunch of players used to simplicity is a bit crazy!

      Posted by Charles | September 16, 2010, 11:31 pm
  9. The duration of Searing totem does seem unnecessarily short, especially considering the totem itself isn’t a massive increase in dps, but it does provide our primary spellpower buff with totemic wrath. Add monitoring whether searing totem is up to watching LvB to reset, Flame shock to wear off, Lightning shield charges, juggling your shock CD, Hero/Blust, and boss mechanics….

    I do think it’s a bit too simple on live at the moment, so I like some variation in our rotation. It just doesn’t have an organic feel to it right now. It’s too hectic.

    Posted by Vanyr | September 17, 2010, 1:08 am
  10. Thanks for the run down. The UI issues are not unique to the Shaman, I have the same problem with my Hunter, watching 3 different corners of my screen at once and that’s not counting what I’m shooting at, just standing at a training dummy.
    But WoW’s UI has never been good at providing the useful data in an efficient and functional way and I’ll be using my usual boatload of addons to make it more useful, so I’m not overly fussed about the UI.

    I hear you on the quests. I used to love quests, and I still do when I get story and they aren’t a “go here and kill 20 of x” followed by a “ok go back there and kill 10 of y, 10 of z and the named guy” all of which you just slaughtered doing the kill 20 of x portion, so yes, they are largely as satisfying as crossing of your grocery list (a very good analogy).

    Posted by Shockeye | September 20, 2010, 11:49 pm
  11. Have you given much thought regarding the weighting of stats under the 4.x model?

    I have done some limited testing on the PTR using reforging to alter stat bias (crit/haste/mastery) and its been an interested exercise. Obviously results are pure anecdotal given the limited sample space and the difficulties of managing a tight rotation with the standard UI

    - Haste > Mastery > Crit seems to be the relative value of the secondary stats. My best single target dps came from reforging all crit to mastery (resulting in a 33% chance to OL)

    - Haste still seems a clear winner as in addition to current live mechanics it also results in faster LS charge generation for fulmination

    Mana is a complete non issue due to Rolling Thunder … is this just a function of being 80 (and comparatively lower spell costs) or does the same apply at 85?

    Posted by Ulanji | September 22, 2010, 3:05 am
    • I’ve not done any work on 4.x theory since the alpha ended, just haven’t had the time or spoons. I don’t recall where I read it, but either on TotemSpot or EJ there have been preliminary estimates of stat priorities that do indeed go Haste > Mastery > Crit, which is what I’d have expected. As for relative weightings, it’s really hard to say at this point, but I’d expect Blizzard to make an effort to keep the three stats relatively close even if there’s a clear order of superiority.

      I’ve not had time to try a level 85 shaman yet but the design philosophy is that DPS classes don’t have to worry about mana for single target DPS, at least when raid buffed. Last time I quested on my 82 shaman, Rolling Thunder didn’t give enough mana regen on quest mobs to justify using LS over WS, but that was a few builds back.

      Posted by Charles | September 23, 2010, 2:51 pm
  12. Can’t wait for cataclysm. Game is going to be so awesome. Wish it would come out already! Also great post. Love your site!

    Posted by wow rare spawn | September 23, 2010, 7:01 am
  13. Just made a premade levle 85 shaman and mana so far goes depressingly fast. I have found myself using thunderstorm every CD and still swapping to water shield on boss fights. This is only in one dungeon so far.

    AoE of course is very mana intensive and will drain you VERY fast. At the moment, my level 80 has fewer mana issues.

    Posted by Vanyr | September 24, 2010, 12:42 am

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