The lifting of the Cataclysm testing NDA means that I can post a lot of these utterly sumptuous (and not necessarily related) screenshots at last! It also means we can talk freely about the developing shape of shaman stuff as it happens, which I intend to stay fully abreast of over the coming months.
I’ve been wanting a good ramble/rant for a while, so as well as talking about some of my experiences so far on the beta server, I’ll also use this post to talk a bit about some current content and other current events. On the latter topic, I’ve been invited to take part in the Raid Warning Shaman Round Table. After not noticing the email for a week, forgetting about it for a few more weeks, then losing Internet access for several more days after that, I think I’m actually going to appear on the podcast! There’ll also be an astonishing number of other great shaman personalities, bloggers and commentators (so much so, actually, that I probably won’t have much to say) so it should be something well worth tuning in to. They’re soliciting questions and discussion topics and stuff so head on over to the Epic Advice thread to comment on what you’d like to see these members of the shaman community discuss.
As everyone can access the beta forums now I guess there are no more secrets to be kept on them, so it’ll be well-known now that even the classes whose talents were earlier previewed still have a lot of change to go through. Quoth the Ghostcrawler:
We are making some more dramatic changes to the existing talent trees (even the ones we have released publicly already)
I expect to see the elemental tree change somewhat more significantly than we’ve seen so far and wouldn’t be hugely surprised if they tried fiddling with some basics – maybe like the way Lava Burst works? Well, OK, maybe that’s just wishful thinking, but other class/specs are getting some fundamental makeovers and it’s a good time to experiment. At any rate I’m pretty confident elemental will be fun to play whatever they do – after all, despite various issues in WotLK it’s still remained my favourite class-spec throughout.
Unleash Elements (as it’s now called) is shown for Flametongue in the shot above. There’s not yet an obvious niche for its use as elemental, though as numbers get fiddled with that may change. (Edit: Oh yeah, and the Rockbiter unleash is a taunt – very cool possibilities for kiting and gimmick tank fights!)
Lava Surge is hard to get used to, and obviously not much use when soloing. Most of the mobs in the Hyjal and Vashj’ir starter areas die in a single FS+LvB combo, but by level 80+ health has increased dramatically and it takes an extra LB/CL/shock to finish them off. Interestingly enough, if Surge procs on the flame shock tick just before my LvB finishes casting, it does reset the cooldown properly at the end of the cast – that is, there’s just enough of a delay that you can actually fire two LvBs back to back if you’re lucky. The trouble is that you’re not expecting to be able to, so you’d already be queueing a filler spell in most PvE situations (and a second LvB is way overkill on quest mobs at level 81 – will see how that develops, though). Despite the delayed proc, the “dead zone” thing I talked about earlier is a very real issue with the talent hands-on – or maybe I just need to get better at reacting to it.
I need to try using Unleash Flame after a Flame Shock while soloing, as I figure it could be a faster way to kill the higher HP mobs than FS – LvB – LB.
I’ve not yet tried any serious healing yet as I’ve not had a huge amount of time to play, but hopefully with the influx of folk from beta invites I can heal a dungeon or two over the weekend. I’ll write more on shaman beta stuff, particularly elemental, when there’s more to write about. There’s also a new page on the Primer menu, Beta shaman questions?, through which you can ask me specific questions about current shaman beta stuff which I will attempt to answer directly from the beta realm.
Vashj’ir is an amazingly beautiful zone and great fun to quest in, and the story itself is hugely driven by Earthen Ring shamans. Yep, it’s basically an entire zone full of shamans doing shamanistic things, and there are some really cool shaman lore moments to boot – including an interesting perspective on what exactly the shaman-elemental relationship is from a broken called Toshe. The zone is also utterly vast – I’ve already quested through three separate named subzones and there’s still a lot of questing to go. I’ve not spent much time in Hyjal yet, but it’s a more druidy and conventional zone, though also with great lore, interesting quest mechanics and pretty scenery.
The lower level zone revamp is utterly astonishing, with some really outstanding new quests and stuff – it’ll keep even the most alt-resistant of us busy for several months, I hope, just exploring and experiencing it all.
Oh, and the default UI has seen a lot of improvement. Of particular note to theorycrafters is that the damage/healing of spells is noted accurately in the tooltip depending on your talents, spellpower, etc, which makes figuring out mechanics and coefficients way easier – as well as making it way more obvious what spells are higher DPS. I hope they add critical strike chance and damage to the tooltips too.
On Halion and hard mode healing
Enough rambling, here’s a bit of a rant.
I love World of Warcraft, and especially the endgame. I think few things are more enjoyable than playing one’s class in a raid environment, especially if you’re fortunate enough to do it with good friends and good players. But I’m starting to get a bit fed up with Lich King raiding.
Ulduar was an amazing raid instance, quite possibly the best ever. It had graded difficulty, loads of unique and interesting mechanics, beautiful scenery, a great story and a meaningful meta-achievement to work towards. Since Ulduar, however, I’ve basically not enjoyed raiding as much. Room of the Crusader actually housed some very interesting fights, but the whole place just felt punitive, claustrophobic and – simply because of the scenery and lore – dull. Let me say that again: some of those fights were great fun, but the location, the way loot worked, the way lockouts worked and the hard mode design spoiled it. The difficulty of each encounter was also all over the place: heroic beasts was actually really punishing in Ulduar gear, but then the next few fights were a total breeze… except the combination of RNG and raid balance for Faction Champions (a serious issue for 10-man raiders in particular). And then there was that stunning brick wall that was heroic Anub’arak, who we got to 7% after a few nights and realised we couldn’t beat him without serious gearing up. Due to the way lockouts and loot and emblems worked in 3.2, it took us a few months on our raid schedule to gear up to the point where we could reasonably face Anub’arak heroic – months of farming stuff that had ceased to be challenging or fun or even, for most of us, rewarding. I’m glad we killed him and it was a great feeling of accomplishment, but I basically didn’t enjoy it.
Icecrown was much more sensible, with only one lockout per raid size, graded release and more interesting scenery and lore. But with stats now out of control and raiders so well trained, the heroic versions of the fights were really brutal in terms of the sheer number of things to account for, the amount and speed of damage, the split-second timing needed and – a really serious problem on 10-man, by the way – the vast difference in difficulty caused by your raid group class-spec balance. I’ve been enjoying heroic Icecrown as my guild’s made fairly consistent, speedy progress… but actually, I don’t really like many of the fights on heroic. They just feel too punishing, especially as a healer. Often there’s simply way too much going on and way too much damage to handle way too quickly. That is, instead of the fights being slick, well-choreographed affairs, they sometimes feel sort of like big teetering piles of multiple confusing abilities and instant-death mechanics jumbled together to make it feel difficult instead of fun.
I know this is a key change they intend to make with Cataclysm and reintroducing triage-style healing, but honestly I’m sick of what we have now.
Which is why when we gave Halion heroic a try, the sheer amount of damage which is thrown at the raid in phase 2 made me want to just quit raiding there and then. Not only is there a constant shadow damage aura, but the way Soul Consumption works and the timing of Shadowy Death Lasers is utterly brutal. Oh sure, we’ll get used to it, get better at avoiding as much as possible and adjust our strategies, practising until we beat it – but when I encounter a boss and have a sinking feeling rather than a feeling of challenge, expectation and excitement I don’t think it’s a good sign. And it’s a feeling I’m getting more and more often these days.
I’m not narcissistic enough to assume everyone shares my view of the fight, but I do feel that hard mode raiding at this stage of the game has almost jumped the shark. It’s such an impossible balance, isn’t it? Too easy and you alienate the truly hardcore, too hard and you alienate the capable casuals. Make normal too easy and even the least raid-focused of guilds will struggle to find it entertaining and make it too hard and suddenly people are locked out of content again. I don’t envy the job of the Blizzard design team, and I have to say kudos for the amazing job they do. But I’m so, so, so fed up with walking into a heroic boss fight and seeing health bars constantly dropping all over the place and healers struggling to find the GCDs to keep people alive – even when everyone’s doing everything right. (And then inevitably there comes the crunch point in the fight that you have to struggle through 3 minutes of some boring but difficult first phase to reach, and you have 10 seconds to practice it before you wipe and have to go through the entire first part of the fight again just to practice that second bit. Ugh.)
For the same reason I’m looking forward to the increased focus on 10-man raiding in Cataclysm and the further consolidation of important buffs/debuffs, because there are some fights which are made unreasonably hard or easy in 10-man mode simply depending upon which specs you brought.
On the ICC buff
The ICC buff has been good to my guild – it gave us the extra edge we needed to become Kingslayers, to get heroic Saurfang on farm and to get Lana’thel down before her enrage. But as it continues to creep inexorably towards 30%, I feel like it’s starting to have a negative effect on my group – like, there’s more margin for error so we’re sloppier and less focused, so when a genuinely dangerous ability comes along we’re not as prepared for it as we should be. Considering we’ve managed to succeed on the hardest 10-player fights in the game – Firefighter, Algalon, Anub’arak, the Lich King – it’s very distressing to suddenly start wiping on a boss we’ve previously killed with poorer raid balance, a lower buff level and worse gear.
I don’t think we could kill half the heroic bosses we have done if we didn’t have the buff at all, so turning it off seems counterproductive. We somehow have to stay focused and motivated enough to keep going and take advantage of the extra DPS/healing/etc, which we’ll almost certainly need for Sindragosa and the Lich King. But you know, I’m not even slightly looking forward to trying those fights on heroic. I’ve heard stories and it doesn’t sound fun. I fear we’ll do them – if we do them – just for the achievement, just for the sake of having done it. And that kinda sucks. I think that really contributes to the lowering of our performance – the feeling that what awaits us is just what we’ve done before, only harder. And Icecrown is, ultimately, a dank, dark, dull place to spend an evening even if it’s an incredibly well done dank, dark, dull place.
Overall I’m enjoying WoW more than ever, and I’m so very privileged to have so many great friends to play with, but the raiding itself is starting to feel at risk of becoming a chore again – and not all the things the game has done to make it fun are actually working for me. At the moment it’s a combination of the people I play with and the fact that I do still enjoy being an elemental (or resto) shaman in challenging content which is keeping me going.
(I also feel it’d be really hard to speak with any integrity about elemental theorycraft if I didn’t raid, but I should make it clear that I have absolutely no plans to quit and still really enjoy the raid game overall. I’m just letting off some steam by wildly blowing issues way out of proportion, in true blogger tradition.)
Here, have a soothing picture of some fish.