Hello, and welcome to another exciting episode of Planet of the Hats! We’ve been on involuntary hiatus for a wee while, but we now return to our regularly scheduled broadcasts. Which aren’t regular, or scheduled, or actually broadcasts. A solid foundation from which to move forward, or indeed go nowhere at all.
On the programme tonight:
Magmaw the Exposure Worm
…in which I discuss the new healing model, being pretty and using Lightning to heal.
Of Valor and Conquest
…involving musings on the accumulation of points and the relative quality thereof, as well as the tyranny of battleground bracketing.
Tol Barad Rant of Doom
…in which I guiltily lay into everything that’s wrong with Tol Barad while wringing my hands and hoping I don’t sound ungrateful.
Magmaw the Exposure Worm
Fancy Hat Club’s first post-Cataclysm exposure to raiding was courtesy of this fine chap:
I’d love to have shown a genuine screenshot from our raid but, somehow, I took none whatsoever. I even remember being mid-fight and wondering if I should take a screenshot just because there was a lull in the combat but thinking “well what purpose would it serve” and then having to resume heal spammage before I could come up with an answer. So once again I’ve stolen it from wowhead.
Now what Magmaw loves to do more than pretty much anything else – except perhaps standing about waiting for someone to attack him – is to expose his pincers.
Yes, I misread it a few times myself. It’s OK.
Chayah, my beloved Elemental-come-Resto shaman of belovedness who is looking so very very pretty in her new kilt, was in the unique position of being our best-geared healer for the fight and playing a class which just seems born to fight giant lava worms that do AoE stuff and spawn adds which need to be slowed and whatnot. I’ve also had a lot of experience of healing in heroics and Baradin Hold, so had a pretty good idea of what my capabilities were.
Three things to say:
1. I continue to love the new healing model. Having healed raids since vanilla, I’ve never had such a positive experience of healing where things have been broadly under control, yet giving me lots of stuff to heal and requiring the use of my full toolkit as well as meaningful choices about what to cast and when and on whom. And not since Vanilla has there been such a sense of co-ordination with the other healers as those health bars sure aren’t going to fill up just from one person’s efforts.
2. I did not dominate the healing meters – my less geared, less experienced, and in one case playing-new-spec-for-pretty-much-the-first-time companions kept pace and discharged their duties most adequately. This could suggest that I’m not playing as well as I should be (possible) or that these players are fantastic (likely) or that shamans are underpowered (a popular idea at present) or that holy paladins are overpowered (an excellent excuse for future embarrassments) or perhaps just that everyone on the healing team and in the raid was doing what they were meant to be doing. The thing is that it’s much easier to tell what’s going on with healing in Cataclysm: in WotLK, any healing screw-up pretty much meant someone was dead within a global cooldown and it was a mission to find out how and why – but now we mostly seem to have time and space to see what’s going on and react even while the encounter is in progress, even if a wipe isn’t preventable.
3. Telluric Currents. My understanding of this talent was that it was supposed to be optional, a bonus talent for overgeared healers wanting to contribute in fights that would otherwise be snoozefests for them. I thought this was the Official Word on the talent. But, especially with Magmaw exposing his, um, pincers so often, there’s no way I could’ve been comfortable with my mana without Lightning Bolt spam taking me to 100% every exposure phase. As I learned just how much mana I could regen during that phase I got more and more daring with mana usage between exposures, to the point that one time I remember casting Heroism at 15% mana – leaving me with about 5% mana remaining – and being back at 100% by the time the phase ended.
Let me emphasise the irony of this situation. In a fight which is “all about the healing” and in which I’m trying to manage my mana extremely carefully as we’re all relatively undergeared with it being our first raid and all, and in which we had two other DPSers able to cast Heroism/Time Warp, I – the healer, the Mana-Managing One – am casting the big expensive raid buff which chows mana like Magmaw chows tanks. And I’m using it to DPS, with only 5% of my mana pool left. One pull I did only 1k less damage-per-second than one of our DPSers because – wait for it – the DPSer in question ran out of mana.
This is, of course, absolutely heaps of fun – for me, anyway. Based on the forum discussion in beta I’m pretty sure there are folks out there who’d rather not be spending their healing time casting Lightning Bolt. But even with the double-damage-no-healing phase it just seems a bit, uh… well I don’t want to sound ungrateful but I’m genuinely confused here: is it an optional talent or isn’t it? Because I’m pretty sure we would not have killed Magmaw, with me healing, without Telluric Currents. And this isn’t heroic Cho’gall or anything, it’s effectively the first raid fight of the expansion and my shaman has the best possible gear she could have without raiding.
I don’t have a problem with TC being a big regen source if fights are designed that way, and I don’t have any issues with having to rely on it. Dare I say it’s actually fun. But it’s been touted as totally optional, man, like, you really don’t have to if you don’t want to, y’know, and if that’s poppycock then I’d like to know.
Of Valor and Conquest
I’m also still trying to figure out exactly what the deal is with gear in this expansion. I think I’d broadly assumed it’d be similar to The Burning Crusade, but with more polish and less grind. One thing of note is that it’s relatively easy – painful levelling processes aside – to get hold of the epic 359 crafted gear, even if you’re not a crafter yourself. The materials are generally very farmable if you don’t have the money, and the money not too hard to get if you don’t have a farmer, and Chaos Orbs are not seeming to pose a particular problem either. In TBC the crafted stuff was often excellent but was also either BoP or hideously, hideously expensive. There are three things I don’t expect to upgrade in this tier of raiding because I got crafted equivalents which are, well, equivalent to raid drops.
Reputation stuff is also both more plentiful and more obtainable, and is again basically equivalent to raid gear. Chayah has two reputation epics which will tide her over until heroic raiding loot (assuming we ever access it). BoE world drops are also a serious proposition to anyone who’s been playing long enough or hard enough to have scads of cash. So all this top-range gear is very accessible and seems pretty good value. The only real downside, if you have the time and money to get them, is that when you do head into raids you’re getting slightly less potential reward for your exploits (unless one considers Maelstrom Crystals a reward, which one probably should considering how hard to come by they are at present).
Justice and Valor points though. Hmm. I really don’t want to ramble on and on about this, so I’ll try to summarise what I’m thinking:
Justice points – the “sub-tier” points, for 346 items – are a wee bit grindy. It takes several heroics to get a single item. Though that seems totally fine if in those several heroics you’re getting gear upgrades which may even supplant the need for JP purchases. I think I’m OK with this, actually. The more questionable part is trying to gear up for heroics in the first place, at which time the gain of JP is glacial and grinding hundreds of quests for reputation/quest reward gear seems horribly depressing considering you probably grinded hundreds of quests to get to 85 in the first place.
Valor points are rather more severely grindy. The weekly cap of 1250 is very high considering you only get 70 per day from a random heroic and 70 per 10-man raid boss kill. To reach the cap from raiding alone one would have to kill 18 raid bosses. There aren’t 18 raid bosses to kill, there are… uh… 14? (15 if you include Sinestra, which, well, seriously?). Plus, chances are if you are clearing the entirety of Cataclysm’s non-heroic raid content you aren’t going to need Valor points all that much anyway, so by the time you are able to acquire them in significant numbers you are already at the stage where you don’t need them.
Random heroics are the only other source of valor points, except there are two problems here:
1. To maximise your VP income, you have to do a random heroic every. single. day. Heroics aren’t 20-minute affairs anymore, which is great – but to spend an hour or two slogging through heroic Grim Batol for 1/30th of a pretty pretty kilt is, well, pants. Yes, I realise the pun there sort of detracts from my point, but it also makes me sound less crazed and ranty. Even if you are clearing every single 10-man raid boss in the game every week you have to still do 4 more random heroics to cap out your valor points. (I assume some bosses give more valor points and you get more for a 25-man kill, but bear with me here.) This is not what I had in mind when Blizzard talked about a cap in the amount of PvE points you could earn and about not requiring people to do random heroics every day.
2. I actually included the second problem in with the first, so I’ll restate it for emphasis: heroics are long and bloody affairs now, and even for feckless slacker students doing one a day, every day, is a slog.
I confess that I don’t really understand why Valor gear is so hard to get when the other epics are so very easy, or why a Valor cap exists at all if it’s so hard to reach. I’d like to see the rate of points gain double or the cap halved so that there’s actually a meaningful choice between, for example, raiding or random heroics or a bit of both. Perhaps this is the early-expansion period when everything is meant to be punitive and difficult, but I think the current situation contradicts the very point of the design.
Incidentally, the PvP equivalent of Valor points are so easy to obtain it’s almost embarrassing – you win five 2v2 arena matches a week and you’re capped (until higher ratings, anyway). Conversely, the lower tier Honor Points are still a slow and painful grind for anyone with sufficiently poor gear to still need them, and the only realistic way to obtain them is random battlegrounds – sorry arena players! Similarly if you want to gain Conquest points without doing arenas, you’re going to have to do rated battlegrounds which, as someone who strongly dislikes arenas, I’ve been very much looking forward to.
I would love to say something meaningful about rated battlegrounds in this post, but the bracketing rotation system has prevented me taking part. It rotates so that every week a different “size bracket” is active for rated play – one week it’s 10v10, the next 15v15, and the next 25v25. It means that you can only play a rated battleground if you have 10 players one week, 15 the next and 25 the next. The one week we managed to put together our first 10s group, the bracket had already changed to 15.
I don’t know why the rotation exists. I can only guess Blizzard are worried that without it, nobody would play the larger battlegrounds. Well, you know what, it sucks and I don’t give two figs if nobody wants to play the larger battles. Many excitable people were declaiming the death of 25-man raiding in Cataclysm and it’s still going strong – because hey, if something is fun enough and accessible enough you’ll do it because you want to, not because you have to. Imagine you could only play 25-man raids one week in three, or if you had to play arena battles 2v2 one week, 3v3 the next and 5v5 the final week. Nothing like this has ever been in place, so why battleground brackets? The game’s increasingly being built on players doing what they want to do, what they have fun doing, so why force people into a bracket they can’t manage? My 10-man PvE guild has enough trouble finding people for a 10-man battleground, and having to find 5 more people one week and 15 more the next strongly works against building the sort of co-ordinated, experienced team that rated BGs are surely supposed to be about.
Tol Barad Rant of DoooOooOoom!
Picking nits in an otherwise excellent play experience always seems a bit petty and I really hate to do it repeatedly in one post, but for Tol Barad the time has well and truly come. I’ve given up on trying to be fair to it, trying to justify it, trying to like it. I’ve participated a lot, I’ve achieved exalted reputation, I’ve won and lost on both offence and defence and, well, it’s basically horrible. Here’s why I think that is:
First off, the battle is deliberately heavily biased towards defenders. The design intention is apparently to make it feel more important to win than Wintergrasp. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work. It feels unfair, it feels punitive, and it feels pointless if you’re not going to win. I’d go so far as to say winning is the only conceivable reason to take part. After all its fixes and tweaks and rethinks Wintergrasp was a lot of fun, and the only bad thing about it was tenacity. You could legitimately go for a win as either defence or offence and there was a good reward for winning, but you also got amply compensated for taking part unsuccessfully. If you lost, that was fine, you got another chance in a couple of hours where you had pretty good odds because attacking was slightly easier than defending. If you won, you still had reason to play on defence because you’d potentially get some great rewards for doing so. And did I mention it was fun?
Tol Barad’s rewards are pretty much entirely PvE related which means that, chances are, the people who really want to win it are PvE players. But the battle is difficult enough that your best chance of winning an offense are with some competent PvP players. Also, Tol Barad puts you in a group with random people – the “join as group” system actually seems broken at the moment so you can’t properly join with a premade – but it requires co-ordination and strategy to stand even a small chance of an offensive win, and those are difficult enough even in a premade. Added to this, the lower population side of the server seems to have a definite advantage. I realise this may not be true for every server, but on Shadowsong the lower population Horde side has a higher concentration of what you might call power players; if they queue for TB, they basically get in, whereas the Alliance side with a far more diluted playerbase has a much lower chance of having their well-geared, experienced PvPers even make it into the battle.
Tol Barad isn’t fun to play. It’s slow and boring and if you’re defending, you basically have to sit there until you die, then move somewhere else where you stay until you die. The game is designed so that offence wins whatever base they attack, eventually, by sheer force of numbers. It’s also designed so that when they do so, all the people they killed just go to where they aren’t – basically avoiding combat – and undo the gains the attackers made at another base. To win as a defender you have to have the patience to sit there for 25 minutes doing very very little. To win as an attacker you still have to endure 25 minutes of play, but now you have the added frustration of a ridiculous game of musical chairs where every time you capture a new base, your old base is recaptured behind you.
And finally, Tol Barad is fundamentally zerg based, even more than Wintergrasp. Wintergrasp funnelled the less bold players into one big milieu at the Keep while the more confident PvPers ranged across the map taking strategic towers and vehicle shops, all of which were crucial to a victory. Tol Barad forces you to beat numbers with numbers, a style of play which WoW’s interface and mechanics are very poor at supporting anyway, and which effectively removes individual player agency in favour of a herd dynamic which is far more RTS than RPG.
Now, I enjoy PvP. I enjoyed Wintergrasp even with Tenacity and even if we lost. But I don’t enjoy Tol Barad, even if we win, and as winning’s the only reason to take part I think that says something pretty serious about the philosophy of the zone. In fact I think that’s the most damning indictment of the whole affair – it’s just not fun to play. With the only reason to take part being the rewards, and with losing involving sitting through 20 minutes of tedium for no reward, there’s a strong disincentive to play if you don’t think you’re going to win.
I totally get the design perspective and I tried to give it some credence even though I didn’t agree with the reasoning given, but from my point of view it’s just flat out wrong. It was an interesting idea but it’s not been executed well enough to work, and I honestly don’t think the idea would work even if it had been executed well. Tol Barad needs to be fun, it needs to give both PvE and PvPers something meaningful to do both during and after battles, and it needs to not grind your face in the dirt for losing a battle. Win trading was bad – this is way worse.
I hate bashing stuff that Blizzard’s done because I have so much respect for so much that they do, so I’ll try to finish on a positive note by returning very briefly to the healer thing.
I’ve read a fair number of posts on the forums lately which have involved vociferous complaining about the changes in Cataclysm to the healing game. I totally respect the right of players to complain or to not like the changes, but I hope that doesn’t drown out those of us who are too busy having a lot of fun to write posts about how we love the changes. Obviously I’m really enjoying the new healing model, and so far all the folk I’ve healed with share that enjoyment. One of my friends has even started playing a healer for the first time since vanilla, and is finding the experience complex, challenging and deeply satisfying. Some folk were, I suppose, really digging the whole WotLK twitch-heal GCD management game and I guess I’m sorry for their loss… but for me, and for those I heal with, the healing redesign has so far helped us find a fresh enjoyment and satisfaction in a part of the game which was deeply frustrating by the conclusion of Wrath.
So – what do you folks think of the new raids, the healing changes and of course that monster that is Tol Barad?