Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I hold in my hands...

an actual, physical box of Starcraft II.

And the peasants...err..SCVs...rejoiced.

Seriously, I thought it was vaporware 3 years ago.  I thought it was vaporware when I pre-ordered it.  I thought it was vaporware when they claimed to have shipped the bloody thing.  And, frankly, I'm still fairly convinced it will end up being an empty box when I open it tonight.

Here's hoping the humans lose at the end of their campaign.  Scorched from the skies...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cataclysm Beta: Why no faction bosses?

Cataclysm is supposed to be all about ripping things asunder.  The world destroyed by Deathwing's emergence and the tentative truce between Horde and Alliance rent beyond repair.  Indeed, many of the major faction cities will be significantly tougher nuts to crack, with new walls, new guards, and leaders placed in more defensible positions (I always did wonder why Thrall stood so far away from his potential defenders in the auction house).

However, their ability sets are still fairly boring, and there are still no serious in-game rewards for killing them.  Given that the storyline now gives players ample reason to go after them (we're at war again, after all), this strikes me as a little inconsistent and a little sad.  I realize that Blizzard doesn't want world pvp in the cities to be so prevalent as to make them unwieldy, especially for low level players, but a long respawn timer could fix this (quests would need to be turned in to a regent in the meantime).

Spontaneous, open-world pvp, if properly controlled, is one of the things that makes the game fun and unpredictable, and gives it some legs.  So long as low level players are still immune in their capital cities (unless they attack first) and so long as quest givers can't be killed (or at least respawn quickly and/or have an alternative, like a regent), the only real problem is a little more lag.  And frankly, I don't think a little additional lag would be noticed in Stormwind or Orgrimmar.

C'mon, Blizz, give us all a reason to subscribe to the global defense channel again!

Cataclysm Beta: Starsurge Graphic

One more comment.  Hopefully the starsurge graphic in the beta now is a place holder.  If it is not, I would strongly encourage Blizzard to create another graphic for it.  (this has been noted on the beta forums, but there hasn't been an official response)

The current graphic is a noxious large glowing green ball.  It's look like sickly swamp gas meandering towards its target, and would be far more appropriate for a warlock (or a truly demented mage) than a druid.  Yes, Wrath is green, but wrath is a deep, natural green.  Starsurge is currently a sickly, corrupted green.  Further, starsurge suggests that it would have some blue or white in it, something along the lines of the colors in starfire, starfall, or moonfire.  Maybe two intertwined beams (ah...double helix!), one the color of wrath and one the color of starfire.  It is not, after all, supposed to be a pure nature or pure arcane spell.

Cataclysm Beta: First experience with Hyjal leveling zone

I should preface this by saying I've only spent about 2 hours in the zone all told, and that druids are fairly broken in the most recent two beta versions, so my experience should be taken with a grain of salt.

That said, I was able to proceed without difficulty most of the time.  Unlike in much of the old world, I did not encounter instances of randomly getting shifted out of flying form and falling to my death.  Which is too bad, really, as it added a bit of excitement and adventure to my explorations in the Eastern Kingdoms...

The graphics in Hyjal are amazing.  I can literally hear my graphics card chug into high gear (well, I can hear the fan, at any rate) when I fly in under Nordrassil.  This beauty may be difficult to appreciate with lower spec hardware.  The sky is also a work of art (literally) and probably my favorite of any zone so far.

The epic quality of the zone is bolstered primarily by the fact that many of the quest givers and other NPC characters are Big Important People from vanilla who we only got to see back then, if at all, in raids or in the Shifting Sands quest chain.  This includes the villains.  It's pretty fun to run into old raid bosses wreaking havoc out in the world.  There is also a battle going on between the Cenarion Circle (or associated forces....they are a new faction) and the twilight cultists/fire elementals.  It's not quite as intense as the opening siege for those who first stepped into Northrend as hordies in the Tundra, but it's not bad.  It's also a bit more dynamic than the standard "there are some bad guys and some good guards fighting."  There are some bigger characters and druidic types that react to some of the Big Bad Lieutenant abilities, and if you don't follow their lead, it's pretty easy to find yourself extra crispy.

The epic feeling is brought down a bit by the lack of content (at least, I hope it will be filled in before release) in some of the twilight camps.  Some of them have no cultists at all....just a few empty wagons.  Which is weird, especially when your quest is to destroy the camp.

Some of the initial quest lines also remind me of one of my favorite zones in Northrend - Zul'Drak.  Like the quests sending you to each temple to discover the current status of its god and then handle the fall out appropriately (which was great because it gave you an overarching plot line with a bit of tension and excitement, but still mixed it up and had you do something different for each god), you are sent to the shrines of four different ancients (actually, Ancients with a 'A'...not just the big trees, these guys are the remnants of the great spirits of nature that fought and fell in the War of the Ancients) to try and help bring their powers forth to drive the cultists back from Nordrassil.

So far, the zone is beautiful and has a nice epic feel, and most of the quests are even completable (added bonus!).  We'll see how it goes from here....it's a big zone.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cataclysm Beta: Pamela Redpath

Pamela Redpath is still in the game.  Thank god!  She starts a new quest, in addition to finding her doll, entitled "I'm Not Supposed To Tell You This" about finding her father's lost sword.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cataclysm Beta: Water graphics a little funky; zone transition graphics a little clunky

It's entirely possible that this stuff is already up for more changes; I don't know.

My first impression of the water graphics:  On my card, with my settings, the reflections don't work properly from most angles.  Whatever is above the water on my screen reflects from the water, even if it wouldn't be above the water in the physical model.

Further, the water seems less 3D and more like a flat pane of smoky glass.  It looks pretty awesome from above (reflections aside), but if you get too close it starts to look flat compared to the old water.  From beneath the water, it just looks like a perfectly flat, dark ceiling.

My first impression of flying between old world zones:  I'm not going to lie.  Flying in the old world is awesome (especially up to things like the top of Blackrock Mountain or the Ironforge Airfield that I've been longing to get to for ages).  However, there is often a very, very sudden split between old world zones graphically.  The Northrend handles transitions by having them be slow and spread out, and/or by simply having each zone be similar and united in their snowy-ness.  The Outland has slow transitions that seem to make physical sense (like going down a mountain path from Hellfire to the lower, wetter Zangamarsh).

Now compare that to the weird fissure that separates the big hot mountains of the Searing Gorge from the big cold mountains of Dun Morogh.  That fissure reminds me more of the Outland in terms of "oh my the world is rent asunder and the terrain is changing like mad" than some of the Outland zone transitions do.

Now, I realize that Deathwing's escape did rend the world asunder to some extent, but there were no major changes in either the Gorge or Dun Morogh, so why are they acting like they're on separate tectonic plates?

Is this something that in any way affects the gameplay or my enjoyment of it?  No, not really.  In a perfect world, the transitions would be a bit less intense (except stuff like the Barrens where Deathwing really did rip it apart).  But somehow, I'll survive...

Cataclysm Beta: New fishing and cooking dailies

I have done one set of the new cooking and fishing dailies on the Alliance side.  The quest givers are, for the moment, standing outside in the western half of Stormwind (they may be in each capital, I haven't checked).

I like them.  The ones I did are much along the lines of the ones in Dalaran.  Go catch me a fish, or go do something simple in the city itself (in my case, flying around and right-clicking on barrels to steal NPC fisherpeople's catfish).

Each quest gives you a token AND a single skill point in that profession.  The closest I've ever seen to the latter reward is in the Death Knight starting area where you get talent points as quest rewards.

What do I like about these?

  1. It's easy, mindless, and internally consistent.  All quests shouldn't be easy and mindless, but having a couple each day that are quick and fun is a good thing.  Stealing ingredients and recipes from other NPC foodies in the capital cities is a cute prank that spices up the quest a bit.  It's a simple but believable story.  
  2. You don't need to go farm random monsters in random areas to get meat (at least, I haven't had to yet).  That's good.  It's fine when you're leveling or need to actually make food for yourself, but it's frustrating when you're at the level cap and suddenly need to run off halfway around the world to kill a tuskarr.  
  3. I am strongly in favor of handing out a skill point upon completion.  I realize that the serious anglers out there will probably complain, and rightly so, that this devalues the vast amount of time they put into leveling their fishing skills.  At the same time, it would still take me the better part of a year to get my fishing maxed out if I started doing the quest every day right now.  Therefore, I think the anglers' concerns would be a bit overblown.  For everyone who would otherwise never put in the time to get the secondary professions (fishing especially) up to max, this is a nice crutch that allows you to do it slowly over the course of each expansion.  It fits with Blizzard's WotLK policy of eventually letting all players experience all content.  I like it.  

Cataclysm Beta

So, I made it into the Cataclysm beta.  That was random.

Thus far, I've spent a day installing the client (which, to be honest, is about the same amount of time it takes to install the retail WoW at this point), signed in, emptied my bags, set up some boomkin and resto talent trees (warning: trees are only about half implemented), and had a helluva lot of fun flying around Stormwind and blowing shit up on the Ironforge Airfield.  I've wanted to do that for 5 years now.

I plan to make some new characters in each faction and try out the 80-85 zones for each faction eventually (right now, things are only implemented through 83, and I use "implemented" loosely, though I don't mean that as any slight to Blizzard - it's early beta and anyone complaining about lack of content now is a bit of a fool).

I'll post thoughts, comments, suggestions, concerns up here, and cross-post them to the beta forums where appropriate.  It gives me an excuse to use this blog again...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tentative strategy for the Lich King, 10-man

Our guild has finally reached the Lich King!  After discussing the encounter with a 10-man raid leader from Google's guild, I think the best strategy to start off with is as follows (and assumes 2 tanks and 3 healers, which seemed to work fine for us in phase 1):

Phase 1:

  • Necrotic Plague,which we dealt with just fine, and the two types of adds.  Keep the Shambling Horrors facing away from the raid, as they have a frontal cone attack.  If possible, misdirect them to the OT to avoid needing to pull them helter-skelter (facing all directions) through the raid.  Also, tranq them when they enrage.
  • Infest will be cast on the entire raid every so often, dealing a bit of damage and putting a DoT on people that stays until they are healed up past 90%.  But we seem to be dealing with this easily.

Transitions (70%, 40%):

  • Break off dps 3% ahead of time if a Shambling or a Valkyr is about to spawn.  Deal with it.  Pull the LK to the edge as you push the last 3%.  The LK will then run back to center before channeling Remorseless Winter.  Take this invitation to kindly leave the main platform.  
  • LK will cast Pain and Suffering, a cone shadow damage spell with a stacking DoT.  Thus the raid should form an arc, not stack up.
  • Ice Spheres will spawn.  These have very low HP (around 6k) and can be killed by a single hunter as they start to head for the outside edge.  (If they reach us, they'll knock us off.)
  • Raging Spirits will be summoned from players.  They cast Soul Shriek, a 20k frontal cone that also silences all targets for 5 seconds.  Tanks need to grab these immediately and pull them to the edges of the raid's arc formation, facing away from the raid.  They must be killed, or nearly all killed, before the transition ends.
  • Quake destroys the outer platform at the end of the transition.  Make your way off it.  Quickly.

Phase 2:

  • Infest is still with us.  Still shouldn't be a problem.
  • Defile will be cast on one player at a time.  This is the one that places a pool of black on the floor.  It deals shadow damage each second, and grows larger for each person it deals damage to.  If three people are in it, it will grow faster than they can run out of it, or so I'm told.  To counter this, we should all stay as spread out as possible the entire time.  We'll have a two second cast time to see who he is targeting.  That person should run, and will hopefully only take one tick of it by the time it lands (it lands where they were standing at the time the cast started).
  • Valkyr will spawn.  They'll grab someone and drag them off the platform.  Just before they spawn, we need to all collapse to the center of the platform (barring any Defile placed in the center).  Once someone is grabbed, everyone else needs to chain, daze, etc. in order to slow the thing (it will only slow to 50%), and then take it out.  Then spread out again and turn back to the LK.  
  • Soul Reaper will be cast on the highest aggro target.  It will put a ticking bomb on the tank, dealing 50K shadow damage after 5 seconds.  At that point, the LK also gains 100% haste for 5 seconds.  Hence the idea is to have the OT grab aggro during the 5 seconds before the 50k lands, in order to avoid having the MT take 50K and then take lots of LK blows.  The MT should still blow a cooldown.  If Puya was MT for this phase, he could probably do it without switching, by alternating Barkskin and the 4t10.  

Transition again.  This is the time to blow Heroism, to make sure we're clear of Raging Spirits (more of them in this transition than in the first one) going into Phase 3.

Phase 3:

  • Defile is still with us.  Infest is gone.
  • No more Valkyr.  Instead he will summon a flock of 10 or so Vile Spirits.  These will hover for 30 seconds, and then cast Spirit Burst, which is a 5 yd AOE kamikaze targeted on a player that deals 15k shadow damage.  The idea is to AOE as many of these down during the 30 second window as possible.  We'll already be spread out for Defile, so the AOE shouldn't be an issue.  
  • Soul Reaper is still with us.
  • He'll cast Harvest Soul.  This deals 7.5k shadow per second for 6 seconds.  Then it teleports the victim into Frostmourne.  There are two things in there.  A good guy, and a Spirit Warden with 250k HP.  Player damage is doubled due to Harvested Soul.  You need to kill the Spirit Warden before it kills the good guy, else it will kill you.  If you're dps, you need to interrupt the Spirit Warden's channeled Soul Rip, which deals increasing damage to the good guy over 6 seconds.  If you're a healer, you might as well try to interrupt it too.  If you're a healer, you need to heal up the good guy (remember, he won't be on your raid frames, so plan accordingly!).  The good guy will deal more damage to the Spirit Warden as he gets up to full health.  

Actually, I think it's really quite doable :)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Serious changes to healing throughput as percentage of total health in Cataclysm

We knew this already, but the Paladin preview that came out today had an interesting tidbit:
Furthermore, the healing environment of Cataclysm is going to be different such that a paladin may not be able to fully heal themselves during the duration of Divine Shield to begin with, so this may not be a problem. 
Divine Shield currently lasts 12 seconds.

Blizzard is contemplating having a Paladin, currently the highest throughput single-target healers, be unable to heal themselves to full over a 12 second time span.  That is a large, large change.  That may be even slower than healing in vanilla was, and it suggests that tanks will either have enormous health or will take very low damage relative to their total health pool.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Excellent post by Big Bear Butt on the loss of tree form

Big Bear Butt points out that we like our tree form, even if it isn't necessary from the standpoint of game design:

I know that Ghostcrawler seems to feel that the Treeform mechanic doesn’t add anything to the game, it doesn’t bring anything special to the Restoration Druid’s table.
It does.
What it brings is Treeform itself. What he just doesn’t seem to grasp is that Treeform, for a Restoration Druid, is a goal in and of itself. Not something to be pity Glyphed, but an outwards symbol of a Druid Healer’s resolve.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cataclysm: Crowd Management vs. Crowd Control

This isn't a full post yet, but I'll come back and edit it into something real once I get my thoughts in order.

From reading all of the previews, it looks like we're getting a lot of new mechanics to control each encounter.  We get speed buffs, artificial LOS mechanics, landmines, walls of fog, and other stuff.

My takeaway is that the old crowd control ("CC") of vanilla and Burning Crusade isn't coming back.  In the good old days, it was simple.  If you pulled a pack of mobs, you would try to root/sap/hibernate/freeze/sleep/hammer all but one of them, and then focus on them one at a time.  Only one mob (in a perfect world) was allowed to be active at a time.  It was effective, but it was very, very simple.

I think Blizzard may have decided it was too simple.  The Cataclysm picture that's emerging is one of more fluid crowd management ("CM").  Mobs coming in certain directions can be slowed or damage.  Certain casters can be avoided by ducking into clouds of smoke or taking cover under camouflage.  This is more interesting, and will likely require more skill, than simply sapping all the mobs and hitting them one at a time.  It also fits into PvP better, especially the rated battlegrounds (Arenas will be a little too small to see these abilities used to their full effects, I think).

I'll go through the preview abilities I think are related to this in a few days, and explain how I think they all fit together.

Druid Cataclysm Preview: What I Think

...because clearly, you should all care about what I think :)

I've written up a separate entry for each spec, and they're all linked below.

My general thoughts are pretty positive, as you'll see.  The vast majority of the complaints on the forums (and in the rest of the blogosphere, which surprised me a bit) involve the disappearance of the Tree of Life form.  I'll admit, that kept me up late last night, drinking myself into a stupor, but I think it won't necessarily be the end of the world.

To see the full announcement of changes, and the follow-up posts by Ghostcrawler (the lead game designer), check out this compilation over at MMO-Champion.  For the thoughts of others on these changes, check out Graylo's blog entry on the Balance changes here, Lissanna's (or her boyfriend's?) entry here, and Allison Robert's detailed posting on the Feral changes here.

Now, please follow the links below for my thoughts on the upcoming (potential) druid changes:

Rebirth changing back to a 30 minute cooldown in Cataclysm?

In the middle of a thread about Blood Lust and Kings, Ghostcrawler dropped an important factoid for we free Druids:
Obviously things like Rebirth can't just be handed to out to more classes unless we did something like a second exhaustion mechanic for battle rez or whatever. For now we're going to try the cooldown at 30 min again. In Icecrown's world of limited attempts, a 30 min cooldown likely meant you just cooled your heels until the cooldown was available again. In Cataclysm the hope is sometimes you'll have the benefit available but not every time, which scales back on how much of a game-changer it is.
Whoa there.  Rebirth is currently on a 10 minute cooldown.  I'll admit, I've been handing it out since candy thanks to that change, and Blizzard has apparently decided that it should be more like fine wine.  Well, boxed wine, at any rate.  A 10 minute cooldown is up for every attempt.  A 30 minute cooldown means that it will be up every other or every third attempt, and probably every other boss if you're able to one-shot everything.

What does that mean?  Well, my guild almost always loses someone, often two someones, doing Putricide and Sindragosa.  Yes, we're a little sloppy.  But there is a lot of damage flying around in all directions in that sort of fight.  We're used to battle res'ing one to two people per fight.  We have two druids and it tends to work out.

However, that does allow us to be a bit sloppy.  So does this mean Blizzard is aiming to go back to something more like Burning Crusade and to require perfect execution of raid encounters?  No, almost certainly not.  I'm guessing that this will fit in with the overall changes to health, damage taken, and healing in Cataclysm.  It sounds like people will be in less imminent danger of death for most encounters, and this should mean fewer actual deaths.  Right now, it's easy to die in many ICC encounters if there's a lag spike or you're outside the healers' range for more than a second or two.  If Cataclysm changes that to a 10 second window instead, for example, deaths will only occur due to actual errors, and a 30 minute Rebirth should fit in well.

I'll admit, I love feeling like a hero whenever I cast the thing, so I will miss it a bit.  But I don't think it's the end of the world.

UPDATE:  Hah!  Ghostcrawler confirmed my premise:
Also keep in mind that Rebirth is much more useful in today's game where people tend to die from massive damage. In a world where people sometimes die because the healers have run out of mana, then Rebirth doesn't buy you quite as much. 
He also indicated that they were considering other options, including leaving the 10 minute cooldown as is but having each Rebirth trip the cooldown for all other druids in the raid.  Sounds like they just don't want it used all that often, and only when people died due to honest mistakes.

In the same thread, he suggested that we may see a merger of Kings and Gift...interesting.  Ever since vanilla, I've thought of Mark of the Wild as the iconic Druid spell.  I'd be sorry to see it go.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Druid Cataclysm Preview: Feral

Feral Druids get two (count them) brand new abilities in the preview:
Thrash (Level 81): Thrash deals damage and causes all targets within 10 yards to bleed every 2 seconds for 6 seconds. The intent here is to give bears another button to hit while tanking. Talents will affect the bleed, such as causing Swipe to deal more damage to bleeding targets. 5-second cooldown. 25 Rage.

Stampeding Roar (Level 83): The druid roars, increasing the movement of all allies within 10 yards by 40% for 8 seconds. Stampeding Roar can be used in cat or bear form, but bears might have a talent to drop the cooldown. The goal of this ability is to give both bears and cats a little more situational group utility. 3-minute cooldown. No cost. 
I'll admit, I'm not entirely sure what to make of this one.  It's a bit like Swipe, but has an extra 2 yards of range and is a 6 second DoT rather than a direct damage ability.  It also has a slightly higher rage cost (25 compared to 20), but all rage costs will be adjusted in Cataclysm so we can't read too much into that.

This would be a great ability to have right now, when the DPS is used to opening up with AoE as soon as the tank has pulled.  It allows us to keep building threat for a few seconds, even on targets that are out of range.  This would be great for the trash packs of casters as one goes up the hill in the Pits of Saron.  It also have some nice synergy with Rend and Tear, especially since, assuming you have enough rage, the bleed from Thrash can have a 100% uptime.

Overall, though, it's something you'll hit in addition to Swipe and Maul.  If we hit Maul that much Cataclysm.

Stampeding Roar:
The addition of a new roar is a good move in fitting with the portrait of the bear.  I'm a giant bear.  What do I do?  I tank with my face.  And I ROAR.  However, I'll admit I'm skeptical about the utility of an 8 second speed boost with a 180 second cooldown.  When will we actually use it?  Probably only when things go wrong.  Given the cooldown, it's doubtful it will be available each time a boss mechanic is used.  However, if everyone is slow switching sides in something like the Putricide encounter, and the next ooze/gas is spawning in the middle of the group, then this would be useful.

Note that it has a short range, however.  At 10 yards, it will probably only effect the melee group.  In that case, it seems like the biggest use would be helping people avoid a whirlwind.  Once every three minutes.

Overall, I'm not sure how this will function in practice.  It seems to be another "crowd management" ability, letting the melee move into position quickly when necessary without actually stopping any of the mobs themselves.  There could definitely be some nice synergy with this of some of the other preview abilities we've seen.  Mages are getting a wall of fog that roots enemies that cross it.  Rogues are getting smoke bombs.  This Roar could help the melee group dart across the fog or into the smoke in an emergency.

Maul and Rage Normalization:
Before going any further, remember that rage will function differently in Cataclysm.  It won't be as dependent on how much damage you take.  Maul is also changing pretty drastically.  It will no longer replace your next white attack, so it won't need to be spammed at all time (my ring finger on my left hand it grateful).  Instead, it will be a rage dump, taking anywhere from 10 to 30 rage, depending on how much you have at the time.  This may have an impact on our threat generation as well, since Maul is a big component of that.  Overall, tanking is going to be a different experience, so keep that in mind as we try to figure out how everything else will fit into our playstyle.

Other Changes:
We want to make the Feral cat damage rotation slightly more forgiving. We do not want to remove what druids like about their gameplay, but we do want to make it less punishing to miss, say, a Savage Roar or Rake. The changes here will be on par with increasing the duration of Mangle like we did for patch 3.3.3. 
We plan on giving Feral cats and bears a Kick/Pummel equivalent -- an interrupt that is off the global cooldown and does no damage. We feel like they need this utility to be able to fill the melee role in a dungeon or raid group, and to give them more PvP utility. 
Bleed Damage and Savage Defense: Feral druids will receive two sets of passive bonuses depending on whether the druid is in cat or bear form. Bleed Damage will be improved for cats. Savage Defense is the current bear mechanic for converting crits into damage absorption and will be improved for bears. 
Kitty DPS is getting an overhaul, though probably not at the highest levels.  It sounds like they are planning to make some of the bleeds and buffs last long or have less of an impact, and may increase the damage of mangle so that positioning (getting behind the target) has a smaller effect.  Overall, this means that the vast majority of us who have not mastered the Madden aspect of being a kitty will see a decent DPS increase.  We still won't be on par with the Madden-level experts, though.

Cats (and bears!) are also getting a real interrupt with a short cooldown like Kick.  This is a welcome change, and a bit of a relief.  It has been a gaping hole in our utility as compared to many other classes, and the hoops that cats had to leap through to interrupt using Maim dropped our DPS by around 75%.

The bleed damage improvement is pretty simple but should amount to some decent DPS and fits in nicely with the kitty's trademark strategy of death-of-a-thousand-cuts.  Each one of them bleeding...

But wait a minute, Rogues got some major changes to their UI, allowing them to maintain "floating combo points" of some sort in order to switch more easily between targets.  Being a kitty is a bit like being a rogue.  Do we get any of that?  Ghostcrawler says "most likely."  This will be a good change.  We'll be able to keep Savage Roar up much more easily, is the first thing that comes to mind.  And besides, it never made much sense that Savage Roar was based off the combo points on your target.  It buffs you, after all, not the poor sap you've got in your cross hairs.

Overall should make kitty a bit more forgiving and accessible, and give us a bit more utility as well.  Nothing huge, but I'm happy with it.

Finally, we get an interrupt like other tanks.  About time.  I dare Kel'Thuzad to get another frost bolt volley past me.  Just try it, you undead floaty-thing.  Other than that, these "other changes" don't have much of an impact.  Savage Defense is turning into a core class mechanic, but everyone takes it with talents already if you're tanking.  The big changes have already been discussed above.  Rage normalization, Maul, and Thrash. We'll have to wait and see how it all works out.

Lower Levels:
We also get word of one more welcome change.  Ghostcrawler indicated that we might get cat form at level 10 and bear form at level 20.  This isn't a huge change, in my opinion, given how quickly those levels go (I still remember going through them in vanilla by whacking things with my staff), but it certainly is a welcome one.  Hunters will start with pets, and Druids will at least hit 20 a little faster.

The changes for Feral Druids are less flashy than those for Balance and less extreme than those for Restoration (we'll miss you, tree form).  At the same time, I fully expect that the change in our rotations and playstyle will be just as drastic in all three trees.

Feral is getting a bit more accessible on the kitty side and a bit more interesting (hurrah, a new button to press!) on the bear side.  If rage normalization works, it will be a relief in 5-man content.  And the extra utility of a reliable interrupt will make a huge difference in terms of my paranoia.  I hate relying on others for critical interrupts, if I can avoid it.  On a more personal note, soloing old content like Kara will get much, much easier with a reliable interrupt.

It's hard to say exactly where the Feral changes will lead us, but I'm smiling, and we'll just have to wait and see.

Druid Cataclysm Preview: Balance

Ladies and Gentlefolk, children of all ages, I bring you the new, the improved, the even more shiny:  SHROOMKIN!

Magical Mushrooms:
Wild Mushroom (Level 85): Grows a magical mushroom at the target location. After 4 seconds the mushroom becomes invisible. Enemies who cross the mushroom detonate it, causing it to deal area-of-effect damage, though its damage component will remain very effective against single targets. The druid can also choose to detonate the mushroom ahead of time. This is primarily a tool for the Balance druid, and there will be talents that play off of it. No cooldown. 40-yard range. Instant cast.
The Cenarion Circle has been investigating other revenue sources, I see...  Seriously though, this is an interesting spell for a variety of reasons.  First, there's no cooldown and it's instant cast.  Can we only have one up?  Or can we set up a wall of mushrooms?  The latter would seem a bit overpowered, I think, but the former would be a bit dull.  Hunters can have multiple traps up at a time (though no more than one per category), so perhaps we'll be able to grow up to three mushrooms?  Something like that would be perfect.  It may, however, be a bit overpowered in PvP, but perhaps it would be possible to simply only permit one at a time in arenas and battlegrounds?  I'm a bit sick of the war going on (largely in Ghostcrawler's head, poor crab) between PvE balance and PvP balance.

Can this mushroom detonate during the first 4 seconds, before it goes invisible, or is it still growing at that point? For boss fights, I'd really prefer that it be able to detonate as soon as you cast it, but I'm guessing it will be benign for the first 4 seconds.  However, it seems like it's there (as an instant cast) to help with the current problem is mobility in raid boss fights.  Boomkins can't do much more than hit Typhoon once and reapply DoTs in large portions of fights like Putricide.  Shroomkins, on the other hand, could also put down a mushroom (or three).  However, it sounds like this will need to be targeted on the ground, much like Force of Nature.  From experience, I can say that it's a pain to do that sort of targeting whilst running.  Still, better than nothing.  We'll have to wait and see how much damage it deals and whatnot.  One thing is for certain: a new part of being a skilled boomshroomkin will be learning where to place mushrooms in each encounter.

I'm also eager to see what talents will "play off it" and how that will work.  It would be interesting if we got various buffs for having an un-exploded mushroom down, or if we got buffs by being near it, or a monster got debuffs for being near it or could get movement and DoT debuffs by exploding one of them.  Mushrooms as a form of crowd control would be pretty neat, though I imagine we'd pick up aggro fairly often.

Speaking of which, we still don't have an aggro dump, and there wasn't one mentioned in the preview notes.  Given our relatively high armor, I can see why Blizzard wouldn't give us one.  But at the same time, that will make mushroom placement all the more interesting.  Unlike a hunter, we can Feign if a pack of mobs hits the mushroom before hitting the tank.  On the other hand, feral tanks might be able to use this as a tripwire to pull patrols, if they put down their own mushrooms.

Eclipse: We are moving Eclipse from a talent into a core mechanic of the class and making it less random. Balance druids will have a new UI element that shows a sun and a moon. Whenever they cast an Arcane spell, it will move the UI closer to the sun, and buff their Nature damage. Whenever they cast a Nature spell, it will move the UI closer to the moon, and buff their Arcane damage. The gameplay intention is to alternate Arcane and Nature spells (largely Starfire and Wrath) to maintain the balance.
This is a huge change.  Of course, we knew something was coming, since Blizzard has acknowledged several times that the current version of Eclipse is too much of an RNG factor and causes some odd scaling and mobility problems.  First, the new UI element.  I like that.  I don't know why, exactly, but I think it's because any UI changes make me feel a little bit more like a unique, feathered snowflake.  I have a sun and moon chart on my UI.  Non-druids don't.  They have other things (like pet bars...).  We're all special in our own special ways.

We'll need to see how this plays out.  It sounds a little like our base rotation will be Starfire-Wrath-Starfire-Wrath-Starfire...  That's cool....I can macro that.  In practice, though, I imagine this will give us a lot of much needed control.  If we're about to enter a burn phase, or about to cast heroism, we can spend 15 seconds or so just casting Wrath and Insect Swarm.  Then unload with an overpowered Starfall followed by Starfire spam.

For PvP and target changes, I'm guessing we'll be using Nature's Torrent (below) to rapidly move the bar in one direction or other, but we still need to wait for details.

This is a change I'm certainly happy about.  It will have a huge impact on the class, but still let us keep the "in touch with nature" feel that we have now.  The big thing I'm worried about is that the eclipse graphics will no longer appear over my feathered head.  I'm in love with those graphics.  Hopefully they'll keep them and use them when you manage to move entirely in favor of the moon or sun.

Nature's Torrent:
Balance druids will have a new talent ability called Nature’s Torrent, which strikes for either Nature or Arcane damage depending on which will do the most damage (or possibly both), and moves the Eclipse meter more (details below). The improved version of Nature’s Torrent also reduces the target's movement speed. 10-second cooldown.
I like us having a new ability.  Our rotation is a little skimpy right now (especially compared to Feral cats, but I don't think I'd want it to get quite that complex).  I'm assuming that this will be instant-cast, since it's on a 10-second cooldown.  If so, it will give us another button to hit during movement phases.  I don't really care if it even deals damage worth mentioning, I'm up for anything that gives me something to do during a movement phase.  I just want to feel like I'm more than a spectator.

This will clearly be involved in managing our "Eclipse meter," but we'll have to wait and see how it works.  I'm hoping that it will move the meter in the direction it was already going.  From the description of the spell (doing whichever type of damage would hit harder), I worry that it may be made to actually keep us centered on the meter, rather than to exaggerate anything.  We'll have to wait and see.  Hopefully, at the least, it would function as a good opener to give us a bit of a buff in one school or the other by moving the meter a significant amount.

I'm also excited about the target speed reduction, sort of like a Frost Bolt I assume.  From all of these previews, it looks like Cataclysm will focus on "crowd management" more than "crowd control," and that CM will be a lot more important than CC has been in Wrath of the Lich King.  I'm glad to see Druids jumping on the bandwagon and getting a slow.  We still have (as far as we know) roots...and hibernate....and cyclone...so  we should be good to go.

Other Changes:
All heal-over-time spells (HoTs) will benefit from crit and haste innately in Cataclysm. Hasted HoTs do not reduce their duration, but instead add additional HoT ticks.
Barkskin will be innately undispellable.
Druids will lose Abolish Poison with the dispel mechanics change, but Restoration druids will gain Dispel Magic (on friendly targets) as a talent. All druids can still remove poisons with Cure Poison and remove curses with Remove Curse.
First, the minor stuff.  The Barkskin change is pretty much a pure PvP change.  It's a good one, for us, but PvP will probably be really different in Cataclysm, so it's impossible to say how it'll work in context.  We'll wait and see.  The loss of Abolish Poison is a bit of a pain, but we can still cure it.  In certain encounters like the opening of Halls of Reflection, it's quite useful to currently spend a single global cooldown and get 8 seconds worth of cures.  However, most of the time this won't have all that much impact on we free feathered folk.

HoTs will scale with crit and haste...what about DoTs?  Everyone else got scaling DoTs in their previews, why are they so special?  Aha, Ghostcrawler came to the rescue and confirmed that our DoTs will probably scale.  Crisis averted.   This is a GOOD THING(tm).  At current end-game gear levels, our DoTs are just barely worth the GCD is takes to cast them, since they scale horribly.  This change should fix that, and let us feel good about keeping our DoTs up throughout Cataclysm.  I don't think there's really anything else to say about this one.  It's a much needed change, Blizzard admitted it was a much needed change, and now it's finally happening.

We'll have to see how the change to Eclipse works out, but overall I'm quite happy.  The Eclipse meter sounds like it will be interesting enough to make our rotation fun (instead of boring) and should give us control to really up our dps during burn phases.  Like I said above, I'm a little unhappy that we didn't get an aggro dump, but we do have high armor for a ranged class, so we'll live for now (though at least one or two hits, and it helps to keep the healers on their toes).

Druid Cataclysm Preview: Restoration

Tree of Life:
Lets start with the big one:
Tree of Life is changing from a passive talent to a cooldown-based talent, similar to Metamorphosis. Mechanically, it feels unfair for a druid to have to give up so much offense and utility in order to be just as good at healing as the other classes who are not asked to make that trade. We are exploring the exact benefit the druid gets from Tree of Life. It could strictly be better healing, or it could be that each heal behaves slightly different. You also will not be able to be banished in Tree of Life form (this will probably be true of Metamorphosis as well). Additionally, we would like to update the Tree of Life model so that it feels more exciting when you do decide to go into that form. Our feeling is that druids rarely actually get to show off their armor, so it would be nice to have at least one spec that looked like a night elf or tauren (and soon troll or worgen) for most of the time. 
First, some history.  Druids were a healing class in vanilla.  We couldn't effectively fill any other role, and people would have laughed (hard) at hearing that we wanted to tank (except for the rare 40-man boss fight that a big guild exploited by using a druid to avoid the boss's response to a block or a parry).  Our DPS was never competitive, and vanished altogether when the introduction of the global cooldown did away with moonfire spam.  Cat form existed solely to allow us to stealth in with rogues and heal them in BRD and LBRS stealth runs.  We were a healing class, and we didn't have tree form.  We stood there, cows (or elves) in robes, in front of the line of priests in Molten Core runs.  We'd heal a little, and then cast innervate on the priests.

The point is, it's not like Tree of Life was originally part of our class.  I'll be sorry to see it go, because I really do play druids for the forms, not for the armor.  I love the fact that you can tell what role a druid is filling based purely on what form they're in, and I don't mind being locked into certain roles in that form.  Powershifting is part of playing the class, and I'm willing to take the hit since we're the only class that can fill all four roles.

Ghostcrawler did relent and say that they might consider a minor glyph that would let us keep our leafy appearance in Cata.  I doubt they'll actually implement said glyph, but we'll see how it goes.

In the meantime, lets look at the current plan.  Tree of Life will become a new high level talent much like the Metamorphosis of our dark lock cousins.  So, how does Metamorphosis work?  It lasts for 30 seconds, with a 3 minute cooldown, and gives the warlock a strong AoE, a mass taunt, a 3 target cleave, a massive (600%) armor increase, and some incoming damage reductions and resistance to crowd control.  In other words, they turn into monsters, literally.  They can also talent it to reduce the cooldown by 30%, and glyph it to increase the uptime to 36 seconds.

Now compare that to the druid version, which "could strictly [grant] better healing."  That would be pretty boring, in my opinion.  What would be awesome, and would justify getting rid of the passive Tree of Life, would be if it modified each spell.  Perhaps rejuv would now do two ticks worth of healing instantly upon cast.  Wild growth could hit up to 10 people.  Something of that sort.  Ghostcrawler indicated that a cooldown of this sort would have some "pretty significant" effect on our healing, and I'm hoping they come through with that.

Now, would this be useful?  Yes.  It's like our own little pocket heroism.  If there's one period of massive damage in a fight (say, if you're boss-healing in Festergut, though that would be a strange role for a druid at the moment), or if you're just dealing with a soft enrage mechanic (phase 3 of Putricide, anyone?), you can hit your cooldown, sprout some leaves, and laugh in the face of danger.  It'll take some work to make it interesting and balanced, but I'm looking forward to it.

Other Changes:
Now, for the less emotional changes...
Unlike the other healers, Restoration druids will not be receiving any new spells. They have plenty to work with already, and our challenge instead is to make sure all of them have a well-defined niche. A druid should be able to tank-heal with stacks of Lifebloom, spot-heal a group with Nourish and Regrowth, and top off lightly wounded targets with Rejuvenation.
All heal-over-time spells (HoTs) will benefit from crit and haste innately in Cataclysm. Hasted HoTs do not reduce their duration, but instead add additional HoT ticks.
Barkskin will be innately undispellable 
Druids will lose Abolish Poison with the dispel mechanics change, but Restoration druids will gain Dispel Magic (on friendly targets) as a talent. All druids can still remove poisons with Cure Poison and remove curses with Remove Curse.
Restoration druids will have a new talent called Efflorescence, which causes a bed of healing flora to sprout beneath targets that are critically healed by Regrowth.
HoT Scale Healing: HoTs will do increased healing on more wounded targets. The mechanic is similar to that of the Restoration shaman, but with HoTs instead of direct heals. In Cataclysm, we anticipate druids using a greater variety of their spells so there is a distinction between healing and HoT healing. 
Healing Touch and Tranquility:
So, first things first, I'm fine with us not getting any new spells.  I've been really happy with our toolbox in Wrath, and as a 5- and 10-man healer, I use most of what we have at the moment (I think 25-man druids tend to stick primarily with Rejuv and Wildgrowth).  Well, except Tranquility and Healing Touch, of course.  In fact, Blizzard has acknowledged that these two spells are largely unused, so it surprised me not to see them discussed in the notes.  Ghostcrawler came to the rescue, though, indicating that they plan to give us more reason to cast Healing Touch (possibly letting it refresh Lifebloom stacks) and that Tranquility would be modified to make it a useful emergency heal along the lines of Divine Hymn.  Actually, he said "Diving Hymn," but I'm hoping he didn't really mean that Druids will be sinking in the next expansion...

So, Healing Touch as a useful tank heal?  I think this makes sense, especially since we know that tanks will be taking a little less spikey damage in Cataclysm, meaning we have time to charge up our big heal.  This is double true if we get some synergy between Healing Touch and Lifebloom, since Lifebloom can help moderate any serious damage in between Healing Touch casts.  Similarly, I like the change to Tranquility.  Divine Hymn is a smart-targeting, raid-wide channeled heal.  It's actually useful.  Tranquility is generally useless in raids, since it can only heal your own party.  Any change is a good change, and something like Hymn is great.  I personally would like to see it as a 5 second channel that also leaves a HoT on the targets, since HoTs are still our trademark, but I'll take what I can get.

External Cooldowns, or lack there of:
The big thing that a lot of us were expecting, or at least hoping for, was something akin to Pain Suppression, Guardian Spirit, etc.  Druid healers don't have any way to moderate incoming damage on another target.  However, I'm forced to admit that our HoT healing style has a bit of moderation built into it already, since something is always ticking on whoever has aggro, so I can see why Blizz decided we didn't need it.  However, that may have a long term impact on our ability to tank heal in certain encounters.  Festergut again comes to mind...

So, what else?  Barkskin!  No longer dispellable!  That's a PvP change and a welcome one.  However, given how radically PvP will be changing (and the fact that we won't have tree form any more...will we still have an armor buff like our current talented barkskin?), I really can't say what the impact will be.  We'll have to wait and see.

Abolish Poison:
We're losing Abolish Poison (our curing HoT...or CoT, if you prefer).  That's too bad because I hate to see any "over time" spells go away, given that I really do feel like they are our trademark, and the thing that makes us a unique snowflake in the healing blizzard.  However, we knew it was happening and at least we can still cure poisons one at a time (sorry, Shamans, we feel your pain, but we're just as happy it's you and not us).

Our HoTs will benefit from crit and haste, while maintaining their full durations, AND will be more effective on targets with lower health.  The first was expected after we saw the earlier previews, and the latter was hoped for after we saw the Shaman's "Deep Healing," but it's still great to see these in the preview.  As I keep saying, a resto druid is defined by its HoTs.  Our HoTs are better, and so are we.  The big thing about this is that we'll finally start to scale better.  Glyph of Rapid Rejuv is good in some circumstances (and certainly helps with haste scaling), but the fact that it reduces the overall duration means we need to spend more GCD's recasting it, and makes it hard to balance (and hard for us to figure out if it's helping or hurting!).  The Cataclysm method of allowing more ticks to occur over the full duration instead is a much better solution, and one that is an undeniable improvement in healing output, rather than the current mixed bag.  Also, don't panic too much about needing to stack crit.  If haste gives us more ticks, and each tick is still full strength (which may not be the case, we'll have to wait and see), then more haste will mean more overall healing, regardless of our crit percentage.

Finally, Efflorescence.  Not the easiest talent to spell, I'll grant you, but it opens up some cool possibilities and new ways for players to show their skills.  From the description, it looks our Regrowth crits will result in an AoE HoT centered around the Regrowth target.  This may dramatically increase the desireability of Regrowth in encounters where the raid (or least the melee) is stacked up on one spot.  And part of our skill as a healer will be in remembering to use Regrowths more often on players who are stacked (much like learning how to target Wildgrowth).  This also opens up the interesting possibility of functioning a bit like a more useful Light Well, since a player with low health can run onto a nearby bed of flowers to get healed up a bit.  However, we need a lot more details -- how big is the "bed of flora" that spawns, how long does it last, how much healing does it do, is there a limit to the number of players it can heal? -- before we can figure out how this one will work in practice.

Magical Mushrooms?
My big remaining question: will resto druids get any benefits or synergy from the magic mushroom?  Because I'm sure we just won't be able to get enough from that shroom...

I'm pretty happy.  Color me optimistic, but I like the fact they Blizzard is committed to making all of our spells (even Healing Touch and Tranquility!) useful, and I'm excited about the possibilities of a Tree of Life cooldown.  It gives us a bit of control, and I'm a sucker for anything that makes me feel like a god for 30 seconds.  The HoT scaling with haste and crit will also be divine, after our current setup.  I will, however, be sorry to the see the old tree form go.  Hopefully that minor glyph will make it into the release.

Druid Cataclysm Preview: What I Think

...because clearly, you should all care about what I think :)

I'm planning to write up a separate entry for each spec, but they'll all be linked from here.

My general thoughts are pretty positive, as you'll see.  The vast majority of the complaints on the forums (and in the rest of the blogosphere, which surprised me a bit) involve the disappearance of the Tree of Life form.  I'll admit, that kept me up late last night, drinking myself into a stupor, but I think it won't necessarily be the end of the world.

To see the full announcement of changes, and the follow-up posts by Ghostcrawler (the lead game designer), check out this compilation over at MMO-Champion.  For the thoughts of others on these changes, check out Graylo's blog entry on the Balance changes here, Lissanna's (or her boyfriend's?) entry here, and Allison Robert's detailed posting on the Feral changes here.

Now, please follow the links below for my thoughts on the upcoming (potential) druid changes:

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Cataclysm class changes for Druids are up

Remember, these are still early.  I'm digesting them now, but I'll write up a full review tonight or tomorrow.  I think people are a little bit heavy on the qq in the official forums, and I'm actually rather pleased. 

However, I do like our current forms, and I'll miss not being a Tree of Life when healing.  It brings me back to the good old days of vanilla when druids were good for...err....

Anyways, watch this space (or rather, the space soon to be above it)!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Update on the 3.3.3 PTR Starfall buff

Something that wasn't in the patch notes but has since become clear:  Blizzard is also planning to drastically increase the spellpower coefficient for Starfall (the main star, non-splash coefficient has been increased by just over 75% (or possibly much more...hard to say exactly how Ghostcrawler's numbers are working...some of them appear to show a 770% increase, but that seems a bit high)).  Details on Lissanna's blog.  This makes Starfall scale significantly better than Insect Swarm, and Graylo's math indicates that this makes the Glyph of Starfall worth approximately 20-25% more dps than the Glyph of Insect Swarm (plus, as discussed below, there are advantages to an unglyphed Insect Swarm). 

Thus, I'm forced to change my advice below.  After 3.3.3 goes live, assuming these numbers haven't changed, all boomkins should switch from Glyph of Insect Swarm to Glyph of Starfall.  And tell your hunters they can stop using Scorpid Sting once you do so.  Its 3% miss debuff does not stack with Insect Swarm's, and it costs them a bit of dps.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Thoughts on healing the Lower Spire for the first time

Our priest was absent last night so I healed the entire Lower Spire in tree form.  Fortunately, our pally tank healer is plenty good enough to snipe heals at the rest of the raid when I was falling behind.

It was actually quite refreshing.  I'm usually only called in as a third healer on the fights with massive raid damage (Marrowgar and Festergut, so far).  I often feel a bit overwhelmed in those fights and do my best to hit Wild Growth every six seconds and keep the raid blanketed in Rejuvs, but nothing more than that.  This has given me the false impression that all healing in ICC is a matter of brute force. 

It was good to see things like Deathwhisper and, surprisingly, Saurfang that had relatively controlled raid damage and permitted me to react and anticipate who would need heals when, rather than simply racing to keep everyone covered at all time.  Saurfang has remarkably little raid damage.  I was able to keep HoTs rolling on the tanks with no problem at all (same with the Gunship Battle), and only had to keep an eye out for who had boiling blood on them at any given time.  By the end, I was rolling Lifebloom on the Marked raid member as well, and still didn't feel overwhelmed. 

It was good, it was fun, and it let me practice druid raid healing with a bit more finesse than I'm usually able to.  We'll see if any of that translates over to Festergut tomorrow...

New druid changes in PTR 3.3.3 patch notes


  • Nature's Grasp: Now has 3 charges, up from 1.
  • Balance
    • Typhoon mana cost has been reduced from 32% of base mana to 25% of base mana.
    • Starfall damage has been increased. Now causes 563 to 653 Arcane damage (Up from 433 to 503) and 101 Arcane damage (Up from 78) to all other enemies within 5 yards.

From my PvE perspective, the Nature's Grasp change will pretty much only be helpful in fights like the Faction Champions in ToC. I believe that, other than that, it will still be better to simply run in to the tanks if you end up pulling a mob.

The Typhoon change makes it slightly more efficient to cast Typhoon. However, unless you've glyphed it, you are still likely to use it only in boss fights (or to knock adds you pulled back to the tanks). I am trying to think of trash groups in ICC where you may wish to use it every time it is off cooldown. I suppose you could at any point where the trash is largely up against a wall. The important thing is to avoid pushing them too far from the tank or, worst of all, into another trash pack. Frankly, I still won't use Typhoon on boss fights except when running. I don't think it's worth the GCD (though someone should let me know if the theorycrafting indicates otherwise).

The Starfall change is quite welcome. It seemed like a lackluster top tier talent to say the least, especially since it has such a high risk of pulling additional mobs in any non-boss situation. It's a low damage AoE on a long cooldown. Hopefully this will fix at least one of those issues. We should already have been hitting it every 90 seconds though, so I don't think this will have a major impact on PvE rotations (or, in all likelihood, dps). I suppose that, in high movement fights, it may now be worth dropping Glyphs of Starfire and Insect Swarm to take up Starfall and Focus. The damage increase would need to be pretty big though, so we'll have to wait and see.

EDIT: The Starfall changes take it from 433-503 damage per star (20 stars total) to 563-653 damage per star. Assuming you hit it every cooldown and have 3000 spellpower, this will increase dps from this spell from 137 to 206 (unglyphed with a 90 second cooldown) or from 168 to 252 (glyphed with a 60 second cooldown). In other words, the glyph used to get us an additional 69 dps, and is now worth 84, by my back-of-the-napkin math.

The question is, is it worth dropping the Insect Swarm glyph for the Starfall glyph now? Insect Swarm scales better with spellpower than Starfall does (120% to 100% per duration), and the 30% increase to damage from the glyph is applied after spellpower has been factored in, if I understand it correctly. Based on 3000 spellpower, the Glyph of Insect Swarm is therefore worth 122 dps, if I've done the math correctly (407 dps to 529 dps).

In damage terms, the Starfall boost is decent, but still not worth dropping the Insect Swarm glyph for. However, it may be worth switching in order to provide the 3% hit loss in some ICC fights, if you are the only boomkin. Regretfully, this will cost you around 38 dps if I've done my numbers correctly. Note that this is pretty minimal...you are doing 11,400 less damage over the course of 5 minutes, or thereabouts. On a 10-man, that's less than one-half second of raidwide dps. It is worth it to give the buff to tank survivability.

Thus, if you are the only boomkin in your raid, use the Glyph of Starfall, not Insect Swarm. Otherwise, stick with Insect Swarm. You'll do more damage.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ready? Yes/No

I haven't posted in a while due to extreme hours at work.  Things seem to have calmed down for a little bit at least.  Due in part to my schedule and to others in our regular 10-man group, we still haven't progressed beyond Festergut.  We are, however, getting very good are charging through and one-shotting all the Lower Spire bosses (and even 9-manning all but the Deathbringer), so I'm sure we'll get Rotface down soon.  We do have a tendency to wipe a few times on the trash leading up to Marrowgar though...

The best strat we have for Festergut so far is to keep 7 people right on top of him and the minimal 3 out at range (often all hunters).  The trickiest moments come when the two people with spores are the current tank and the pally tank healer.  Rapid adjustments must be made.  This is where 10-man is actually a bit harder than 25.  The loss of one healer due to movement represents a loss of 1/3 to 1/2 of our total healing capacity.  We have only been successful with 3 healers so far.  My guess is this will stay fairly constant, but our dps is picking up quite a bit as we get more 251 pieces (and a few 264 crafted or emblem items to round things off).  That should ultimately make this fight easier.  If we can get him down before the second blight (exhale) phase, our chances of wiping will drop by at least a third. 

Anyways, I'm back, at least for a little while.

Friday, February 5, 2010

New Shifting Perspectives Post on Balance Druids

There is a new Shifting Perspectives post up on WoW.com, by the newly-hired Balance specialist.

I'm going to be honest.  This post was overly detailed, rambled at times, and was somewhat poorly organized.  It is his first post, and it did give a good overview of the current problems of Boomkin (which, he argues, aren't that bad because we're having scaling problems only at the highest limits of gear in Wrath).  But I had to read it a few times, which was frustrating.  I'd recommend that he put a lot of the detailed number explanations in a forum post and simply link to it, just showing his conclusions in the actual column.  It would make it easier to follow, while preserving all of the detail for those who want it. 

The biggest things he argued were that (1) scaling isn't the issue we make it out to be since we're just barely over the effective Starfire crit cap (he did not talk about the Wrath haste cap), and (2) movement and lost Eclipse procs are frustrating at the time, but equal out over the length of the fight and thus aren't nearly as much of a problem as the boomkin community makes them out to be.

Lissanna, in comments, pushed back a bit on the second point, noting that her dps fluctuates to the tune of several thousand depending on whether she is at melee or out at range in the Festergut encounter.  Given that Festergut doesn't actually require that much movement, I think it's a fairly telling example.

The biggest takeaway for my play style is the ABC rule that the column references.  "Always Be Casting."  I need to remember to use movement phases to refresh DoTs, hit Starfall and Treants, and knock out a Typhoon when, for example, I'm running through Rotface to avoid his spew.  Even if it's not the most mana efficient, you might as well refresh DoTs just before the end of a movement phase so you don't need to waste the GCD during the standing-still phase and can concentrate on Wraths and Starfires. 

Festergut 10-man, Success!

Our regular 10-man made it through the Icecrown Citadel gear check tonight!  I'll write up our exact strat when I have more time, but we did end up using three healers. 

Druid tank, warrior tank, holy paladin, holy priest, deathknight, rogue, and elemental shaman all stayed in at melee range.  Two hunters and a tree (me!) stayed out at range, with the hunters collapsing on me each time a spore came up.  Collapsing to a known location rather than spending time figuring out who had the spore definitely made things easier. 

We got Festergut down with 12 seconds left on the enrage...but we did get him down!

Graylo's Guest Post on WoW.com

Graylo, of moonkin theory crafting blog fame, made a guest post on WoW.com about the problematic position of Eclipse in our rotation. 

In short, he argues that Eclipse is too big a part of our rotation to be as random as it is.  That one buff accounts for between 10 and 20% of our total damage output, but we can't control when it occurs and we can't make any use of it when we're moving.  Further, we are rapidly approaching a crit cap for Starfire during an active eclipse (i.e. the point at which Starfire crits 100% of the time).  We're already at the haste cap for Wrath, which isn't helping matters either.

While it feels cool to know that something is as good as it can be (casting as fast as possible and critting every time), that means that we know longer scale with gear.  We can't crit more often, or cast more frequently, so the only stat still helping us is spell power.

It's not quite that bad...yet.  And it never will be, for me, since I will be in mostly ICC 10 normal gear.  But it is possible to hit the crit cap with ICC 25 normal gear, per Graylo's calculations.

So, in short, there are two problems.  First, the Wrath item levels have simply gotten too high, and boomkin have trouble scaling beyond item level 260 or so, meaning we will fall behind other players in full ICC 25 gear.  The developers have acknowledged this as a global problem, indicating that the extra half-tiers of gear they put into Ulduar and ToC were not initially anticipated and caused ICC gear to be significantly more powerful than originally planned.

Second, Eclipse needs to either be more predictable or not be entirely lost to movement, or some of each.  They could also scale it down and give us another spell or two to make our rotation more interesting.  The latter would be more in line with other classes, but I actually like the random aspect of Eclipse (and I adore the moons appearing over my head).  I personally would like to see the Eclipse proc give you a stack of charges that can be used any time in the next thirty seconds.  If used as quickly as possible (i.e. spamming Wrath or Starfire) they would last no longer than the current Eclipse duration.  While you have any remaining, the other Eclipse cannot proc.

That would give us twice as long to use them and thus greatly reduce the chances of losing all or most of an Eclipse uptime to a movement phase.  Of course, in fights like the Professor, we're still screwed, but I can't think of any way to fix that without dramatically changing our talents (or making Eclipse do something totally different and reduce casting time).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Awesome return to ICC-10 this week

After a week or two (for me) of not getting enough people on at raid times for Icecrown Citadel, we made a heroic return this week and managed to clear up through the Deathbringer in 2 hours.  That may not sound incredibly impressive to the guilds that are already banging away at Arthas, but it's quite an achievement for us and it was a lot of fun.  Smooth pulls through the trash to Marrowgar, followed by a one-shot.  A near wipe on the final trash before Deathwhisper, followed by a one shot.

Though I had an embarrassing moment and died by standing in fire death and decay.

One wipe at 1% in the gunship battle, then a quick victory the second time around.  That battle is a lot of fun...if and only if you one-shot it.  Otherwise it gets old pretty quickly.  There are so many moving pieces that need to function independently, and many of them are quite sensitive to lag.  Which would be fine...if that wasn't our traditional bete noir.  Ah well.  Falling off sky ships is fun.  Anyone who knows anything about steampunk knows that much.

The Deathbringer took us three tries, and we only got him by playing extremely well.  Extremely well.  The best I've ever seen us, actually.  Everyone was doing off the charts dps, no one was targeting the rooted blood beast, the tanks were switching on a dime, and the healers were doing an intricate dance to keep all the Marked players up.  It was tense.  We got him down to 2%, and then our Marked rogue finally died and he jumped back up to 7%.  Everyone blew cooldowns and popped speed potions and he dropped....like a neutrally buoyant helium balloon.  But we did get him.  Barely. 

There was something off about him tonight.  He was gaining blood power significantly faster than before.  Last time I saw us down him, he Marked one person when he was a bit below 50% health, and we killed him before the second Mark.  This time, he Marked the first person at 70%, the next around 45%, and a third before he died.  Our priest was discipline, and throwing shields left and right like usual.  I assume that they either bugged him with the 3.2.2 patch, or purposefully changed it so that he now gains blood power through shields.  Though they never stated that they considered that an exploit.  Many, many others have reported his increased blood power tonight as well, so we'll see what happens...

In the meantime, he's dead (again) for now, and I'm looking forward to getting a whole night on Plagueworks come Thursday!

EDIT:  The Deathbringer has been hot-fixed, server-side.  It sounds like the design team had made at least one change and purposefully adjusted the mechanics so that he did not gain blood power from damage dealt by the Mark.  The intent of this was to do away with the (otherwise optimal) strategy of allowing the first Marked player to die in order to delay the casting of the second Mark.  Essentially, especially in 25-man raids, you could cut the exponential growth curve of blood power gains off at its knees by allowing the first Marked player to die after they had blown any useful damage cooldowns.  This prevented the curve from ever reaching truly dangerous heights.  Blizzard didn't like this tactic and adjusted the mechanics so that blood power gained no longer increased exponentially.

Frankly, I'm guessing that they increased the blood power gained through his other abilities in order to balance this out.  They were hoping for a constant rate of blood power gain, instead of an exponential one, but wanted that constant rate to be higher than the base rate was in the exponential scenario, in order to keep the encounter difficult. 

I think they actually hit it right on, it just came as a shock since it was not listed in the patch notes.  We were still able to do it, it was just harder.  Given that they set it back to prior levels, it may have been harder than they were planning.  I'm unclear on whether they also rolled back the change to the Mark or not.  We'll have to wait until next week to find out. 

Friday, January 29, 2010

Scepter of the Shifting Sands

I really want to do this quest chain before it disappears come Cataclysm.

Of course, it requires doing Blackwing Lair at least twice (and three times if you don't time it right on parallel quest chains), Molten Core once (plus one additional visit that doesn't require any boss kills) and Onyxia once.  Blackwing Lair, since it can't be solo'd (the first boss, at any rate) and since cloaks are needed for Nefarion, will probably be the trickiest part.  (Actually, it looks like there is a way to avoid the AoE shadowflame Nefarion casts upon landing.  WoWWiki suggests that standing behind the throne as he lands permits you to avoid it.  Clever.)

But the initial push to get to neutral with the Brood of Nozdormu (starting at 0/36000 hated) is probably the part that makes me least likely to get this done in time.

Retro Raiding

We only had 8 people show up for the 10-man ICC raid tonight, so we ran old content instead.  (Same thing happened on Tuesday and we spent forever doing Maly for the weekly raid quest...with current gear, we blow through the first two phases, generally getting him down to 40% or so...and then we wipe after about 30 seconds on phase 3 because we have no idea how to use the drakes.  Did you know that you have to target the HoTs on yourself?  Ridiculous.)

After a bit of debating, we arbitrarily chose Blackwing Lair.  Only one of us had ever been before, and that was back during vanilla.  It was awesome.  Blackrock Spire is an amazing instance.  Huge, by modern standards, and incredibly life like.  My favorite remains Blackrock Depths (a full city of dwarves surrounded by lava!  It's real and alive!  None of these little 20 minute dungeon runs with three bosses placed in ludicrous positions.), but the Spire was pretty cool and I'd forgotten how massive it is inside, in the vertical direction. 

Forgotten, that is, until our tank got knocked off a ledge (the trash mobs still knock level 80s back a good distance) and fell all the way into the Lower Spire.  He survived, of course, because he's a magic bear.  Actually, he landed in lava.  Only in WoW do the laws of physics state that a huge fall into lava goes to the runner.  It still took him 20 minutes to find his way back up to us though. 

After that, we killed the General, nabbed the UBRS achievement on these toons (we got Jenkins too...Leeeeeeeroy!) and got properly attuned so that we can just use the Orb of Command next time (the quest had amazing flavor text, including "Good luck storming the castle.").  Which is almost a shame, given how amazing the Spire is. 

We burned our way through the raid.  And I do mean burned.  If the bosses weren't on fire, we generally were.  We got to the corrupt red dragon and the chatter over vent was immediately concerned.  "I hear he's hard!"  "Is he still a raid-wiper?"  No.  We destroyed him.  He barely had time to feel sorry for himself as his face was melting off.  He wept tears of joy.  But only for 15 seconds.  Then he died. 

The suppression rooms were hilarious.  Having no clue what was going on (our rogue tried to disarm them once, but couldn't figure it out), we simply ran through, killing everything in our path, never stopping, never tarrying, very....very....very...slowly.  While humming the Chariots of Fire intro music over vent.  "Epic" barely begins to describe it. 

Nefarion himself is on a stunning ledge, looking out over the desolate landscape below.  Very far below.  We couldn't jump.  I tried.  More than once.  I handed out cloaks so we wouldn't need to worry about shadow flame, and we were off and running.  He was actually tricky, and managed to destroy our hunter's bow.  Oops.  He shouldn't have made her mad.  After he died, she took pleasure in skinning him.  And I sat on the throne and lorded over my guildmates minions. 

All in all, a good night.

After that, four of us went and killed Hakkar in Zul'Gurub (I still needed the achievement on my alliance toon).  We only took down the raptor boss first, and by this point the rogue was fairly drunk and the hunter was pretty loaded with opiates.  Hakkar was a bit of a challenge.  The rogue died.  Twice.  That'll teach'm. 

As a side note, I always go resto and stay tree form during fights where the boss can mind control.  You see, a mind-controlled tree still can't do any damage.  There's always a second when the spell is first cast when I simply stand there.  I imagine the algorithm in the depths of Blizzard's servers is going "Damn, a tree...what now?  Aha, he'll heal the boss!  Damn!  He doesn't even have any good burst healing abilities.  What a schmuck." 

The only classic raid most of us still need is the Temple of Ahn'Qiraj.  The Ruins were epic and utterly stunning in terms of scenery and setting.  Four of us tried the Temple and couldn't make it past the first boss.  Mind controls turned us into our own worst enemies.  But I'm guessing eight of us could down him, and after that it's clear sailing to the Twin Emperors, or so they tell me.  Should be fun.  Maybe next time we come up short, I'll push for that...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Best way to wipe your Naxx alt raid...

Put down a cleansing totem during Grobbulus. 

Oops...I don't usually play a class that can do anything about diseases, and it didn't occur to me that it would be a problem.  I did think people were being really sloppy until I figured it out...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mount Hyjal

Last Thursday was the final raid night for our long-time holy paladin, so when a few people had to leave after our first few attempts at Festergut, we decided to go do something epic that none of us had ever seen before.  We headed to the Caverns of Time and, after a few false stumbles, found our way into the Mount Hyjal instance.  There were, as I recall, 6 of us, but we rolled through the entire 25-man raid until 2 more lost the connection to the server just before Archimonde. 

It really is an epic fight.  I ran through the world zone of Hyjal back in 2005, on my tauren druid, before they fixed the door hack.  It was a beautiful zone, with a dead world tree and the skeleton of a giant demon resting on its roots.  Seeing that battle from a first person perspective was amazing.

The initial fight in the human base was pretty easy for us in our mixed T9/T10.  We did get a nasty surprise when, after channeling a "mass teleport" for a while, Jaina teleported herself and her troops to safety, but left us behind.  It was funny for a moment, and then got really exciting as wave after wave of ghouls started shuffling and prancing over the hills and towards us at high speed.  Only half of us made it to the Horde base...the rest got dismounted and had to be left behind (though they joined us after a quick graveyard run). 

The waves of trash at the Horde base were far more epic.  The first time I saw a giant frostwyrm slowly coming in over the trees, I just gaped. 

With full T9 gear, this can easily be done with half a dozen people, so everyone should check it out if they get a chance!  I extended our lockout, so hopefully we'll be able to take out Archimonde sometime this week.

I'm looking forward to this becoming an active zone again in Cataclysm.  Though I suspect it will be mostly on fire, if Ragnaros is alive and kicking.

Allison Robert's new Restoration 101 Shifting Perspectives Column

Allison Robert, druid columnist extraordinaire, has written up a three page guide on the basics of healing as a tree over at wow.com. 

Very good, and good to see this sort of resource out there, especially with everyone trying to run as a healer or a tank under the new LFG system.  (The other big guide on tree healing you should read is Lissanna's, over here at restokin.com.)

As Allison alludes, some of the druid resto kit is quite situational.  Improved Tranquility, for example, is well worth taking if you only run 5-mans.  Tranquility has saved me a few times in Heroic Halls of Reflection already.  It's fairly useless for raids, though, particularly since it will only work on people in the same party as you.

My only other contention is that you should think twice about getting the Glyph of Wild Growth.  This increases the maximum number of targets for your Wild Growth from 5 to 6.  All of them must still be within 15 yards of your primary target, however.  My problem is that, as a 10-man healer, I rarely see 5 people, let alone more than that, clumped up enough to take full advantage of Wild Growth.  I still use it.  A lot.  I just don't think the glyph would improve it for me.

Allison actually responds to this concern in the comments of her column (three cheers for responsive writers!  hip hip hurray!).  She agrees that a lot of recent fights, especially in ICC, encourage groups to scatter, especially the ranged.  However, as she points out, if you have more than 5 melee, or if you're doing fights with large amounts of raid damage where the raid still stays fairly close together, the extra Wild Growth landing can be a godsend.  I may try switching out Rapid Rejuv for Wild Growth tonight and see how it goes.

EDIT:  Lissanna just posted in response to my comment as well.  She carries a stack of Rapid Rejuv and a stack of Wild Growth glyphs with her, and switches out fight-by-fight.  Her other two glyphs are in line with mine:  Nourish and Swiftmend.  I may start carrying a few of the first two with me to experiment a bit.