Monthly Archives: November 2010

The Case Against Heirlooms

I love Heirloom gear. I love having complete sets ready to go for pretty much any low level character I choose to roll. I spent much of Wrath obsessed with collecting them.  I have, at last count, 29 heirloom items. That’s twenty-nine pieces of Bind to Account gear, all dedicated to making me an awesome leveler.

And yet… I’m not an awesome leveler.  I’m just not.  I’m great at rolling alts, and pretty good at making them as powerful as I can at any given level, but I’m just not a great leveler.  I play with some great levelers, people who can take a toon to level 40 in two days, with full professions, and completely enjoy the experience along the way.

That’s not me.  Each level is a struggle, and there’s this constant sense of guilt that I should be doing it faster, better, are we there yet? that makes me wonder why I roll so many alts in the first place. Having all the Heirlooms in the game wouldn’t make me better at leveling.

And yet: I enjoy questing. One of my biggest personal lessons with the Level 19 Ambassador Project was how much I enjoyed discovering the stories behind the game, of seeing the reasons why places are the way they are. I enjoy collecting gear, of sifting through quest rewards for the best, the prettiest, the coolest-looking, the oddest. I love having torches and lanterns and pretty dresses. I can even enjoy leveling, when I forget that there’s a goal I’m trying to reach.

I laid out the case for Heirlooms in an earlier post, but it’s relevant to summarize it here.  Heirloom gear serves two purposes; to give experienced players a shorter path through content they’ve experienced before, and to allow for gear to be shared between characters on a server.  Heirlooms are good gear, sometimes great gear, sometimes the best gear you can get.  You can enchant them once and never have to enchant that slot again.  You can get stats that are otherwise rare or unavailable before level 60 (Hit, Haste, Resilience.)

But when Cataclysm comes, I think I’m going to level a lot of my alts without Heirlooms, or only with a few selected ones.  I’ve already started using my Heirlooms less and less, and am finding it a more enjoyable experience overall.

This is, frankly, odd for me to admit, since in terms of efficiency (and regular readers know how I feel about efficiency), Heirloom gear cannot be beaten.  (Even speed enchants on your boots can’t quite compare to Heirlooms for increasing your experience gain.) Going without the chest and shoulders means you are leveling 20% more.  That’s crazy.

And yet…

THIS ISN’T OLD CONTENT

The old world is not going to be old anymore.  The experience from 1-60 has been redesigned, the stories are different.  Leveled through Darkshore, Westfall, and the Barrens dozens of times before?  Well, you’ve never leveled through these zones.  They’re different now.  You can’t be bored with these quests yet, you’ve never done them!

Doing all of the tier 1-2 zones on a single character made me realize how different each zone could feel, how some zones appeal to you and others don’t.  Taking time to experience each zone and the stories within it is a good, enjoyable part of the game! Remember your first character, stumbling around without much of a clue, discovering new places, being awed by the immensity of this game?

Don’t rob yourself of that innocence too soon.  Take your time.  Stop and smell the roses.

(Okay, Outland and Northrend are still old content.  Get every XP boost you can to level through those quickly.)

THIS ISN’T THE FASTEST WAY TO GET A NEW RACE TO 85

If you are really in a hurry, Heirlooms will not get your new goblin or worgen to 85 by December 8th. No, if you want to play one of the new races in the endgame as soon as possible, your best strategy is to take an existing level 80 character to 85 and change their race.  There realm first racial achievements have been removed, so there’s even less incentive to try to do this, but if you’re dead set on playing the endgame with one of the new races?

Get your level 80 character ready to switch.

THIS ISN’T THE WAY TO BE OVERPOWERED

I’ve been rolling a lot of alts lately, and I’ve heard people talking in battlegrounds about how overpowered someone is because they have Heirlooms.  I think this is probably filtering into the Dungeon Finder, too – “lol no heirlooms.”

This is stupid.  It’s not stupid because it’s childish (though it’s that, too).  It’s not even stupid because it ignores player skill (which is also stupid.)  It’s stupid because it ignores math, and ignores a simple fact:  for the first 30 levels or so, your enchants are better than your gear.

I rolled a Hunter recently, why, I wasn’t quite sure, but I did and I’m enjoying it.  I tossed a Lovely Purple Dress on her and a set of enchanted white gear I got from the starting area vendors, and then proceeded to destroy the starting area. I tossed Heirlooms on her at level 10, keeping the same enchants, and have proceeded to destroy every instance and battleground I’ve been in.

Why?

+7 Agility to the boots.  +9 Stamina to the bracers.  +15 Agility to the gloves.  +15 Agility to the main hand weapon.  +100 Health to the chest.  +2 damage on the bow.  +16 Armor to the legs.

For a Hunter, that translates to 74 Ranged Attack Power and an additional 190 health, just from enchants.

A full kit of Heirlooms provides (at level 19): +5 Agility from the shoulders, +7 Agility from the chest, +3 Agility from the MH, +18 Stamina, +6 Haste, +6 Resilience, and a PvP trinket.  That’s 30 Ranged Attack Power and about 4% Haste, 180 health.  All good stats, and worth having for maximum pwnage, but it takes a while for gear to catch up to the wonderful enchantments you can place on level 1 items.

Think about that again.  A properly enchanted set of white gear gives you better bonuses than Heirlooms for the first 20 levels.

Heirlooms are a good way to ensure that several of your slots are filled with good, enchanted, blue-quality gear.  They mean you can enchant a slot once and never worry about it again, which I greatly appreciate given how much I love the Crusader enchant. But it’s not just the weapon damage that is important there: it’s always having an enchanted weapon. You save money, you don’t skimp on your Heirloom enchants like you might on something you’re going to replace in a few levels.

THEY OBSCURE YOUR VIEW OF THE GAME

A related pet peeve is that it also surprises me how often I hear players refer to Heirlooms as best-in slot items.  They’re not, or not always.  At any given level, for a specific class, they might be the best you can get – but more often than not, there’s something else you can get.  If you have Heirlooms and are leveling quickly, you’d probably never notice this.

What I’ve noticed while using Heirlooms is that I start ignoring whole swaths of gear, and stop making choices around them.  That’s okay – it’s one of the advantages of Heirlooms – but it’s also a disadvantage.  There are some really great items in the game that you’ll never acquire, never even notice, if you level in full heirlooms.

I obsess a bit on my twink blog about the best weapon for a given spec or situation.  And yet, I often use the Venerable Mass of McGowan for my MH weapon.  It’s a great tanking weapon because of the Agility, though there are some swords that outclass it for sheer DPS.  So I switch, depending on what situation I’m in.  (The 2H Heirlooms are all outdone by several different quest rewards and I don’t even have them on ‘block anymore.)

But Cyn, you’ll rightly say, why should I spend the time researching that when the Heirlooms are good enough, and when I’m going to outlevel that reward in a dungeon run or two anyways?

Because it’s a part of the game that you’re missing.  If you wear your Tattered Dreadmist set all the way from 1-80, not only do you miss out on any sense of progression in your appearance, you lose out on how bad and awkward the outfits were in Outland (and how drab everyone is in Northrend.)  Your gloves, helm, and boots change, but you basically look the same from 1-80.

If your goal is getting to 80, then maybe that doesn’t matter.  There’s no right or wrong here, just a matter of preference.  Looking like a clown in Outland isn’t something to seek out, exactly – but it’s part of the game, and a fun part of the game.  Replacing my purple tunic was a big step – though it was nice seeing my legs again!

THEY GET IN THE WAY OF LEARNING YOUR NEW CLASS

It’s one thing to say that Heirlooms let you skip over seeing a part of the game (gear).  The more I’ve leveled with them, the more I think that they can hinder becoming a real expert in your class.

Hear me out.

It’s fairly straightforward to pick out a good set of Heirlooms for a given class.  You might not get the best ones for your chosen spec, but you should be able to do pretty good overall.

But what if you want to tank instead of DPS?  There’s no gear that’s specific to tanking, and even though the instances 1-80 aren’t that demanding anymore, you’re not getting exposed to the idea that you should gear differently for tanking than for DPS – until you hit the endgame.  I ditched my DK’s Heirloom chest when he hit 70 and went with the crafted tank blues instead.

The difference was noticeable.  Having dedicated tank gear in all slots made a big improvement back in the days of Defense, but even at lower gear levels I believe it’s important to start learning the ins and outs of why gear works the way it does while leveling, not at the endgame.

It’s not just the roles of the holy trinity that need to be learned through the leveling process – the distinctions between gearing different specs are lost in the heirloom shuffle.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve got a Rogue I’m leveling Combat.  I’ve probably mentioned that I’m also not very good with her; I don’t really understand what I’m doing aside from Sinister Strike > Slice and Dice > SS x5 > Eviscerate, with occasional Blade Flurries to spread the damage around.  I’m basically doing what smarter Rogue players than I have told me what to do, and running LFD so that I can level her up.

The reason I’m leveling a Rogue is that I want to level her Enchanting and Inscription.  Heirlooms work great for this purpose; they let me grasp the basics of the class, keep the same gear throughout the process, and every once in a while drop into LFD for some dungeon runs.

But at the end of all of this, after I hit level 80, will I be a good Rogue player?  No. Absolutely not.  I grab random gear with Agility, Hit and Stamina off the AH or from dungeons, but basically I’m powering through on Heirlooms.

Conversely, I plan on leveling my warlocks in Cataclysm with minimal Heirlooms, precisely so I can see what it’s like.  I want to experience the new gear.  I want to see what it’s like in the field, how it looks, how it works.  I want to sit there actually thinking about a quest reward before turning in the quest.

There’s a counter-argument to be made to this – namely, that you don’t need to be an expert in how a class levels to be an expert in it at the endgame, or to be a really good endgame player.  I absolutely agree with this.  If leveling is not your goal, but the endgame is, then you probably don’t need to know the intricacies of how a class levels up.

But there are skills you learn while leveling that are important (kiting, trapping, jump shots, CC, pulling, healing on the move) that you need at level 80/85.  Don’t dismiss them out of hand if your goal is the endgame.

NEITHER WAY IS WRONG

I know me.  I’m going to waffle back and forth between using Heirlooms, not using Heirlooms.  I love them too much to abandon them entirely.  Some toons are going to be totally tricked out, and that means they get the purple dress and skull shoulders and staff.  Others are going to be left to fend for themselves.

That’s okay.

Leveling, it seems to me, is as much about the journey as it is the destination.  Sometimes we just want to take the highway and get there as fast as we can.  Sometimes we want to take back roads.  One might be faster, but that doesn’t make it better.

And that is the crux of my case against Heirlooms.

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How Cynderblock Got Her Groove Back

Van Cleef: Drop. Your. Sword.

So a funny thing happened to me on the way to the Deadmines.

I was pretty down on level 19 Warrior twinks in my review of the 4.0.1 changes. The loss of so many abilities was pretty daunting, and struggling in areas where I previously excelled was downright depressing. Going from a tank with unshakable aggro to one where everyone pulled off me was a humbling experience, even if I was running with twinked DPS.  PvP was painful, with casters and rogues running roughshod over me, feral cats jumping on me from the shadows, and paladins refusing to die, no matter how much damage I did.

I took a few days off to regroup.  I stopped trying to farm the AGM, since several guilds were gearing up twinks and competition for the trinkets was getting too fierce.  I rolled a bunch of alts.

Then one day I said, “let’s solo Deadmines, ‘block.”

And we did.

And it was hugely fun.  Why?

  • Damage is up across the board on all abilities in PvE.  As Prot, Shield Slam hits like an absolute truck.
  • I made sure to take Shield Specialization, and with multi-mob pulls I never had Rage issues.
  • Not only did I not have Rage issues, but I never had to worry about aggro.
  • The additional health, armor, and block chance means you’re taking very little damage from pull to pull.
  • The self-healing of Victory Rush changes the entire style of play, allowing you to maintain your health by killing things.  And since you’re not in a group, you can be sure it procs every single time.
  • Execute is a huge finisher.
  • Having Victory Rush and Sunder Armor available in both Battle and Defensive Stances meant that I didn’t have to sit in Defensive Stance or stance dance; I ended up staying in Battle Stance since I wasn’t worried about aggro, and wanted Charge and Execute.

I’d soloed RFC and most of Wailing Caverns before this patch dropped, so I knew it was possible to solo these instances at level.  But while RFC was a bit of a multi-mob faceroll in 3.3.5, WC required a lot of caution and care with each pull.  It was slow, careful going, and after a while I got pretty darn bored of the whole thing.

Deadmines, on the other hand, was a riot, with miners running all over, elites and normal mobs mixing with impunity.  It was a blast.  I started off cautiously, but by the time I saw how much damage I was throwing around, how I could use Victory Rush to keep myself healed up, and how little damage I was taking anyways, it was soon a romp over the Defias.

My second run (I was already hooked), the Cruel Barb finally dropped for me. With the nerfs to Shadowfang, Cruel Barb is now the highest DPS 1-hander available at level 19. You sacrifice stats for raw Attack Power, but if you have the Stamina from other places it’s awesome.  +12 AP is equivalent to +6 Str for Warriors, and the next highest stat weapon is Butcher’s Slicer, with +4 Str/+3 Stam.  The Barb already has higher raw DPS than the Slicer (15.8 vs. 15.2), and with the additional AP it is the clear choice for raw DPS.

So I’m sitting there, looking at my new toy, and it strikes me: I should go Fury, and wield two of these monsters.

I prefer Crusader, because when you get simultaneous procs, really great things happen.

I’ve never really played Fury before, though I do have a Combat rogue in her mid-40s. I grabbed a bunch of weapons out of my bank to try out offhands, eventually settling on the trusty Venerable Mass of McGowan for my OH weapon. The Mass and the Sacred Charge both received some slight changes in the latest patch, with the Charge now brought up to being a very good alternative to the Mass.  Basically, they both give you Agility and Stamina (for tanking); the DSC gives you a lot of Crit, while the Mass gives you Crit and Haste. I grabbed the Slicer as well to try it out, though I think the Mass helped me out more in the earlier runs.

It took me a few times to get used to soloing Deadmines as a Fury warrior. Fury plays a lot like I remember playing a Blood DK; as long as you can keep your self healing going, you’re unstoppable, but you take a lot of damage in the process.  If I pulled too big, especially with elites, then I’d wipe.

Victory Rush is really the key to Fury soloing right now.  You’re putting out so much damage that your goal is to burn though a mob, any mob, and kill it to offset the damage you’re taking with another Victory Rush.  As long as you can repeat that process, you’re fine – but if the damage overwhelms your kill rate, then you’re going down.  I found that I’d start off a big pull losing a lot of health, but once the mobs started dropping I’d go right back up to full.

Bloodthirst is the other tool in your Fury aresenal to help out with this kind of fighting. It gives you a small heal back while attacking, and doesn’t suck up much of your Rage while doing it.  It does respectable damage, but can be hit more often than Shield Slam.  I found in high-Rage situations I’d alternate between Bloodthirst and Heroic Strike while waiting for Victory Rush (and Execute) to proc.

Blood Craze helps out with the self-healing, giving back more than Bloodthirst but less than Victory Rush.

And, while I’d been farming the Arena Grand Master trinket, I’m glad I didn’t rely on it while soloing.  Dual Swift Hands of Justice provided increased DPS on top of healing on Killing Blows, giving a lot of small heals to offset the incoming damage.

The Cruel Barb refused to drop for me for a long time, so I spent a lot of time practicing how to solo Van Cleef as a Fury warrior.  I made a video on one of the early attempts that shows how the spec plays as a solo artist.

Yes, it is totally as much fun as it looks.

(I did speed up the video, because even a run with no wipes is about 30 minutes long.  It’s not RFC. You can play Yakity Sax in the background for full comedic effect.)

I kept running it, and what kept impressing me was how out-of-whack damage seemed.  I was able to 1-shot normal mobs with regularity, and elites were lucky if they lasted 5 seconds. I know that I’m twinked for maximum damage, but there were times that I’d pull off a 1513 Execute crit and know that levels were out of whack.  (The 700-800 Victory Rush crits were even better, to be honest – most of Execute’s damage comes as overkill.)  I fully agree with Zarhym’s assessment that combat times in the lower levels are too short, and that it’s not PvP we’re talking about here.  PvE is totally unbalanced at the lower levels right now.

Anyhow, after a dozen runs or so, the second Barb finally dropped. By then I was ready for something different, so I took Cynderblock back out into the wide world and picked up questing in those areas that are going to be changed in a few weeks.  Most notably: Darkshore and Ashenvale.

"So, they sell insurance in this tower? I don't think they get a lot of foot traffic out here..."

Aside from wanting to complete as many quests as possible with Cynderblock, there was one quest chain in particular I wanted to finish – The Tower of Althalaxx, which I remember being a total PITA trying to do at level 30.  I admit, I’m juvenile, and I’ve refused to call that tower by its proper name ever since I got there – this is the Tower of Aflac, and I quack “AFLAC!” at it every time I have to deal with it.

Well, the Tower of AFLAC has a pretty nice quest reward, Seraph’s Strike, a sword with good DPS and Spirit, useful for health regeneration.  I figured I’d pick it up before it vanished in the Cataclysm, and bang out the Darkshore/Ashenvale quests while I’m at it.  (You have gotten your Furbolg wand, right?)

Only… wait a minute.

Lower level items have had their stats rearranged, and… woah.

Did all that Spirit get converted into Hit?  Like, are you kidding me?  +10 Hit on a 2-hander?

Having that much Hit (4.72% at level 19) is huge for DPS.  Huge.  It knocks off nearly the entire Miss column for at-level targets, and makes hitting higher-level mobs much, much easier.  Good for twinks, good for levelers… this is a good sword.  A really good sword.

How good is it?

Well, I pulled out my DPS spreadsheet (not ready for primetime, that’s another post) and plugged in the new numbers.  Wow.

Pre-Crit, Seraph’s Strike has a white DPS of 22.54, greater than Glacial Stone (22.25) and Smite’s Mighty Hammer (21.29).  The Hammer might make more sense for boosting attack power, and the Stone puts out solid DPS numbers, but the Strike now gives a great blend of both.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m enjoying the heck out of Fury, but I may have to go Arms and try out a 2-Handed build just to see how this sword performs before the damage nerfs come in.

Anyhow. Warriors are still doing fine.  PvP is broken as a whole right now, don’t worry about it.  Aggro is hard because damage is too high.  We’ve lost some tools, but gained new ones.

And Cynderblock has her groove back.

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Upcoming Changes To Rated Battlegrounds

There have been a few changes announced to Rated Battlegrounds that caught my attention recently:

  • The 25v25 bracket has been removed.
  • Rated Battlegrounds will use Arena rules for consumables and Engineering items.
  • BG Teams of 80% or more guild members will earn experience for their guild.
  • The number of Conquest points you can earn each week is based on your highest PvP rating.

We’re still 3.5 weeks out from Cataclysm’s launch, and I expect things will keep changing over the next few weeks.  And to be honest, these changes make me ask more questions than are answered. But, still, we can adapt to these changes pretty easily.

The 25v25 bracket has been removed, making it much easier for people to organize consistent, solid teams.  I think 17-20 players is still the magic number for a good, solid core, as that gives you the ability to swap people in and out based on the needs of the week, but having 8-12 won’t be a bad thing either.

The biggest question I have about this is: what happens to Alterac Valley now?  Will it remain a 40v40 contest, or still be reduced to 25v25?  While I am personally hoping they keep it in its current incarnation – it is far more accessible to casual PvPers than Isle of Conquest – the change to 25 would make it easy for a 25-man PvE raid to run an AV in between wipes.  With the removal of the 25s bracket, that no longer seems to be a possibility.

I confess, I’m a bit depressed by the ruling that Rated Battlegrounds will follow Arena rules on consumables and Engineering items.  That means no Swiftness potions, rocket boots, parachute cloaks.  That also likely means no nets from Tailoring, too, so those excellent PvP professions will have their utility diminished in Rated BGs.  You may be better off having other professions with static bonuses, like Blacksmithing, Enchanting, or Jewelcrafting, ready to go instead.

This ruling isn’t totally unexpected – it allows for a consistent fighting experience between the two ranked events (Arenas and rBGs) – but I do lament their loss.  Being unpredictable in a fight is one of the keys to winning, and professions are an excellent way of doing that. My biggest question is, will they take these rules and apply them to non-rated Battlegrounds, too?

I haven’t been following along with the guild changes too closely, but letting Rated Battlegrounds grant guild experience if 80% of the members are guild members seems a mixed blessing.  When coupled with the removal of the 25v25 bracket, this means if you have 8 or 12 people in your guild join a BG, you’ll get guild benefits from it.  If you don’t, it’s not a big deal.

But is it?  I mean, this is a discussion that goes way beyond just Rated Battlegrounds; if some activity awards something, then there’s incentive to pursue that reward. You can choose not to follow that incentive, but it’s still there.  The guild experience awards create an interesting problem for players and guilds alike; do you try to create an organization that participates in all different kinds of activities together, or focus on one type of activity and excel at it?

I know that my personal situation is influencing my thinking here. Most of my characters are in a casual raiding guild; I very much enjoy the interaction there, but more people are interested in raiding and running randoms than in PvP.  Will our guild have enough interest to make PvP night a viable option? Will other guilds be willing to take good puggers over fair guild members?

I don’t know how this is going to work out.  The changes to guild cultures that guild experience will bring are pretty far reaching, but I’m not saying they’re bad – just that there will be a lot of changes.

What surprised me most out of all the tidbits in that blue post was the news that your weekly Conquest point cap will vary based on your highest PvP rating.  This makes sense, I guess?  I hadn’t really thought about relating the two together, but I suppose that if you let people do well accumulate more points you encourage and reward them for doing well – and set a minimum threshold for just showing up.  Maybe it’s because I’m not really all that interested in ratings (which is an entirely different post), but I think we’ll need to understand the scale and scope of this one before passing judgement.

In my previous post on Preparing for Rated Battlegrounds, I mentioned that I was nervous when they were first announced.  I’m still nervous about them. Adding in the pressure of guild experience has actually made me more nervous, not less.

It’s fine; I’m a patient sort.

Let’s see how it all turns out.

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We’re All In This Together

The North American battlegroups as we knew them are gone.

Instead of the old battlegroups, all players are part of one North American battlegroup for battlegrounds.  (There are 4 subgroups for running random dungeons.)  This change was announced a few months ago and should have a net positive effect for most players.

  • If you were on the weaker (less populated) side of a battlegroup, you’re going to be paired with more people to be able to fill out BGs.
  • If you’re on the more populated side of a battlegroup, your queues should pop quicker.
  • If you’ve frozen your experience gain, it should no longer matter if you’re in a destination battlegroup – twinking in all brackets is theoretically viable again.
  • Faction domination of a given BG/bracket will likely become very difficult, if not impossible.

For those of us who enjoyed instant queues before, I hope this doesn’t delay them.  I’m sure there will be glitches over the next few days as they iron out a lot of the infrastructure issues, and hopefully Blizzard will shed some more light on the matching algorithms.

But in the meantime, we’re all in it together now.  Play nice out there.

Let me know how things are going in the comments!

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The King Is Dead

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