Category Archives: Cynwise’s Battlefield Manual

Implications of Increased Conquest Rewards in Battlegrounds

Patch 4.3  will dramatically increase the Conquest Point rewards from regular battlegrounds, offering 100 for the first victory and 50 for each subsequent one. It’s a big change for battleground incentives and adds a layer of complexity to gearing decisions in both PvP and PvE. I personally don’t think this is going to ruin battlegrounds, but I also, upon reflection, think that this quality-of-life improvement indicates a lot about where Blizzard is going with rated and unrated PvP.

THE PREMADE QUESTION

Gevlon has written a series of posts on the change where he makes an argument that this change is going to be overall a negative one to those people it’s supposed to benefit due to the increased number of premades which will flood the BGs. It’s a nuanced argument and I think it’s worth reading both posts in their entirety.

Will the new Conquest Point rewards create enough interest in making premades that the overall experience for players? Specifically, will it hit those players who seem to stand to benefit the most from the change – the competent but time-constrained PvPers? If you queue up solo, will your win rate drop below 50% just because you’re facing premades all the time?

There are incentives for people to organize premades. Gevlon takes his experience in organizing and running BG premades and spells them out nicely.

  • Doesn’t affect your rBG rating, so if a few members of your team are out you can just bang out Conquest Points with no risk.
  • Provides visceral fun for your team, because quick, decisive wins can be a LOT of fun. (At least for a bit.)
  • Provides a nicer social environment while PvPing, filtering out the ragers, afkers, and whiny elements you sometimes find in /bg.
  • Yields a little less CP/hour than rBGs, making it an attractive alternative to rated play.
  • Can be done with fluid group sizes, since even a partial premade can have a great impact on a battlground.
  • Allows you to influence BG team composition, avoiding no-healer no-FC scenarios.
  • Great initial gearing tool, since in the first few weeks everyone needs Honor Points.

There are a lot of good reasons there for people to start organizing premades, especially at the start of the season. But will premades have a long-term effect on the season?

Gevlon comes right out and says that the biggest weakness of premades is that there are too few of them to really matter or make a statistical difference in people’s experiences. I agree with him here. I have seen fewer premades in endgame Cataclysm than I did in Wrath, but I attributed that to Rated Battlegrounds siphoning premades away. More small groups and partial premades? Yes, absolutely, we’ll see those. But I suspect full ones are never going to be the norm, since they 1) aren’t possible with the default client and 2) because rated play is still more rewarding per hour.

Premades are probably going to be pretty popular during the first few weeks as everyone gets geared up. But after a while, the dual-reward system becomes a non-motivator and it’s even easier to toss together a 2s or 3s team as it is to get a premade going. Arenas will remain the gearing activity of choice for the semi-organized.

I fully expect people to complain about premades and the Premade AV Enabler, though. No matter how many premades really flood the system, I’m sure they’ll be pointed at as everything that’s wrong with PvP today, which … well, frankly, that attitude overlooks a lot of other issues, as well as puts too much weight on something that I don’t think will be statistically important.

If it does become a problem, though, one solution would be to reward Honor Points in rated play. Taking away the uniqueness of premade rewards would eliminate some, but not all, of the incentives for doing premades.

(They’re still a heck of a lot of fun.)

THE PVE QUESTION

There are two areas in which this change could possibly affect PvE: making it easier to get PvE gear, and sending PvP gear into PvE.

Will this change make it easier to get PvE gear through PvP? Not really. Unlike changes to Honor Point rewards, Conquest Points are isolated from PvE because they don’t convert to anything else. You can’t flip them to Valor Points, you can’t flip them to Honor Points in any meaningful way, so adding meaningful CP to regular battlegrounds doesn’t change things there.

You could argue that it’s better to gear up an alt through regular battlegrounds than through rated play, even once their Honor gear set is complete. While you might not get as much CP as rated PvP, you will get Honor Points at the same time, which can be converted into Justice Points and a solid T12 PvE kit can be built that way. This doesn’t really unbalance things, though.

Will this change send PvP gear into PvE? Probably yes, but not as much as the other gear changes we’ll see with Season 11/Patch 4.3. S11 Conquest gear will be very good (ilvl 397/403) but there are other ways to get it, too.

What we are far more likely to see is crafted ilvl 377 PvP gear flooding the LFD/LFR. Here’s is a case where gearscore gating for Heroics/Zulroics will completely fail, as the PvP gear might be acceptable for DPS, and maybe even healers, but tanks are going to be really squishy and lack avoidance.

That’s a problem unrelated to this specific change, though.

THE BOTTER QUESTION

Will there be more afkers and botters in regular battlegrounds because of this change?

To be honest, probably yes at first. Not a flood, and it should get better over time, but I think there will be an uptick in botters, less so with AFKers. It’s not like grinding Honor, which can be done win or loss. You actually have to win to get the Conquest Points, so AFKing doesn’t really help.

But I wager people who bot now, or who are on the fence about botting, would look at the losses as a cost of gaining the Conquest Points – they’re not actually spending time at the computer doing anything.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

THE FUTURE OF PVP REWARDS

I still think that this change is a net benefit for most players. Getting 25 CP a day was like getting a bad tip for playing battlegrounds – it wasn’t enough to be meaningful with current gear prices. Meaningful CP rewards give players incentive to win, while the Honor Points for the loss are a good consolation prize for losing.

One of the biggest challenges in designing a PvP environment is motivation, especially motivating people when they lose. Not Beck-style losers, but those who find themselves on the losing side. How do you make it so that there’s a feeling that it’s still okay to requeue after getting pummeled? How do you make it so that pursuing your preferred PvP activity still feels valuable, win or lose?

Related to motivating players on a loss, Conquest Point caps motivate people to play up to their cap, and no further. That’s a big problem of rated PvP in Warcraft – once you have hit the cap for you, and your teammates, you’re done for the week. Extra time spent practicing doesn’t net you anything. Blizzard took a step towards fixing this with Rated Battlegrounds by offering Honor after Conquest is maxed out, but that’s an incomplete solution (and also ignores Arenas.)

I think Blizzard is going in the right direction for solving both of these issues.

Having both Honor and Conquest be rewards from any PvP activity (but only Conquest from winning) lets the system give people something for their time spent playing. This motivates people to win – win and you get CP! It motivates people through the losses – at least you got a few honor for that fight, requeue and try again! It motivates people to keep doing the activity after the CP cap is hit – still need Honor gear? Keep playing Arena with your team if that’s what you like doing!

I’d like to see them keep going in this direction in Mists. It gives me some hope that they’re talking about “play what you like,” but the systems have to be adjusted to make that vision a reality.

There are also technical challenges for awarding Honor Points in Arena that I don’t want to dismiss. Should it be based upon kills? Wouldn’t that drive people into 5s, then? What if the opponent AFKs out and no kill is scored? Should it be a flat value for the match, perhaps modified by rating? What if that promotes quick AFKing if the fight looks tough? Should it be a flat per minute rate? What happens if you just run around for 60 minutes? (What if those 60 minutes are spent authentically trying to kill a Holy Pally or Resto Druid?)

I have a feeling that a combination of match-based values and time-based values is the most fair, but it’s not a trivial problem to solve.

8 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Pilgrim’s Bounty Cooking 2011

Pilgrim’s Bounty is my favorite holiday in Azeroth. It’s the one holiday which allows you to take a normally tedious task – leveling a secondary skill – and get up to Grand Master levels in about an hour. It’s so good that I wait all year to level cooking on my characters until this week, because doing those first 350 points any other way is just silly.

How great is it?

  • You can get any character to Cooking 350 in 1-2 hours.
  • You can start at any level. That screenshot up above? That was my priest getting it at level 19 last year. It can be done all the way at level 1, if you really want!
  • There’s no level limits on these quests. They’re a great way to get started on a new alt, or getting a stuck alt unstuck.

My original Guide to Powerleveling Pilgrim’s Bounty Cooking is still accurate, as far as I’m able to tell. I’ll post any updates there and here if I find them – please let me know if you find any discrepancies!

Wowhead, as always, has a great guide to the entire holiday, which runs through November 26th of this year.

Now, I have to decide which of my (many) alts are going to need to get their cooking leveled this year. :)

Good luck! May your cuisine reign supreme!

 

Update 11/22/2011: Slow-roasted Turkey is now staying orange well into the 400s. This appears to have gone in a hotfix yesterday. Looks like this holiday has gotten even better.

I’ll update the original guide.

6 Comments

Filed under Cyn's Guides To Almost Anything, Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

How Warlock DoTs Work in Cataclysm, Part II: DoT Refreshing, Proc Stacking, and Getting Your Warlock Black Belt

In my post How Warlock DoTs Work in Cataclysm I went into detail about how Cataclysm’s significant changes to Haste mechanics affected Warlock damage over time spells. Haste went from a simple DPS increase to adding DPCT breakpoints, Haste values where DoTs gained new ticks and dramatically increased their importance.

There were a few other smaller changes to DoTs that were made at the end of Wrath of the Lich King that I didn’t talk about in that article, as well as how the new refresh mechanics work in Cataclysm, which I should have covered. The Haste changes were so big that talking about Spellpower and Critical Strike didn’t seem as important at the time. Mea culpa; I get enough email questions about how refreshing works that I realize I should have tackled these stats, too.

UPDATING DOTS: DYNAMIC VERSUS STATIC STAT UPDATES

What happens to DoTs when your combat abilities change mid-combat? If you get a proc from Power Torrent or Eradication, what happens to your Corruption or Unstable Affliction spells? You might think that all procs are handled the same way, and that the game client updates all DoTs automatically when you get a proc.

Not quite.

DoTs update all player-based values – Haste, Spellpower, Crit – upon cast or refresh. When you cast the DoT, the client takes your current combat values and buffs and computes the spell duration, ticks, crit rate, and damage. These values then remain until the DoT is refreshed, at which time new values are applied.

DoTs update all enemy-based values – debuffs like Haunt, Shadow Embrace, Curse of the Elements – every tick, regardless of cast or refresh. When you gain another stack of Shadow Embrace, all of your DoTs are affected without refresh. If Haunt falls off, the next tick of Unstable Affliction will lose 20% damage.

There is a lot of confusion on this matter. One reason for the confusion is the spell tooltip for your DoTs will update dynamically for all player-based buffs. If you get a Haste proc, the duration will fluctuate if you’re mousing over the tooltip. If Dark Intent is cast upon you after casting Corruption, the duration in the Corruption tooltip will drop. If you’re testing this out on a training dummy, your WoW client will make it look like Haste procs are taking effect. But if you look at the number of ticks each DoT has, you will never gain a new tick from a Haste proc without recasting or refreshing the spell.

The only time a DoT updates for buffs on the Warlock is when it’s refreshed, either through a hard cast or a refreshing ability (i.e. Everlasting Affliction, Pandemic, or Fel Flame). This is a change from how things worked in Wrath, which contributes to the confusion.

See, in Wrath, DoT values would be set on cast, but not on refresh. Refreshing a spell maintained the values it was originally cast with, leading DPS player to prepot and trinket before entering combat, blow trinkets before refreshing DoTs, and generally making initial casts as powerful as possible so that the refresh mechanics could maintain that high damage DoT for the entire fight. Really skilled DPS learned how to reset their DoTs when big procs happened – any Warlock who cleared their Corruption with Seed of Corruption just to take advantage of the Nevermelting Ice Crystal remembers what I’m talking about. You could boost your DPS by huge amounts just by preserving a series of procs.

This was changed near the end of Wrath, in patch 3.3.5, so that an automatic refresh of the the DoT updated all combat values on that DoT. If you got a lucky proc, you couldn’t apply it for the entirety of the boss fight.

The system that exists in Cataclysm is in some ways simpler by changing how DoTs are refreshed – you could now clip the last tick of your DoT without reducing your DPS – but that mechanical change introduced a new set of decisions into optimizing your DPS.

THE TWO SECOND RULE, AND WHEN TO BREAK IT

All other things being equal, Warlocks should refresh DoTs when they hit 2 seconds or less. This rule of thumb serves for Warlocks because our only fast-ticking DoT (Bane of Agony) is also the only one that you never clip, so we can ignore it. Everything else has a 3-second or greater base tick, which Haste almost never modifies below two seconds. So Warlocks can use the two-second rule with impunity, and it will serve their DPS well by never allowing DoTs to fall off the target.

Refreshing DoTs in this way is a path to good, solid DPS. But if you want to try advanced DPS techniques, you’re going to have to engage in some creative use of game mechanics. You’ll have to know your procs well, know how to refresh quickly, and learn to juggle refreshes to give you maximum uptime when procs occur.

The general idea is to take advantage of procs with a fairly long duration – 20 seconds or so – and get your DoTs ticking with the enhanced values at the start of the proc, but then refresh them before the proc drops off, effectively doubling the duration of the proc.

Make sense?

This gets tricky to apply in actual usage, so let’s consider two different methods: one that follows the two second rule while triggering Demon Soul, and one that tries to optimize uptime of the proc.

We’ll use a standard Affliction DPS rotation but ignore Haste and Bane of Agony for now. (Banes are a special case we need to consider later.) Demon is the Felhunter for the 20% damage increase. The Warlock in question has all DoTs rolling on a target when she hits Demon Soul. UA has 10 seconds left, Corruption has 8, Haunt’s got 4 seconds on CD.

I’ve illustrated these two methods in a separate spreadsheet (Warlock DoT Refresh Examples 1.0) so you can follow along; each cell represents a half-second of time in game.

(Click to embiggen)

Method 1: Haunt on CD, 2 second rule. This straightforward method yields pretty good uptime of Demon Soul on the two DoTs, giving 24 seconds of enhanced damage to Corruption and 15 seconds to Unstable Affliction. 9 Shadow Bolts were cast during the 35.5 seconds plotted out. Considering that Corruption’s normal duration is 18 seconds, this is pretty good.

Method 2: Timed refreshes, keep Haunt up (but not cast on CD). This method is more unorthodox: instead of casting Haunt on CD and following a normal rotation, prioritize getting DoTs recast, even if that means hard casting Corruption if Haunt is on CD. Getting all DoTs rolling with Demon Soul affecting them, and refreshing them as the buff is about to drop, is more important than any of the normal filler spells with this method.

And oh boy, while you might only get 25 seconds of enhanced damage on Corruption doing it this way, you get 29 seconds of Demon Soul + Unstable Affliction with this method, all at the cost of 1 Shadow Bolt – you fire off 8 instead of 9 with method 2.

Now, in this very simple example, if the 20% damage that you’d get from those 4 extra UA ticks outweighs the damage you’d lose from the Shadow Bolt, then Method 2 yields higher DPS. If it doesn’t, then it’s not useful and you just stick to the 2 second rule.

But real DPS isn’t quite this simple.

PROC CHAINING AND BLACK BELTS

If we were only talking about a single buff, then breaking the 2 second rule isn’t very appealing, to be honest. There are a lot of adjustments that need to be made for a marginal DPS gain.

But the key is to chain procs and stack buffs so that it’s not just a single buff affecting your DoTs refreshes.

Instead of just popping Demon Soul whenever it’s on CD, time it to correspond to other buffs – Power Torrent, Metamorphosis, a trinket proc, Heroism/Bloodlust, Eradication. Macro your on-use trinkets to abilities like Demon Soul or Metamorphosis. Make sure you use those Volcanic Potions. Watch for procs off your enchants and time your CDs accordingly. Details matter.

It’s tempting to take on-use trinkets and just macro them in to your normal attack rotation. It’s a good way to ensure that your trinkets are firing all the time, so that you’re getting maximum average benefit from them. I did this myself for a long time, so that my initial casts were always potent.

But I’ve learned is that to really get the great DPS, you have to have more control over your buffs than that. Waiting 15 seconds for a Black Magic or Power Torrent proc to pop Demon Soul and a spellpower trinket really hits hard. Chaining Metamorphosis, a trinket, and a potion all that the same time – and then hitting Immo Aura – is awesome.

Also consider your spell choice. I ignored Bane of Agony in my example above, but you should ask yourself – what happens if I switch Banes and put Bane of Doom on my target during time when I’ve got 5 procs going? Bane of Doom becomes a monster DPS increase, that’s what! It takes all the buffs from short, 10-20 second procs, and applies them over the course of a minute. Bane of Agony might gain a lot during 24 of those seconds, but there will be a second BoA cast that is unbuffed during that minute. Bane of Doom absolutely should get refreshed during a proc stack.

All of these details can seem daunting when you first approach it. What procs should you look for? How should you tie them together? What if they’re not lining up well, what if I wait for the perfect storm and it never comes?

But really, it’s not that complicated. There are only so many procs and cooldowns you need to track. You probably have a weapon enchant, and a trinket or two. There’s Demon Soul and Dark Intent at endgame for CDs, and you may have an on-use trinket, too. You may be in raiding gear with a proc that enhances your damage.

Once you’ve figured out which buffs could be impacting your DoT damage, you can start chaining them together. Macro Meta + trinket or Demon Soul + trinket to make sure that your boost is as strong as it can be when you sacrifice fillers for DoTing. Time your potion use for these burn phases. Make sure your Infernal or Doomguard some out during proc chains, not after.

You may want to consider customizing your interface to help display procs better. Power Auras/Weak Auras, Need to Know, Tell Me When – there are many addons which can give you a better view into which buffs are happening now, and, more importantly, what you need to do with them.

Raid buffs can be tricky to manage, but the challenge is more in coordinating your actions with your team members’s than in knowing what buffs are coming your way. You want to have already summoned your Infernal or Doomguard before Heroism/Bloodlust so they benefit, not after. But you don’t want to blow your other CDs until after they’ve cast it and you get some random procs, too!

It can be tricky. But it’s navigable.  It’s knowable.

Knowing just when to do these things is how you get your black belt in raiding, in PvP, and in warlockery.

10 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Warlockery

Patch 4.3 Battleground Conquest Rewards

Huh. Wow. I didn’t see this one coming.

In patch 4.3, normal battleground victories will reward Conquest points – even those run after the daily random or Call To Arms reward. 100 CP for the first win, 50 CP for subsequent ones.

Bashiok writes:

In patch 4.3 we’re changing the daily battleground (BG) to reward 100 conquest for a win (up from 25). In addition, every non-rated BG that you win will also give you 50 conquest. There is no limit to how many BGs you can run this way, up to the normal conquest cap.

Our intent is to start acting even more on our Mists of Pandaria philosophies of encouraging players to approach the content they want to, how they want to, and be able to work toward meaningful player progression. Arenas and rated battlegrounds will still earn Conquest faster, but with this change you can now work your way up by running normal BGs, if you so choose.

This isn’t a lot of Conquest Points, but it is enough so that a dedicated battleground enthusiast will be able to actually afford Conquest pieces, which is a very nice change. The previous award of 25 CP for the random daily could get you, at best, two non-set pieces per season if you did them every day.

If nothing else changes, Arenas will still remain the easiest way to gain Conquest Points, though to cap you will still need to do Battlegrounds, too. It remains to be seen if this will be faster than points gained in Rated Battlegrounds; I’m inclined to think it will not, but the dynamics of taking 5 coordinated, geared people into a regular BG might result in a higher win rate that would put them on par with Rated BGs. You’d lose out on the other  benefits of competing in rated battlegrounds (like MMR and achievements,) but that might not be a bad tradeoff. I do think that if we see that happening the rewards for Rated BGs will get buffed.

Honor gear will still be very necessary, especially in the early parts of each PvP season. The Conquest Point cap is still in place and you will not be able to circumvent it; all this changes is how you can earn CP.

It would be nice to see this philosophy extend to Arenas and let them award Honor Points after the Conquest cap has been reached for the week. That would complete the circle and really let all PvP players participate in the activities they like and still get rewarded for it.

Please note that this change does not affect gearing advice for preparing for the next season; you will still start out with zero Conquest Points.

This is a very positive change for Battleground PvP, and will encourage players of all skill levels to continue participating in regular battlegrounds after the initial rush for Honor gear is over. Waiting for your Arena partner to log on? Warm up by pugging a BG and get rewarded for it. Not enough online for your Rated BG tonight? Split up into smaller teams and still work on your Conquest Points for the week.

There are a lot of benefits here, and not just for the casual PvPer or solo battleground enthusiast. This is a quality of life improvement for PvPers of all calibers.

Don’t believe the hype that this is just for casuals.

(Thanks to Narci from Flavor Text Lore for the tip.)

9 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Arena Season 10 Ending November 29th

Stop buying PvP gear NOW.

Start stockpiling your Honor and Justice points for characters you want to PvP with in Season 11.

Blizzard announced that the current Arena Season will be ending Soon™, and Soon™ means possibly as early as November 15th, next Tuesday November 29th. Nethaera writes:

Arena and Rated Battleground Season 10 is scheduled to end as early as November 15. At that point we will determine who is eligible for the end-of-season rewards, a process that should take approximately one week. It’s very important for players who feel that they may be eligible for Arena titles and/or the Vicious Gladiator’s Twilight Drake to refrain from transferring their characters to another realm or faction until after Season 10 ends. During the break between seasons, all Rated Battleground and Arena matches will be unavailable.

At the end of the season, Conquest Points will be converted to Honor Points, possibly exceeding the 4,000 point Honor cap. All Season 10 items will cost Honor Points (equivalent to their previous Conquest Point cost) when the season ends, with the exception of any items with rating requirements attached. These items will no longer be available for purchase.

Please be aware that higher ilvl PvP items will be introduced and available for Honor points with patch 4.3.

The next Arena and Rated Battleground season will begin for level-85 players approximately one week after the end of Season 10 and will coincide with the awarding of Season 10 titles and mounts. At that time, any Honor accrued above the 4,000-point cap will be converted into gold at a rate of 35 silver per point. In addition, Season 11 rewards will be made available for purchase with Conquest Points awarded during the new season. Matchmaking Ratings will carry over when Season 11 begins, but all Team and Personal Ratings will be wiped.

This is very much in line with what I discussed in Preparing for Patch 4.3 / Arena Season 11, which is a very good thing. It’s a good thing because Blizzard is making sure to communicate the process in advance, detailing caveats about gear level increases, point conversions, and rating changes.

Again, my advice for preparing for Season 11 is pretty straightforward:

  • Stockpile Honor and Justice Points to their cap. This will give you the maximum amount of Honor possible to carry forward into Season 11: 70006667 points.
  • Prepare for 1-2 enchanting and gemming rounds. Get your PvP enchants, Resilience gems, leg armor, and engineering tinkers in place now before prices spike. Tonight, if you can.
  • Don’t buy any PvP gear during the interseason week. Complete your Conquest set if you like for mogging, but expect to replace it once Season 11 starts.

I would plan on taking the interseason week to work on capping your Honor and Justice points, and then either take some time off before the holidays or go play with some alts. It’s a good time to audition a new PvP main, try out new partners, or practice in the BGs.

Now taking bets on if Season 10 will end on 11/15 or 11/22. :) Glad no one took me up on a bet! End date is officially the 29th.

21 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Item Level Squishing in PvP

Ghostcrawler recently wrote an interesting blog post about the problem of item level inflation over the course of expansions. It’s a post that hit close to my heart, not only due tothe copious graphs, but also because it addresses some fairly significant problems in PvP – problems which, frankly, don’t exist in PvE.

Item levels have risen over the course of Warcraft’s development to convey a sense of increased power and character growth. Because the stats on the gear rose, damage rose – but so did the health pools of the monsters for that expansion. And, due to the diminishing effects of combat statistics, characters didn’t get any more effective as they leveled up, but instead became less effective as they entered a new expansion until they returned to their previous peak. This creates a strange illusion of getting more powerful in relation to older content, while actually becoming less effective in several key areas.

When you level from one expansion to another, each statistic becomes less effective in order to yield the same result. For example, when you level from 70 to 74, the same gear becomes about 25% less effective for certain key stats like Haste and Resilience. Even when you don’t move between expansions this is true – a level 10 character with 90% Haste will have 22% Haste at level 14 in the same gear – but between expansions it’s especially dramatic.

Expansions are the big culprit with power expansion in Warcraft, as each new expansion comes out with bigger stats, bigger damage and health pool numbers, and an increasingly huge disparity between the new and the old.

This chart from Ghostcrawler’s post helps show the stat inflation. It’s a good way to focus the discussion on the impending stat inflation which lies ahead in Mists of Pandaria if they don’t make any changes. If we carry forward his projections, the next line on the chart is going to go straight up and hit item level 600 in 5 short levels.

Put it another way – we could be looking at tanks with 500k… 750k… 1 million health… by the end of the next expansion. In PvP, we’re probably looking at around 400k to 500k health pools, and damage to match.

Let that sink in.

Ghostcrawler walks through two proposed solutions to this inflation:

  • Mega Damage: keep the scale the same, but represent the numbers with (effectively) scientific notation.
  • The Great Item Level Squish: adjust the game so item levels are flatter, except at the very end of the current expansion.

Both of these have some interesting pros and cons.

Mega Damage doesn’t change the underlying structure of the game, but rather presents it differently to players. Much like boss health is now represented by millions, the UI would be adjusted to present big numbers in a smarter fashion. This is relatively easier to implement, which means more developer resources spent on making new content (which is a good thing.) But it also fails to address the past and present issues introduced by item inflation, as well as ignoring the future computational issues when we’re dealing with really huge numbers for the smallest actions.

The Great Item Level Squish is a more involved solution; by reducing the item levels of gear through the leveling process, the entire game can then be retuned so that there’s a flat, streamlined progression through the game up until max level, when endgame gear inflates a bit, like so:

The Squish is a much more involved solution than Mega Damage, and the implications of it for PvP are really interesting. Really interesting.

Let’s take a look.

EXPANSION-FUELED POWER INFLATION AND LEVELING PVP

There are two serious challenges facing leveling PvP today brought about by expansion power inflation.I’m not just talking about low-level PvP, which has its own issues, but the entire curve of leveling PvP, going through from one bracket to another, starting at 10 and ending at 85.

  • First, the power inflation between expansions creates zones where it’s possible to gain the benefits of the next expansion without being in it – all the enchantments, profession perks, consumables, and early expac leveling gear can be gotten at levels lower than their target balance, which serves to destabilize the brackets leading up to an expansion.
  • Second, when a steep power inflation curve is compressed into a single bracket, it indicates a substantial gear disparity between the high and low ends of that bracket. The 80-84 bracket is a good example of this, with dramatically higher health pools at 84. We can presume, if nothing is changed, that the 85-89 bracket will suffer from a similar problem when Mists is released.

The first point has several elements to consider – gear, professions, enchants, consumables – but there are some common threads between each element.

It’s a fundamental axiom in twinking that the earlier you can get an item, the more overpowering it will be as you use it. This seems so obvious you might think it doesn’t bear repeating, but in the context of the Great Item Level Squish it deserves to be looked at critically.

Let’s look at a common example, a level 19 character who tries to get gear intended for a level 30 character.

  • Because the gear is intended for a higher level character, it has higher stats and therefore grants more of a benefit to the level 19 character than gear intended for that level. It’s simply a better sword, helm, belt, whatever it is, than what toons should get at that level. Let’s call this gear statistic improvement.
  • Because the combat rating system diminishes over time, lower level characters get more benefit from the same stats than higher level characters. This is counterintuitive, but the level 19 toon is more effective with the level 30 gear than a comparable level 30 character.

These two points are going to hold no matter where you are in an expansion or between expansions – the earlier you get good gear, the better it will be.

But the steeper the curve of the graph, the greater the inequality. The greater the difference between your level’s average item level and the higher level items you can acquire, the greater the advantage you can gain over your fellow players. And the places of the steepest curves and greatest inequality?

That’s right. In between expansions.

Each expansion introduces leveling gear a little before the endgame of the previous expansion, so at level 58 you can start wearing Outland gear, 68 Northrend gear, 78 Cataclysm gear. (I assume Pandaren gear will be available at 84, when it arrives.) This means that, in the x5-x9 brackets, the top of the bracket has two kinds of gear to choose from – the old and the new – and the new gear scale is usually significantly better than the old one, leaving characters at the bottom of the bracket at a significant disadvantage.

This isn’t really news; if you’ve played the 75-79 bracket lately, you’ve seen the devastating effects Cataclysm green gear has on bracket balance.

Let’s turn this idea around and put it another way: the shallower the slope of the graph, the less impact gear has upon your performance in PvP. Gear from 5-10 levels ahead will be a little bit better than what your average opponent will have, but not as much as it is now. Conversely, gear from 5-10 levels behind won’t be as much of a hinderance as it is now.

If gear becomes more equal in PvP, then class abilities, player skill, and teamwork rise in importance.

While this means twinks become less overpowering, it also means that leveling PvP becomes a bit less of a gear game, and a bit more of a battleground game, and I am very much in favor of that.

THE THORNY PROBLEM OF ENCHANTMENTS, PROFESSIONS, AND CONSUMABLES

While lowering the item levels of gear would help make leveling PvP a fairer, smoother experience, the real benefit comes when we apply the Squish to the real unbalancing elements of PvP – enchantments, profession perks, and consumables.

The above chart shows a rough availability of enchantments and profession perks by level, superimposed over Ghostcrawler’s item level chart. When you really start looking at when things become available, a surprising pattern emerges:

  • Vanilla enchants are available at level 1, but are geared for level 60.
  • Vanilla profession items are available starting at level 10 to grant items designed for level 30 or so.
  • Vanilla first aid can be learned at level 10 to use items geared for level 60.
  • BC enchants become usable in the late 20s and early 30s, but are intended for level 70.
  • BC profession perks are available at level 35, and fully realized at level 50, but balanced for level 70.
  • Wrath enchants are available around level 55, but are geared for level 80.
  • Wrath gems are available around 62-63, but are geared for level 80.
  • Wrath profession perks are available starting at 50 and fully realized by 65, scaled for level 80.
  • Cataclysm enchants and gems are available at level 78, but geared for 85.
  • Cataclysm profession perks are available starting at 65, fully realized by 75, and scaled for 85.

This mess is how twinking works – find the imbalance in the system and ride it for all it’s worth. It’s why you see Tazik’s Shockers and Synapse Springs in level 65 battlegrounds, why Green Tinted Goggles were so good in 10-19s, why Crusader and +25 Agility and +22 Intellect enchants are so overpowered at level 10-14.

The key to the problem lies in a steep item level curve.

Enchants, gems, and professions allow you to gain abilities and bonuses balanced for substantially higher levels – usually the endgame of the respective expansion. The flatter the item level curve, the less impact these abilities have on lower levels. The problem isn’t making them available at early levels – it’s a lot of fun pursuing these little advantages – but rather just how big some of the advantages are. Cataclysm-level damage in the middle of Burning Crusade? Enchants suitable for Molten Core and AQ-40 in level 10 Warsong Gulch? Mongoose at level 29?

This is only a problem if the item level curve is steep. If you bring down the level of each expansion’s endgame, and stop the power inflation between expansions, then abilities, enhancements and consumables geared for those parts of the game become less disruptive when brought down to lower levels. They still remain perks for smart leveling, but not overwhelming PvP advantages.

If you flatten the curve, these all become less disruptive to lower level PvP, and leveling PvP becomes more fair.

THE ENDGAME

The Great Item Level Squish doesn’t affect the endgame that much in terms of gameplay, though it has profound psychological effects. Going from 150k health to 15k would feel… weird. Disruptive. Like something had been taken away, even though the gameplay remains the same. Having Shadow Bolt crit for 20k one expansion and 1200 the next is tough to swallow if you like the big numbers.

I’m a number chaser too: I like big crits and I cannot lie. (You other brothers can’t deny.) I enjoy setting a target DPS for a character and eventually getting it. I like hitting a target health pool on a twink. And I like those numbers to be BIG!

But I look at the Squish and go… this solves so many problems in leveling PvP, I’m pretty sure I could get over that quickly. After a few weeks, the new scale of things would seem natural. Instead of going up in Mists, I went down, but that’s okay, because everything else went down too. I’m still superpowered compared to most of Azeroth – just with smaller numbers.

I don’t like the Mega Damage concept. I’ve played with similar concepts before in RPGs, and they just don’t work well. Having two different damage systems complicates things and solves nothing – except for the psychological need to have numbers that make sense, while still remaining “big.”

If Blizzard is going to spend time working on solving this problem – and I really, really hope they do – I hope they go with the more comprehensive Great Item Level Squish and flatten the gear curve.

Squish that curve as flat as you can, and the leveling PvP brackets will thank you.

14 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

The Curious Case of the Big Daddy and Secretly Scaling Equipment

The Big Daddy is the Cataclysm heavy explosive available to Goblin Engineers. It requires Engineering 440 to use, and 500 to make, it’s expensive, but it also does respectable damage – about 5k – and the damage is tripled against targets at full health. Oh yes, it can crit, too, so you could get a lucky 30k damage off this baby. It’s also off the GCD, so it’s great to use after an instant cast spell, though you really want to use it on “unsuspecting targets” – thats those poor folks at full health – whenever possible.

They’re not quite as nice as the Global Thermal Sapper Charge was in the early days of Wrath – massive siege damage in SotA/WG/IoC was awesome – and they’re not as cheap as Saronite Bombs, which you could make part of your attack rotation with impunity – but they’re good for what they are.

Except… you notice that little bit about “Requires Engineering 440″ to use?

You can get Engineering 450 at level 65, when most characters have around 4k-8k health. Even in the level 70 twink bracket, health pools range from 10-14k, with 18-20k reserved for tanks.

These bombs can 1-shot an entire defending force if you attack when they’re at full health at level 70. At level 80, they can still take out 1/3-1/2 of the defender’s health.

Holy crap.

PvP being PvP, players figured this out, and maxing your Engineering at level 65 became an even easier way to dominating the battlegrounds than rerolling Mage.

(I kid, I kid!)

So far, you’d think that this is a simple story of an item being overpowered in the leveling brackets and getting removed from said brackets, right? I mean, you can’t have bombs that can take out entire nodes of defenders, can you?

But instead of doing the obvious thing – raising the required Engineering level beyond 450 – Blizzard did something really interesting.

SCALING DAMAGE WITH LEVEL

Sometime between 4.1 and 4.2, the Big Daddy was changed so that the damage scaled with level. No longer was it 5k at level 65 – now it was 700. Level 79? 1400 or so. The damage was changed to allow it to still be used at lower levels, but for it to become less attractive overall. Saronite Bombs do more damage at level 65 than Big Daddies, which solves the problem neatly and returns us to the idea that you might be able to use things from the next expansion while leveling, but you probably shouldn’t be using things from two expansions away.

That’s actually an interesting rule to consider: think about how unbalancing Wrath-level gear, gems and enchants would be if they were available at, say, level 30. There are limits on enchants to prevent this from happening, for instance (item level 35 for BC, 60 for Wrath), but no limits on the gems – but sockets don’t show up until BC-era gear anyways, so it isn’t a big deal. With the introduction of Cataclysm, gems needed to have restrictions added because you could have level 60-70 players sporting Cataclysm gems.

So why didn’t the devs just change the Engineering requirements on the Big Daddy to be 475 instead of 440? This would have placed the items out of reach of everyone lower than 75, which would take care of the most egregious abuses. It would still unbalance the 75-79 bracket, but that bracket is already unbalanced because of the availability of Cataclysm-balanced gear starting at 78. The 80-84 bracket is unbalanced as well, but it’s unbalanced because of scaling and the hard ramp of gear. Adding in a bomb that does 5k-30k damage isn’t going to further unbalance things.

Or will it?

Think about this for a minute. Instead of making a simple change that mostly fixed a problem, the developers dramatically changed how something worked by level, making it scale all the way from 65 to 85 (and possibly beyond). It still does a lot of damage, and is great against unsuspecting targets, but it’s not going to 1-shot people in any bracket it’s available in. That took thought, planning, and careful analysis to realize that a simple level restriction wasn’t going to work.

In every sense of battleground fairness, this is a great change. And it’s great for many brackets.

Which is why it’s so unexpected. Not because we shouldn’t expect that Blizzard does the right thing (we should), but that it’s one of the first times I’ve seen an item nerfed in PvP in such a way to take into account its impact in multiple brackets.

The problem with items with fixed stats is that their value increases the earlier you get them. Cataclysm introduced stat inflation into not just the endgame, but up through level 65. The inflation is really unbalancing. It doesn’t take a scientist to notice that if you increase health pools five times between level 80 and 85 that maybe, just maybe, items that are scaled for 85 shouldn’t be used at lower levels.

But hopefully, we can start seeing more fixes like the Big Daddy nerf, which address this inflation in multiple brackets.

Fixing leveling PvP is not simple. Little things add up. I’ll wager you didn’t even realize there was an explosive that could 1-shot you from level 65 to 80 until this post. The fact that it was fixed without your knowledge is a good thing. There are a lot of small, unbalanced items which good PvP players seek out and use against their opponents, and they add up. Not all of them are as big as this one, but hey – this is the Big Daddy we’re talking about.

Smart fixes like this raise the possibility of other items using smart scaling, which would be a good start towards equalizing the brackets. Heirlooms already do this; having normal items start adhering to this rule would help bring leveling PvP back into a more balanced state.

Bravo, Blizzard. Well played.

17 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual