Category Archives: Cynwise’s Warcraft Manual

Tactical Graveyard Control at Arathi Basin Nodes

This is the second post in my series on resurrection vectors and graveyard controls in Warcraft’s battlegrounds. I should just go ahead and admit that this is going to be a series; it is. I don’t have a catchy name for it yet, but why wait for a title? Let’s just dive right on in and talk about Arathi Basin.

The resurrection vectors of Arathi Basin are to the nearest controlled graveyard, including the original spawn point. These vectors have tactical implications for skirmishes at individual nodes and strategic importance when dealing with troop movement. In this post I’ll focus on the tactics at each node; we’ll talk about the Iron Triangle in the next one.

Control of the node’s flag gives your team control of the node’s graveyard. Each node starts off uncontrolled, but clicking on the flag assaults the base, turning the flag grey. The graveyards come into play one minute after the initial assault, when the node is captured and the flag turns blue or red. From this point on, they work like a standard graveyard with rez waves at the spirit healer.

Each node’s flags are on the other side of some object or building preventing the resurrection wave from knowing exactly what is happening at the flag while dead, and requiring them to run around the obstacle to get to the flag. There are thus two components to the local rez vector that have to be considered:

  • Casualties/reinforcements are blind to the situation at the flag; they don’t know if someone is assaulting it or not.
  • Defenders will always have at least two routes to return to the flag1. The route chosen will determine how quickly they get it back in sight, as well as which side of the offense they can attack.

Because defenders have to run a route to get back in sight of the flag, attackers have  additional time to allow attackers to assault the base. These lines of sight are important!

The above diagram is a general representation of each node. You might have to flip the orientation a bit, or change the building shape and add in chickens or undead horses or something, but it’ll suffice for a discussion on graveyard control. The routes aren’t equal length to run, but it’s more important to get to where you can disrupt the attackers than necessarily get back to the flag.

From a tactical standpoint, the ideal placement for defense is near the flag to prevent capture, no matter where the attack comes from. Fight at the flag! is the rallying cry of introductory battleground manuals everywhere, but the real tactic is:

  1. Establish a buffer zone between the flag and the attackers. Engage them away from the flag to deny them opportunities to assault the base.
  2. Position so rez waves reinforce the flag first.

Creating this zone of control is important and takes practice. You don’t want to stack on top of the flag, but you don’t want to be too far away from it. Teams should get used to moving forward and engaging the enemy away from the flag without getting pulled off it.2

Furthermore, the direction reinforcements come will either help or hinder your flag defense. Having rez waves passing by the flag to get back into combat is far safer than having them never see the flag.

Let’s take a look at a flag-side assault.

Attacks on the flag side of the node generally put the defenders in a good position. They are able to watch the flag and have a few people cluster near it while sending DPS off to meet the assault at a moderate distance. Lines of sight are usually pretty clear on both sides, and rez waves know which direction they need to be heading to get to either the flag or to battle quickly.

Flag-side assaults are often slugfests and death matches.

A more interesting tactic is to assault the graveyard side directly, with the intent to both pull defenders away from the flag and neutralize rez waves quickly.

Attackers can (and should) use the resurrection vector at the node to their advantage by drawing defenders into this kind of fight. Pushing towards the graveyard:

  • Blocks line of sight to the flag for many defenders
  • Focuses attention away from the flag
  • Allows attacks on newly-resurrected characters, when they are unbuffed and unprepared

Establishing this kind of control allows attackers to really use the rez vector of the node against the defense. Remember, the whole point of using rez vectors is to send your opponents where they don’t want to be, where they will be ineffective. Hitting the GY side allows you do shift all defenders away from the flag.

Shifting defenders away from the flag means you’ve opened up the Ninja Zone. The reason that people like me yell FIGHT AT THE FLAG! so much is because if you’re not near the flag, not looking at the flag, not remembering that the flag is the really really most super important part of the entire node, then it’s open for the enemy to take. Ninja: doesn’t need to be a rogue! 

One thing I like about Arathi Basin is how the resurrection vectors don’t dictate the entire battleground’s strategy. There are a lot of different ways to take a base. There are a lot of responses to which route you should take in which situation, depending on your class, role, and the position of your opponents. It’s not wrong to assault flag-side! There are plenty of ways that it can work – one of my favorite strategies is “ride in and kill everyone in sight, take the node before they rez.” Another one is “hit defenders with CC chains while standing/healing at the flag, click it often, steal the node while the defenders are still alive.”

But I also like that I have to ask questions like: where are the reinforcements going to come from? How long do I have before the next rez wave arrives? Am I getting pulled off the flag? Is it worth it to get pulled off a little bit?

I think it’s interesting how the answers change from battle to battle, from skirmish to skirmish.

Next time, I’ll zoom out a bit and look at the strategic uses of rez vectors and graveyard control in Arathi Basin.

—-

(1) Even the Gold Mine allows two ways to return to combat – the path down the mine, and the path to the mine roof. GM suffers a bit in that the second route doesn’t put you on a radically different attack vector; ideally, you could turn right after leaving the graveyard and approach the flag from the Stables side.    

(2) In an earlier post, PvP Playbook: Pulling Defenders Off Flags, I talked about how you can pull defenders off a flag just by letting them engage you at maximum distance – basically goading defenders to fight in the road. Don’t be that defender.

15 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, PvP Playbook

Resurrection Vectors and Graveyard Control in Warsong Gulch

Character death and resurrection vectors are key strategic elements of Warcraft’s Battlegrounds; unlike the Arena deathmatch format, battleground combatants can and will die multiple times throughout the course of a match.

Death in a battleground is like being sent to a penalty box. Characters are removed from their present position, placed somewhere else on the map, and then prevented from rejoining their team for a set period of time. It’s possible for a teammate to put someone back on the map where they were through a resurrection spell, but once in the penalty box, the character’s new location is permanent.1

I call this movement of players across the map through death and rebirth their resurrection vector. Understanding these vectors is essential to understanding the overall strategy of a battleground.

WHERE DO WE GO WHEN WE DIE?

Where characters go when they die in a battleground is not a metaphysical question; they go to the graveyard to be resurrected by a Spirit Healer in 30 seconds or less. This brief visit to the afterworld is often punctuated by the cries of the fellow damned bemoaning their fate and lack of heals or peels2, but – aside from this cacophony in /bg – our hero’s katabasis is brief and uneventful. Thirty seconds to reflect on your situation, check the map, and then it’s back to work again.

Because death only temporarily removes characters from play in battlegrounds, resurrection vectors are really the primary weapon in disrupting your opponent’s plans while achieving the goals of the match. Knowing where you and your opponents will end up dictates the answers to strategic decisions like:

  1. Which graveyards should we seek to control, and which should we ignore?
  2. Where is the best place to engage the enemy?
  3. Where should our forces go next?

Each battleground has unique resurrection vectors. Some maps have very logical vectors and symmetric graveyards; others are asymmetric or follow nonstandard rules designed to balance Rated PvP.

One constant is that Spirit Healers resurrect in waves based on a timer. Every 30 seconds a graveyard could potentially spit out multiple reinforcements for a given area. These resurrection waves can turn the tide of a specific battle – or get destroyed by a well-organized graveyard camp.

While the general principle is easy to understand, each battleground is unique and requires individual evaluation. Over the next few posts I’ll be going over specific resurrection vectors in different battlegrounds, using topological maps to illustrate how they can be used to your team’s advantage.

Let’s start with the most zen of all battlegrounds – a little conflict in Ashenvale and the North Barrens that we like to call…

WARSONG GULCH

Warsong Gulch has the simplest map of resurrection vectors because each side has only one graveyard.

No matter where someone dies on the map, they go to their team’s graveyard.

There are several important strategic facts about the WSG graveyard to consider:

  1. The graveyard placement is symmetrical for each faction.
  2. The graveyard is on the stage right side of the map. (From the home base of each faction looking out over midfield, it will be to the right.) This means that resurrection waves are going to reinforce that side first and stage left (ramp) last.
  3. The graveyard is much closer to the home base of each faction than to their opponent’s base.
  4. The graveyard was changed in patch 4.1 to only allow characters to only allow exits onto midfield. They cannot run back directly to the base, the ramp area, or even the ledge above the graveyard without some kind of assistance.
  5. Characters in the graveyard can be attacked from above and below. There is no immunity from camping.

Some of the strategies we can derive from the resurrection vectors are obvious. Defenders have the edge in their base because reinforcements will arrive quicker than the offense, Flag Carriers should favor runs down the Ramp over going straight through the Graveyard.

I’ve written before on graveyard camping in Warsong Gulch and how it is, sadly, strategically sound. Looking at the resurrection vectors gives you an understanding of why it’s so effective:

You see how pressuring the graveyard opens up half the map for the FC to run unimpeded? That is why graveyard camping works. Pushing the offensive control zone (the blue slanted lines) towards the enemy graveyard means that when opponents die, they are sent into a situation where their movement is restricted. They have to break the blockade before they can do anything about the FC, by which time it’s usually too late.

The single graveyard of WSG creates a resurrection bottleneck that rewards camping. You don’t have to camp the graveyard per se, but setting up a strong line of offense at midfield and pushing it towards the graveyard:

  1. Establishes a zone for the FC to run.
  2. Removes the opponent’s ability to reinforce their offense.
  3. Eventually removes their ability to establish an offense.

Establishing and maintaining that blockade zone around the graveyard establishes control of the map. Even if a few opponents get by, they will face poor odds isolated from their teammates, and their resurrection vector sends them right back into the blockade.

Next time, we’ll look at a more complicated set of rez vectors: the shifting graveyards of Arathi Basin.

—-

(1) Admittedly, it’s not an entirely permanent relocation. Corpse Running in Battlegrounds describes how running back to your corpse can screw up resurrection vectors, and is sometimes the difference between keeping or losing a node.  

(2) “First to complain, least skilled. No exceptions.” Dusk of Uldum, How to BG, 2009.

16 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, PvP Playbook

Infographic: How To Win Tol Barad

At the beginning of Cataclysm, Tol Barad dominated the PvP scene. It was a tough battleground – hard to capture, easy to defend and dominate, and with rewards which were needed for both PvE and PvP.  It was the source of a lot of balancing issues, rumored exploits, and a win-trading debacle all in the first few months of this sad island’s existence. Factions could, and did, hold the fortress for weeks at a time, giving raiding guilds a significant advantage over their competition on that server. It was a contentious place.

I wrote a guide to it – How To Win Tol Barad – which, in retrospect, I think is the best battleground analysis I did in Cataclysm. Writing it represented a turning point for me, personally. I set aside all the complaints I’d heard, all the frustrations I had with losing it repeatedly, and all the scandals around this battleground. They didn’t matter anymore. They were excuses standing in the way of a basic, unshakable truth - there is a way to win this. Yes, it is hard. Yes, the odds are against the attackers. But it can be done.

I stopped making excuses and got down to work.

The opening paragraphs of that guide were directly inspired by JFK’s speech where he declared we would go to the moon. I’d heard recordings of it as a child, and I watched it again when working on that guide. It’s stuck with me with its simple message about why we strive to do the impossible:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

In the face of failure, in the face of impossible odds – we persevere and strive to overcome any challenge. Even if it’s just in a video game.

You can imagine my astonishment when I discovered that Lilpeanut from Heal Over Time had gone and captured not only the strategic points of that guide, but also that all-important attitude of indomitability, with a Visual Guide to How to Win Tol Barad:

Visual Notes: How To Win Tol Barad from Cynwise's Blog

The Godmother from ALT:ernative had suggested that Lilpeanut tackle my Tol Barad guide as part of her series of infographics, and I’m really glad that she did. I love it. (“I’m not leaving!”)

Check out more of Lilpeanut’s Visual Guides (including some great ones on being an Arena Priest, oh, I love those!) on her flickr photo stream.

Thank you both so much!

8 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

Podcast Alert: Darkmoon Herald Ep. 13, Lock and Load

And now for something a little different.

I was on the Darkmoon Herald podcast a few weeks ago with Kevin and Apsana, and it’s finally available for download! I had a lot of fun doing this show – it’s a pity my schedule doesn’t leave me more time for recording. (Perhaps if I didn’t talk incessantly on these things, it might be easier to find time. :D)

Check it out online or on iTunes. Thank to the Darkmoon Herald crew for having me on, it was a blast!

4 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

XP-Off Battleground Exploit Needs Fixing

I’m sadly starting to see more of  a pretty simple exploit that has been around for a while. It’s usable in any of the leveling brackets, but appears to be most common in the 10-14 and 75-79 brackets – anywhere gear differences are potentially very pronounced.

The exploit allows someone to turn off XP while queuing for a regular battleground. Normally, turning off experience places a character in an xp-off battleground with other characters who have done the same. Gear is assumed to be of very high quality in these brackets, and players are assumed to know how to play both their class and the battlegrounds with skill. The exploit allows them to queue with leveling characters, giving them a serious advantage.

The advantage isn’t the problem; any player can choose to lock XP for a while, gear up, farm consumables, get great enchants, and then go to town in a normal battleground. You can do this with disposable heroes, you can do it to learn your class better, you can do it because you like winning in PvP. Warcraft PvP is, in many cases, a game of gear. Locking to gear up and unlocking to PvP is part of that game.

No, the problem is that the exploit deliberately sidesteps the XP lock to allow characters to enter a leveling battleground but avoid gaining experience. It’s cheating. It takes advantage of a delay between turning XP off and queuing for a battleground to get a twink into a leveling bracket. They become immune to the experience gain, even accidental experience gain, that moves people along in these brackets. There’s a level 10 toon on my Alliance server with “of the Alliance” – 100k Honorable Kills – who got it entirely by farming battlegrounds with this exploit. It’s one thing to AFK out of a battleground before each flag cap to avoid experience gains. It’s another thing entirely to cheat so you can cap and win as many BGs as you like because you’re immune to experience.

This exploit is in the same category as the Arathi Basin Fast Start exploit from a while ago – deliberately circumventing the explicit rules of the game. There’s not even a gray area here about how everyone can do it – you need to download an add-on for it, and no, you can google it yourself, I’m not linking to it.

But I hate when things like this happen – it’s bad for leveling PvPers, it’s bad for twink brackets, it’s bad for everyone – but the folks who are cheating. There are a lot of good players in the twink community, players who enjoy the thrill of competing with the best gear you can get for a bracket. I find higher quality battlegrounds in the 19s and 70s and 80s than I ever do at 85.

Yeah, I get it. I get that it’s fun to take a geared toon into a 10-14 bracket and rock it. I get that it’s fun to deck yourself out in Cata greens and kick ass in the 75-79 bracket. It’s fun winning. It’s fun being overpowered.

But play by the same rules as everyone else, for pity’s sake.

16 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, Green Tinted Goggles

Play Now, Not Then

This too shall pass.

I think about that proverb a lot.

I remember how much pressure I felt two years ago to see everything in WoW before Cataclysm changed it all. It was this palpable weight on my mind, this knowledge that it was all going away.

I had been playing just long enough to have seen enough to know how much else there was to see, but not long enough to have seen it yet. It was my first expansion transition, but also one where the changes to the game outweighed any changes I might have expected to my characters. I knew that there were changes coming to how I would play, but I didn’t really pay them much mind. I had two goals – Ambassador and Kingslayer – and getting those two titles on two very different characters helped me put Wrath to bed and get mentally ready for Cataclysm.

Those titles don’t mean very much anymore. Their value has passed, as the changes in the game made them easier to get. But I remember those accomplishments fondly, and I value them still. I’m glad that I did them then, and didn’t wait for Cataclysm.

Over the past few months I have quietly set aside my twinks and reclaimed my warlock main, Cynwise. There’s a certain natural flow to playing her that I don’t have on any other character, even after almost a year of disuse.  I’m not near Gladwell’s 10,000 hours to master her yet, but I’m working on it. I find myself enjoying PvP on her again – something I hadn’t expected – and that I no longer bemoan her professions or her gear or how Rogues love to gank her.

We just play. It’s uneasy at times; I find I miss healing any BG that lacks a healer, and I tend to tank old raids without a viable tank spec. But by and large, we just play. I’m slowly working on Battlemaster and Justicar, but they’re more an excuse to PvP than goals for Cataclysm.

I realized, though, that there’s a fundamental difference between where I was at the end of Wrath, and where I am now at the end of Cataclysm. Pre-Cataclysm, I wanted to see the game before it went away, and it didn’t matter who I saw it on. Pre-Mists of Pandaria, I want to enjoy playing a Warlock as they are now, flawed yet challenging, before they go away.

This class that I love – it’s going to change in Mists. It’s going to change a lot. I can look ahead and go, I think that I will like the new Warlocks – but I don’t know. I thought I would love Cataclysm, but I didn’t. I don’t think I really even liked it very much, as a whole. There were parts I loved – many of the revamped leveling zones – and there were things I enjoyed well enough – but the sum total wasn’t what I anticipated two years ago.

So I look at the changes to Warlocks with very guarded optimism. I know leveling will be better, but beyond that – I think they’ll work out okay, but I really don’t know. I think I’ll have fun with the specs, but I don’t know which ones will click with me, which ones will work in PvP, which ones will be fun to quest with. I don’t know.

I do know that the specs I enjoy now are going away in a few months. There is a countdown timer running on them. Time is running out for me to play the way I’ve learned over the past few years.

I don’t know if what’s coming will be better or worse. I hope it’s better, but I don’t know. I’m afraid it will be worse, but I don’t know.

I know it will be different, and this too shall pass.

So I’m playing Warlock now, because I enjoy it now.

Changes will come soon enough. They always do.

It’s ironic that I spent so much time in Cataclysm trying to freeze things in place, trying to deny that change should happen, was happening. I built over a dozen twinks – characters locked in various XP brackets – this expansion, each working on different Best In Slot lists, frozen in time. My surprise main character for 4.2 and much of 4.3 was my level 70 Druid Cynli, who is about as geared as I can make her for her primary role.

Cynli was one of many attempts by me to thumb my nose at Heraclitus. All things are change, that ancient greek philosopher maintained, and yet I tried to step into the same river over and over again. I was upset that Cynwise had changed beneath me, that not only had the foundations of the world been torn asunder, but my vehicle for experiencing them had, too.

Was it too much change for me to deal with? Honesty compels me to admit that it might have been.

The Mists Beta is full of all sorts of scenes like the one above. Classes change dramatically without warning. Abilities work, or don’t work, or kinda work, or have interesting bugs that might not really be what was intended – or maybe they might! It’s hard to say.

But as time marches on, and class design starts to solidify and Blizzard developers start making balance passes with the new mechanics, it hits me more and more – I don’t really know what this game will be like in the future. I don’t know what my favored class will really be like.

It’s not going to be like it was in Burning Crusade, or Wrath. There’s no going back.

But there’s also no skipping ahead – no hurrying up the expansion so I can get to leveling my baby Horde Warlock, no trying out the Glyph of Demon Hunting as an off tank in retro raids, no cool new glyphs or simplified rotations or wondering what Haunt is really for.

There’s just the Warlocks of now, the Warlock class I know how to play.

Yes. I know that this, too, shall pass.

So I’ll enjoy it while I can, and take the changes as they come.

19 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

PvP Playbook: Portrait Psychology

Your character portrait conveys useful information about your character to opponents in PvP. You can’t prevent this exchange of information – but you can use your portrait to wage psychological warfare on your enemies.

WHAT YOUR HELM SAYS ABOUT YOU

Consider what information is given when you target someone in the default UI: race, gender, resource type.

Human, female, uses mana.

Most players will turn on either numbers (my personal preference) or percentages:

The portrait also conveys one really important piece of information: gear level.

Your helm gives your opponents a clue about your overall gear level in PvP.

See, PvP gear in Cataclysm was standardized so you can approximate a character’s gear level by their health, regardless of class. (It’s been a good change, honestly.) So if you have numbers on, you can tell at a glance how geared they are.

It’s important to note that not everyone has numbers turned on, and those who do may not know what the levels are. In the heat of battle they may not bother to look at all. The character portrait, though, is a big tell about gear – if they are showing a Conquest PvP helm, their gear is likely at least decent if not great. If they’re showing a crafted PvP helm, or a PvE helm, chances are pretty good that they’re undergeared or not fully geared for PvP.

Now that we have Transmogrification, we can use this to our advantage.

MAKE THEM UNDERESTIMATE YOU

One of my favorite psychological games to play with portraits is to dress so I look weaker than I really am.

Looking weaker than you are won’t fake out experienced PvPers (who will look at your health, not your helm), but mogging your PvP gear to the distinctive crafted starter sets can cause many opponents to initially underestimate you.

While the visual appearance of gear isn’t everything, force opponents to look closer to see your gear level! Giving the wrong initial impression is tactically sound. If they think that you’re poorly geared and an easy kill when you’re not – great! If they think you’re geared improperly – like a Warlock in Spirit gear, or in PvE gear – even better.

The helm is just the start of your deception, of course. Mog your whole PvP set to a distinctive yet plausible lower tier to give the wrong impression.  (I’m lucky that I play a cloth-wearer, because the crafted PvP sets look pretty good.)

This option works best when your gear is good to great. If your gear really is bad, though, you’ll want the next option.

GIVE NOTHING AWAY

This is my default mode of operation – hide your helm in PvP. Doing so means my portrait doesn’t give away anything about my gear, which is good.

It also allows me to show off my character’s hair, which is a plus. And it tells nothing about my gear.

But it’s also wasting an opportunity to deceive opponents. When I started out my PvP gear grind this season this probably wasn’t a bad thing – hide your weakness – but now that I’m respectably geared I don’t know that I need to maintain a blank slate with my portrait.

Extending this to the whole body, I try to transmog my starter PvP gear and Honor PvP gear into something else entirely different – an old vanilla set of greens, crafted Mageweave or Netherweave sets, old Northrend PvP tiers – anything to hide that you’re not quite as geared as you’re going to be.

This tactic is best used while gearing up.

CONFUSE THEM

Noggenfogger Elixir has been a PvP standby for years. Furbolg form, Gnome/troll forms, Iron Dwarfs, Wolvar – whatever kind of disguise you’ve got, you can use. This isn’t about mogging your helm so much as it is completely confusing opponents with your portrait and silhouette. The best disguise conceals not only your gear, but your race and even your class. (Name plates will reveal your class, though, and everyone should have name plates on in PvP. No exceptions.)

I think the cross-faction disguises are honestly the best. I remember targeting Horde who looked like night elves in early Cataclysm – or goblins before goblins were a playable race – and wondering how the hell they had done it. It was a great tactic, because every time I targeted a night elf I thought I’d misclicked and gotten a friendly unit.

BE DISTINCTIVE

Sometimes you want to intimidate your opponents. You’re in full Conquest gear and rolling with your arena team mates? Show it. Don’t mind being singled out in the battleground? Wear something distinctive on your head. Engineering is great for this, with Deep Dive Helmets and goggles galore, but there are plenty of distinctive helms which will let people know that yes, they’ve got YOU in their sights.

Intimidation isn’t a bad thing in PvP. If you look at someone and immediately identify that they’re in a full set of Conquest gear while your team is a mix of crafted and Honor, you’re going to treat that player with wary respect. (Hopefully, you’ll also focus fire them; even more hopefully, you’ll focus fire them only when appropriate, and not while allowing their teammates to win the BG.)

I’ve recently hit a PvP gear level where I feel comfortable adopting this tactic again. The warlock Conquest helm is really great looking – first PvP one I can say that about since the Wrathful helm – and the outfit is killer. I don’t mind advertising that my warlock is in a lot of Cataclysmic gear, since if I get focused that usually means a healer or FC isn’t.

Adopting a unique, distinctive look can have its drawbacks, though. I’m using the Flying Tiger Goggles, an early engineering schematic, which not only helps opponents quickly identify me, but also gives away my profession. You can use this to your advantage, of course – there are non-Engineer goggles out there to fake out your opponents – but it is a tell that I’ve got bombs available to me.

BE MINDFUL OF YOUR APPEARANCE

I think it’s important to consider how you look to your opponents in PvP. Appearance isn’t anywhere near as important as, say, proper gearing and good solid play, but it’s a detail that you shouldn’t overlook. Much like which title you display, your portrait conveys information about your character and their gear.

Take a few moments to think about how you’ll look to your opponent across the battlefield. Make sure that it matches the impression you want to give.

Little details add up.

26 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, PvP Playbook

On the Tyranny of Classes

I know I’ve said this a few times before, but it’s still strange to me, as a traditional RPG player, to be faced with the limitations of MMORPGs. In many ways these are two radically different mindsets that share the same type of setting and gameplay elements; the entire concept of and RPG character is flipped on its head for MMOs, especially WoW.

There are traits I’d consider immutable for an RPG character: race, gender, appearance, identity. (It’s not that they absolutely can’t be changed, but that they are beyond the normal magic/technology of a fantasy setting. You need strong magic to make this happen.) There are other traits which can be changed over time – professions, proficiencies, even classes (depending on your RPG engine of choice, of course.) Who your character is takes precedence over what they do, and – just like in the real world – they can change what they do, learn new things, take their own path.

World of Warcraft turns my expectation upside down. The only thing about a character that can’t be changed is their class; everything else is up for discussion. Who they are matters not at all; what they do is the important thing. My druid has gone from a female night elf to a male tauren and back again, all without ill effects in Warcraft – but there’s no plausible way for this to have happened. That’s okay! Not everything needs to make sense when talking about class mechanics. But it’s weird. It’s weird to think that that kind of radical character transformation is possible, but a warrior can’t become a paladin (or vice-versa). A Highborne mage can’t find the ways of Elune and become a druid; a disaffected mage can’t become a warlock.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this again while playing Cynwise, my warlock main whom I discarded about a year ago. Seemingly like a lot of folks, the effect of Decline and Fall on me was to pick up my warlock again and start playing her. At first it was to check things for accuracy, then it was to see LFR and Deathwing. After that I started PvPing again, first to get the Cataclysmic Gladiator’s Felweave outfit, then because I realized that now is a great time to work on Battlemaster. I’m having a mixed time playing her; there are times I enjoy it a lot, and other times I find it frustrating and absolutely no fun at all.

But she’s the closest one I have towards that goal, my only real vehicle in the endgame, and if I am going to be PvPing I may as well be working towards some goal. I enjoy it well enough most days.

It’s not the comeback I was hoping for, but it’s at least a quiet return.

CHANGING THE ACHIEVEMENT GAME

One rather important development that’s happened in the past month has been the announcement of account-wide achievements in Mists of Pandaria. Basically, most achievements will now be applied across all your characters, so if you Explore Mulgore on one toon, you’ll get that achievement on all of them. Meta-achievements will roll up the accumulated achievements of your characters, so if you have done all the quests in Kalimdor, but not all on the same toon, you’ll get it across all the toons. Some achievements are going to roll up your totals across characters – honorable kills for the Bloodthirsty achievement, for example – but details of which and what are sparse.

This is a cool thing. As I come out of my data-induced warlock stupor I like it more and more, even without the details which would help me answer questions like:

  • Will accumulated wins contribute to the Veteran achievements of specific battlegrounds? I have 80 WSG wins on Cynwise, but 253 on my extant toons. Will victories be rolled up into a single total like Honorable Kills, or not?
  • Will the individual BG Master achievements be treated as meta-achievements? I have almost everything for Master of Arathi Basin on Cynwise except Resilient Victory, which I have on Cynwulf. How will this work?
  • Will PvP reputation be additive? I am about halfway through the absolutely brutal and ever-worsening Justicar grind on Cynwise; will the rep I earn on other characters apply? I’ve played in 522 WSGs and 410 ABs on my non-deleted toons, but only 202/234 with Cynwise. Will reputation across toons be added like HKs?
  • Will Battlemaster even be a Meta-achievement? There are no guarantees here! Things change in development. Some metas may get left out due to coding constraints; others due to policy discussions. To preserve prestige, Battlemaster might be deemed an achievement which needs to be done on a single toon, perhaps like the Insane.

The old advice is to not count your chickens before they hatch, and that applies as much to software as it does to poultry. It’s interesting to speculate about account-wide achievements, but I’m having a tough time convincing myself that they’re going to be there, and that if they’re included at launch they’re going to work all in my favor.

I mean, the idea is great. The idea is awesome! Quoting Greg Street from his post announcing the change:

Overall, we never want you to play Character A instead of Character B because of achievement concerns. If Character A had the Violet Proto-Drake, then you might not play Character B. If Character A was only one holiday away from the Violet Proto-Drake, then you may not play Character B. If Character A had completed most of the raid achievements from Dragon Soul, you may not want to bring Character B for one fight and miss out on the achievement. Having alts is cool and working on achievements is cool, but we don’t want the two systems to work against each other.

I like this direction a lot. Play who you like, in the situations you like, and it all counts. Which toon you play – which class you play – doesn’t matter anymore. So many achievements I work on that I’m like, this doesn’t need to be done on Cynwise. Some I can motivate myself to do – cooking and fishing dailies, since she’s Chef Salty Cynwise. Others – Loremaster – I just look at and go, I would get so much more benefit from leveling an alt through that zone than taking an 85 there. This change is so, so very welcome from that standpoint.

But the implementation of something this complex causes me concern. There are caveats, and gotchas, and corner cases; I’m just wary. I want to see it in action, on live, before I let myself relax and go, yes, this will be okay.

See, it comes back to the immutability of classes in WoW, and the experience of Warlocks in Cataclysm.

TRAPPED BY A CLASS

What do you do when you decide a class isn’t right for you?

I think the answer to this is heavily dependent upon how long you’ve played Warcraft. When I’d been playing for a few weeks and I didn’t like playing my Paladin, deleting him was no big deal. There was no commitment to the character besides a fondness for the name.

But as characters grow, and level, and become a player’s main character, that kind of abandonment becomes more difficult. That character accumulates stuff; not just levels and gear (though don’t discount them!), they get pets, awards, titles, achievements, mounts. They have experiences and start forming part of our amorphous digital identity. They get reputations in game, and with guilds, and with real people. Their UI gets customized, their abilities get internalized, their macros get fine-tuned. It’s progressively harder to say, eh, fuck it, I’m going to switch and play something else. It can be done! But it gets harder than ditching a level 46 character.

Players I know who have switched mains for raiding or PvP seem to go through certain stages of anguish over this. Every time someone drops a pure DPS to tank or heal, it’s always emotionally complicated. The player is experiencing the content, but not necessarily on the character they’d like the experience on. Or they enjoy the class they’re playing on but it’s not their main. Sometimes it works out well – the new class is a better fit than the old one – but even then there are questions of discarded mains, of emotional attachments which need to be resolved. Rerolling is a tough step to take.

Changing for the need of the group is at least voluntary – players can at least take a stand and say, no, I’m a Hunter, take me as I am or else – while changes to the class are more pernicious. What do you do when your class changes underneath you to the point where you don’t enjoy it anymore? This happens to many classes between expansions, but it can also happen in the middle of them.

I think that when this happens to players it’s a very dangerous thing for player retention. When a player is forced to choose between playing a class they don’t enjoy (to achieve their in-game goals) and one they do (but doesn’t contribute to those goals), a crisis is created. Play the game in a way you don’t like to get what you want – or play in a way you like but not get the rewards. This is a no-win situation for the player.

Furthermore, this crisis removes the incentive to keep playing the game at all, which makes it a problem for Blizzard. If the options are:

  • Don’t have fun + get what you want
  • Have fun + don’t get what you want

Players will rightly say, why should I play this game? They may be able to force themselves to do it for a while, but eventually fatigue will win out.

I call this getting trapped by your class. You want to play something else, but don’t want to not be playing your main. Or you go and play something else, but regret leaving your main behind. Whenever I hit a BG on my warlock and there are no healers, I’m immediately sad panda because I would rather be playing a healer. Give me a healing spec, even a shitty one, and I will be all over it in PvP.

But now that I’ve started working on Cynwise again, and she’s so damn close to so many of those Battlemaster/Justicar achievements, it seems a real shame not to at least make the attempt.

RELEASE FROM BONDAGE

I still wonder what it would be like to have class changes in World of Warcraft.

I’m sure that technically, a class change is more complicated than a race change, and probably more complicated than a faction change. There are quests that need to be checked, abilities which need to be reassigned, mounts which need to be modified.

I think gear is probably the easiest thing to consider. If I wanted Cynwise to have a radical transformation and become a Paladin, for instance, I can see Blizzard saying that she shouldn’t be able to wear Warlock tier sets anymore. This should be simple, because the class restrictions on the class-specific gear would go into effect as soon as the class transfer took place, leaving players with the daunting task of both gearing up with the new class tier, while trying to juggle bank space in case they ever changed their mind and wanted to go back.

But is there a compelling reason to not allow class changes in WoW?

Say there’s a concern about people changing classes too often to suit the needs of a patch. Put a 30-day CD on it, but also use class change data to track population and identify balance issues with the class. If Shadow Priest DPS is off the charts, or a specific tank performs really well in a given tier – and everyone changes to take advantage, that’s 1) revenue for Blizzard and 2) an indication that that spec needs tuning. Migratory data would actually be a net positive.

I suppose that one advantage of account-wide achievements is that low-level characters can contribute. In a way, this provides a way to “delevel” your characters – you can have different characters twinked at different levels to play in certain brackets, at-level content, or to play with friends. That’s something to consider in favor of achievements.

While I like the idea of account-wide achievements, I can’t help wonder what would have happened if Blizzard went a different way and considered allowing class changes. Changes would end class tyranny but preserve the uniqueness of a character, of feeling that you really have done it all on one toon.

And they would generate a huge amount of class migration data. That kind of shit would be analyst porn.

Account-wide achievements need to be fairly seamless – and include reputation and other earned currencies – to match a class change.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll take ‘em, and gladly. If account-wide achievements been in place during Cataclysm I think subscriber numbers would look better – if nothing else, the trapped by a class crisis could have been avoided.

But don’t forget about the benefits of class changes, either. It’s a conspicuous hole in WoW’s polished portfolio.

35 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

Decline and Fall, Now Available in HTML and eBook Formats

I appear to have written a small book about Warlocks in the past two months. It’s not quite NaNoWriMo volume, but there are graphs, and that evens things out, right?

Well, after some cursing at ebook format converters, I’m happy to announce that The Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm is now available as a single electronic book for your reading convenience. Two files are available:

  • HTML – single web page, with original links and graphics
  • eReader Archive – a .zip file with HTML, EPUB, MOBI, and TXT versions of the series. Kindle users should try the MOBI, others the EPUB or HTML.

There’s some formatting challenges when moving from one medium to another – images go missing for no reason is my big problem. I’ve tried to smooth it out as best I could – the HTML file should be the best one to use.

Enjoy! Thanks again for reading!

15 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, Warlockery

Out of the Mists: Reclaiming Warlocks in Pandaria

This is the seventh, and final, post in the Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm.

The first few weeks of the beta release of Mists of Pandaria was filled with all sorts of amazing news about changes to Warlocks. Every class received some changes, but it really seemed like Warlocks were getting a complete overhaul. Demo and Destro got new resource systems, Affliction’s Soul Shards were revamped. New demon models were added alongside the old stalwarts. Spells were simplified or redesigned, cruft was removed. Many spells were limited to specific specs.

Then came unexpected news: Demonology as a tanking tree. Green fire through a quest. Massive changes to the class were coming. The Cataclysm Warlock was going away, and in its place was going to be a something … very different. Even as things changed and the dual bombshells of Demon Form Tanking and Green Fire were retracted, the reports from the beta showed a class getting completely gutted and rebuilt.

The changes are pretty staggering.

I remember starting this series right around the time the beta came out and feeling a huge sense of urgency to get it done. I needed to get my findings online so people could see the reason for the attention. It’s not that Warlocks can’t DPS or PvP, it’s that the class is shedding players. It’s not that other classes don’t need help too, it’s that Warlocks were vanishing. More than a quarter of them quit. The trends were all going in the wrong direction.

But I also remember glancing at the changes and wondering: will these changes really fix the problems which caused the decline of the Warlock population, or are they just bandaids? New demon forms can get people excited, but if the demons weren’t the original problem then it’s wasted effort. Cosmetic changes can help sell a spec and class, but they can’t solve underlying mechanical issues. Cosmetic changes aren’t bad, at all! But there need to be major mechanical changes, too, or players won’t stick with the class.

I’m done with Cataclysm. Let’s move on to Mists.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Holy shit. Warlocks are going to be so much fun in the next expansion.

I can’t bring myself to level my baby Forsaken Warlock on the live servers anymore. Why? Because the leveling process is so much better on beta. If you are wondering if you should level a Warlock now or in Mists, wait for Mists. Gone are the awkward talents and abilities; in their place are simple, logical spells which fit the theme of the spec. Leveling Destro, for instance, I no longer shoot Shadow Bolts and dot on the run. Instead, I:

  1. Set people on fire.
  2. Explode people and stun them.
  3. Throw fire at people.
  4. Drop fire on groups of people.

And that’s pretty much it. It’s wonderful.

Simple for leveling? Yes, and that’s great for new players and new Warlocks alike. Affliction DoTs. Demo gets demon form early and gets to use it often. Destro slings fire at everything. By the mid-40s all the new resource systems are in place and you’re starting to learn the basics of how things work at endgame.

The class is very different at endgame. If you are going from 85 to 90, mentally start preparing to learn a new class. Affliction still feels familiar, but the changes have made it faster, more frantic at times. Demonology and Destruction are completely different; not only do they have new resource systems, they have jettisoned much of the shared Warlock abilities used in Cataclysm and are focused on the fantasy of the spec again.

The biggest problem, I think, will be the transition for current endgame Warlock players. I went in not knowing any of the new systems or having read any guides and was overwhelmed by how different things were. I had to start over from scratch to get used to the new way of doing things, nuking both my UI/keybinds and my preconceived notions of how the specs should work. The transition from Wrath to Cata was easier because it was just more stuff on top of stuff I already knew; Cata to Mists is new stuff. Jettisoning old concepts is hard but vital to the changeover.

I can already see that the developers recognize this is a problem by the appearance of clear, concise in-game directions on the Core Abilities tab. It’s relatively easy to put together a clear out-of-game guide, but a bit harder to teach people in-game. The Core Abilities tab wasn’t there when I started but it’s a really useful guide. The What Has Changed tab is another recent addition which I think will be helpful in-game advice for returning Warlocks.

CORE ABILITIES

I think the Core Abilities tab is a great addition to not only the Warlock class, but to every class in the game. Each spec gets a tab in the spell book summarizing their key abilities for use so that players understand the intended way to play, like this:

I love this tab. It provides a good overview of the endgame rotation of a spec. It lets you drag the abilities down to your action bars and go, okay, I’m playing Demo, here’s what I’m supposed to do: keep Corruption and HoG on the target, cast Soul Fire when MC procs, turn into a Demon when my Demonic Fury bar is full, otherwise cast Shadow Bolt. Got it.

It seems so logical in retrospect, but if there is a way a spec is supposed to be played, it makes sense that the game should teach it. This allows new and old players alike to pick up a class and get the basics quickly, while still allowing a lot of room for player growth. Mastery of the nuances of a class won’t be taught through the Core Abilities tab, that’s not what it’s there for. You won’t see things like “time your DoT refreshes with trinket procs with Demon Soul for max damage” or “use Fel Fire while moving” in these tabs, and that’s okay.

Core Abilities are the basics. Great addition. Love it.

LIMITED SPELL SELECTION CREATES FOCUS

You’ll notice that the number of spells on the Core Abilities tab is pretty low – the page supports six, which is a good number to try to get your head around when learning any spec.

One of the things I like best about the changes to Warlock in Mists is how the Core Abilities are not just the suggested abilities for the spec, they’re usually the only abilities. Competing abilities are just not available. Looking at Demo above, you might ask what happened to Immolate? It’s not available anymore to Demo! You can’t cast it, don’t even try!

This focus is created either by only granting abilities to certain specs, or transforming basic spells when the spec is chosen. Corruption turns into Immolate for Destro, so now there’s not a choice between the two, or a possibility that Corruption will enter the rotation. It can’t.

Locking many abilities to individual specs not only reduces player confusion, it eliminates the possibility of unintended crossover and the complexity that goes with it. The number of shared Core Abilities between specs is very low – Corruption is the only one, and it’s only shared between Affliction and Demonology. Everything else is different.

While this means we will likely see the three Warlock specs drift further apart in Mists, I think this is a very good thing for the flavor of each class and reducing overall class complexity.

The Destro Core Abilities (above) are a good illustration of how much more focused each class is on a few central, thematic abilities in Mists, and not presented with the dozens of choices you have in Cataclysm. I’m reminded of Bruce Lee’s quote on expertise:

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

This was drilled into me when I was learning martial arts: most black belts only really use 5-10 moves, but they know how to use them in dozens of configurations and combinations, and adapt them to any situation or environment. I feel like that’s what we’re seeing here. The cruft is being cleared away, leaving us players to focus on using those abilities we have.

MORE USEFUL SPELLS

Spells which weren’t useful in Cataclysm have either been jettisoned or made useful in Mists.

Searing Pain is gone. This was mostly a PvP spell, but Fel Flame can replace it nicely.

Shadowflame is gone. I love this spell, but it was both awkward to use and very, very mage-like. It’s been rolled into Hand of Gul’dan now.

Fel Flame generates Burning Embers and Demonic Fury now, making it an easy choice for whenever a Warlock moves. You move, you cast Fel Flame for damage or Life Tap for mana, period.

Curse of Enfeeblement takes the place of Curse of Tongues and Curse of Weakness and is actually attractive now, especially while leveling!

Demon Soul now has spec-specific iterations, decoupling it from the deployed demon and eliminating Demon Twisting.

Demons appear (and this is, of course, subject to change) to be chosen based on utility, not on spec association or DPS. Any given spec doesn’t have a specific demon that benefits it through talents or abilities, which I think is a great change.

Spells transform into new versions when Warlocks do things. Demon Form doesn’t give you new abilities, it changes the ones you have into new, related abilities. Curses become Auras. That’s clever. If you use Burning Embers to do AoE, your spells change to reflect that.

All of these things are pretty damn cool.

SIMPLER CLASS BASELINE DOES NOT MEAN A SIMPLE CLASS

That said, there’s a set of other abilities that are shared across Warlock specs that are also needed – things like Life Tap, Demon Soul, Guardian Demons – that still need to be cast. There are also talents which are independent of spec.

The division of abilities into Core/Non-Core is great for playing multiple Warlock specs because it allows players another way to chunk up their abilities. I can look at my UI and go, Core (DPS) abilities go in one place, baseline Warlock abilities (defensive, movement, utility) go in another, and maintain a great deal of consistency in layout between specs.

Compare my Affliction and Demo setups in Beta:

This is Affliction, arguably the spec with the most buttons right now. You can see that most of the Core Abilities are grouped in the lower bars and the primary 1-10 keys, while utility spells are on keys around the QWES keys, like ADFGT.

This is Demo. The utility keys are almost identical between specs, withthe only variation being different talents or glyphs I’m testing out. The Core Ability section is different, but not overwhelmingly so – there’s still a relatively uniform layout there.

I’m amazed at how much space I have with my keybindings, to be honest. I know some people have been able to play Warlocks in Cataclysm without using all their keybinds, but I have had fully loaded binds from the start. I’m a bit in shock that I won’t need 60 binds and can use WASD without feeling like I’m sacrificing valuable keybinds space to do it!

The Talent system revamp is excellent. Instead of trying to shape your character by taking certain necessary abilities, you’re choosing utility and options instead of possibly making mistakes which affect your core abilities. What I like best about the Warlock talents is that you can often tailor the complexity of the spec based on your choices – often you are selecting between another button to push, replacing an existing button, or adding a passive ability to a button. This allows Warlock players to take 3 or 4 different damage absorption CDs if they like, or just have two.

I saw this with the Glyphs, as well. The Glyph of Demon Soul is fantastic, because it gives a passive bonus when DS is not on CD, effectively allowing players who don’t want to have a burst CD to ignore it – yet still get some benefit from it. The Glyph of Wild Imps is working like this too, only in reverse! It takes a passive and adds a button with CD, which is awesome!

The abilities are simpler, but I wouldn’t call them simple. Not by a longshot. The interactions with each new resource spec are still up in the air, but there is still a lot of mental juggling going on. Affliction feels much faster now with changes to Malefic Grasp and Haunt. Destro feels very rhythmic, where you build up to this absolutely massive discharge of damage (oh god, 6 Chaos Bolts on 2 targets with Havoc and Demon Soul, be still my beating heart) and then start over again. Demonology is in the strangest place right now, with a hybrid melee-caster rotation that’s unlike anything Warlocks have seen before. Meta form is no longer just a CD you use to increase your damage, instead it’s an entirely different way of playing.

VISUALLY EXCITING ABILITIES = SPEC WISH FULFILLMENT

Near the beginning of the beta there was a report that Warlocks would get a quest which would allow them to change the color of their fire to green.

There are times that I feel like I’m in the minority because I don’t really care one way or another about green fire for Warlocks. I mean, would it be cool? Sure? But I’d rather see mechanics fixed than spell graphics updated?

Well, that’s really a crumudgeon’s attitude, and it took me playing in the Mists Beta to realize it.

I chose the screenshots above deliberately because they show off some of the very cool new spell effects that are available for Warlocks. Chaos Bolt is now a HUGE green energy dragon with a swarm of smaller dragons launched at the target. Shadow Bolt can be made to swarm in a pack of three instead of a bolt, and it’s AWESOME. Soul Fire is huge, like, HUGE. Harvest Life is wild when you can get 3-6 targets in range. These spells are great.

I was leveling my baby Warlock when I realized how much happier I was that she was slinging sheets of fire instead of shadow bolts at her targets. This is how Destro is SUPPOSED to feel! I yelled more than once at the screen.

And that’s really what the new graphics are all about; fulfilling the fantasy of a spec. The abilities have to do it, the mechanics have to do it, but the graphics have to do it, too. And the new graphics are delivering on that fantasy. They are making each spec different from each other – you will not have to wonder for long what kind of Warlock you are facing. They’re also making the class visually distinct from other classes very early on – you won’t wonder if you’ve got a Fire Mage or a Destro Lock in your group anymore. You’ll know.

I know Blizzard came out and said that green fire wasn’t happening, but given the scope of graphical changes I’ve seen in the Beta – I wouldn’t rule it out just yet.

WARLOCK TANKS

I have not seen a class community polarize faster than Warlocks did over the discovery of the Glyph of Demon Hunting, which allowed for Demon Form to work… well, to work like a tank. A real tank, not an off tank. Huge amounts of armor. Taunts. Melee attacks. Defensive cooldowns. All the basic abilities were there, they just had to be fleshed out.

Then there was lore that appeared, later – about how the Demonologists on the Council of Six Daggers went to the Demon Hunters of Outland to learn their secrets.  The reason for the name of the glyph became clear, at least.

But, after all that excitement, it was not to be.

Greg Street wrote:

Just to make our intent clear, the Glyph of Demon Hunting isn’t intended to turn Demonology warlocks into a tanking spec. You won’t be able to queue as a tank for Dungeon Finder for instance and won’t have the survivability or tools of say a Protection paladin.

Thus the dream of Warlock tanks ended.

If there was anything that indicated to me that Warlocks were really in trouble in Cataclysm, and that no idea was too wild to save them in Mists, it was this one. Tanking Warlocks represented the most outrageous thinking I’d seen yet on the class. Oh, sure, bloggers had talked about it before, but nothing had ever come out of Blizzard indicating it was a possibility. Taking a pure DPS spec and turning them into a hybrid? This is madness!

No, this is amazing.

Let’s assume for a moment that the intent really was to make Demo a tanking spec. Humor me.

Let’s consider the benefits:

  • Turns the class into a hybrid, resolving issues with the Simplicity Tax and Bring the Player, Not the Class model. This also invites players to try Warlocks who might otherwise be hesitant to roll a pure DPS character due to the needs of their raid composition.
  • Increases the number of potential tanks in the game. This both helps the general tank shortage, as well as offset the main quality of life disadvantage of a pure DPS – queue times for PvE dungeons and raids – by letting them jump in as a tank.
  • It is new and unusual, which can be quite a draw for players looking for something different. It also gives long-term Warlock players an opportunity to experience a different role in the game without rerolling.
  • Sets up the possibility of a fourth spec for other classes. Demo tanks would be an experiment in making one spec fill multiple roles (DPS/Tanking), much like Feral Druids did. If both roles are successful, spinning off a separate 4th spec becomes a logical extension of the tanking experiment, which opens up possibilities for other classes extending their specs.
  • Fits the theme and fantasy of the spec. Instead of transforming into a demon to make your spells hit harder, you turn into one to rip and tear into your enemies, using demonic magic to augment your physical prowess to be the equivalent of a giant dire bear or warrior in armor.

There are some challenges to overcome with this idea, though.

  • Automatic role determination by spec. Splitting apart Feral into two specs allows Blizzard to code LFD/LFR to only allow characters who have learned a tanking spec to queue as a tank. If this restriction comes to pass, Demo either needs to become a full-time tank spec or have the tank spec be split off from the DPS spec entirely.
  • Automatic quest reward determination by spec. If quest rewards are going to be chosen by your current spec, should Demo get DPS or tanking gear?
  • Attachment of Demo DPS players to their spec. Given the massive changes made to Demo in Mists, it doesn’t really resemble the Demo DPS spec we’ve enjoyed since Wrath, but current Demo players may not want to give up their DPS play style of choice. There is a related argument that Warlock players don’t want to be a hybrid and be pressured into tanking.
  • Balance with other classes. Demo tanks brings the number of tank classes up to 6, which can be a challenge for balancing under the Bring the Player model. There are also PvP concerns to consider, though to be frank those concerns exist with the glyphed version anyways.
  • Tank Cloth itemization. Honestly, I think this is the biggest obstacle for Warlock tanks. How will they gear for avoidance? A conversion of Intellect, Haste, Crit, Mastery into Dodge, Parry, or Expertise might be possible, but how will that work? New gear would be an easier answer, but adding in an entire new class of Tanking Cloth gear is a monumental undertaking, and fraught with the same perils as Intellect Plate.

The problem of making a cloth-wearing tank viable is an interesting one. Do you follow a Bear/Guardian model and convert Intellect into Dodge? Well, that probably needs to be coded, and only for Warlock tanks (since Agility gives Dodge already as a default).

What about health pools, do you make it so their damaging attacks suck life out of the bosses and give them a large effective health pool (but then how do they survive the big hits?) What about Parry, Expertise, melee Hit – how do you make it work, exactly, when there’s no available gear with tanking stats?

There’s also a question of theme. Demonology, as it stands today in Cataclysm, provides both the conjuror and  metamorph archetypes in one package. In some ways those concepts are at odds with each other – a conjuror summons other beings to do their dirty work for them, while a metamorph transforms to do the job themselves. Tanking stresses the latter philosophy, of internalizing the demons and becoming them, more than the former, which is more of a ranged DPS idea. Spinning off the transformation of Demonology into a separate tanking tree would allow both themes to flourish, but if only one can be chosen – I’d rather have some flexibility in my theme.

The Glyph of Demon Hunting is an interesting experiment. Because it’s a Glyph you can’t enable it in the middle of a fight, but perhaps it could be changed into an ability which allows Demo to activate tank mode for 5 minutes? That at least makes it an attractive option for tank death or tank swap fights. As it stands now, the best use will be for soloing or – as gear gets better – tanking 5-mans with a friendly guild group who likes pushing the limits.

That’s pretty cool, but I know that if there was more time in the development cycle this could be even cooler.

I would not count Warlock tanks out of the picture just yet. If not now, look for them in the expansion after Mists.

THE REBIRTH OF WARLOCKS IN MISTS OF PANDARIA

I find it ironic that I named this series after Gibbon’s masterpiece, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman EmpireGibbon assembled a wealth of material around the collapse of Roman governance in Western Europe in the third through sixth centuries, but he used it to formulate a monocausal theory – that the Roman Empire’s fall was inevitable because of the influence of Christianity. This theory overlooks much in pursuit of forwarding an Enlightenment viewpoint of the Medieval period and Christianity as bad, and the Greco-Roman classical tradition as good.

As a historian, I have always preferred the works of J. B. Bury, who did not dispute the evidence Gibbon presented, but rather interpreted them differently. Bury posits that Rome’s fall was not inevitable, but rather the result of a series of incidents which lead to a catastrophe. Internal political pressures, external migratory pressures on the Germanic tribes, inflation, increased taxes to deal with the Sassanid Empire’s threat, a series of terrible decisions by Imperial and Provincial leaders alike – all these contributed to the calamity of the fourth and fifth centuries. I recommend reading Gibbon so you’ve read him, but I recommend Bury if you want to see the vast scope of problems in Late Antiquity, and how monocausal theories need to take them all into account.

To quote Bury:

The gradual collapse of the Roman power … was the consequence of a series of contingent events. No general causes can be assigned that made it inevitable.

It’s my hope that this series has been more like Bury than Gibbon. While there has been a central theme to this work –  inelegant complexity without reward led to the decline of Warlock populations in Cataclysm – it is my firm belief that it was a series of design decisions and balance changes during the expansion which contributed to the decline of this class. Attributing it to any one specific change misses the big picture. Our personal reasons and agendas need to take a back seat to the data.

The Warlock class declined in Cataclysm. Based on what I’ve seen so far in the Mists of Pandaria Beta, it is too early to write its epitaph, but its recovery is by no means a certain thing. It is transforming into something very different what came before, and it is my sincere hope that it flourishes and thrives in its new incarnation.

Let’s see what the future holds for this great class.

THANKS

I honestly thought this would be a two-post series at the beginning. More than thirty thousand words later, I realize that I had a lot more to say about Warlocks than I thought I did, so, first and foremost, thanks to the hundreds of people who commented and shared your thoughts and opinions in comments, forums and emails, for promoting this work in the Warlock community. Thank you.

I’d like to thank Xelnath for his for his insights and convincing me to give the Mists beta a try. It’s been a delight discussing this work with you, and I can’t wait to see what you have up your sleeve next.

I have to also give many thanks to my undercover editors, Catulla and Narci of Flavor Text, for their unflagging support in the face of a mountain of text regarding a class they didn’t play. Narci deserves special mention as the one who convinced me this needed to be a series, and then stayed with the idea by reviewing every single draft, even the ones I threw away. Thank you both for your ocular fortitude.

Finally, thank you for reading. This has been a long journey, and I’m humbled and thankful that you chose to go on it with me. Thanks!

60 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, Warlockery