Tag Archives: Cataclysm

Replay Value

Why do some areas of Warcraft hold our attention through repeated play, while others grow stale?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this while playing Cataclysm, because there are parts of the game which I really enjoy doing the first time, but can’t muster the interest to do them again. This isn’t new to this expansion, but it feels like it’s more prevalent now, like there’s more things to try, but that they don’t hold my interest for long.

What’s interesting is that it’s certain parts of an activity that hold (or don’t hold) my interest, not the entire activity. Leveling is kinda fun, but there are some zones which I’ve done once and have no desire to ever do again. (Worgen starting area, Vashj’ir, Hyjal.) I find most battlegrounds infinitely replayable, except Tol Barad, which I just can’t motivate myself to play anymore on offense OR defense. Raiding has zero interest for me right now, even though I really enjoyed it during ICC. I’m not even bothering with heroic dungeons at this point, choosing to spend my time in PvP or on alts.

What’s going on here?

THE RIVER IS NEVER THE SAME TWICE

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

Heraclitus

Every single BG or Arena I queue up for is different. There’s a different opponent, I have different team mates, and the battle is going to be unique. Yes, the maps are the same. Change comes very slowly to the battlegrounds, so even major changes (like the new WSG graveyard) get assimilated into the collective knowledge of the map, and you can focus on trying to win the battle.

But even more than the external factors, I can see how I’ve changed as a player inside the battlegrounds. My recent forays into the Arena have given me better skills in breaking up a defending team, of working with others, of winning the 1:1 matchups. I’m slowly learning how to predict what different classes will do, and move to counter them. While the games played in the battlegrounds are static, the participants are not, and I still find that highly engaging.

PvP has high replay value for exactly this reason – the river is never the same twice. While the surrounding framework is the same, the individual experience of that specific battle is always different. Once a player overcomes the initial challenge of learning how to play the BG (and gearing their character appropriately), the replay value stays high. And there’s enough variety between the different types of PvP that, generally speaking, you can bounce between different matches and not get bored with a single battleground. Variety seems to be key here.

I wonder about the exceptions to this rule, though. I don’t play a lot of Tol Barad anymore, and I am hard pressed to figure out why, exactly. No doubt part of it is because I hit a wall with the daily quests, so the external motivation for capturing the zone is lessened. It’s still a great source for Honor Points, but I don’t need those. And after spending a lot of time in there learning how to win, once I started winning I stopped going.

If Tol Barad was part of the random BG queue, would I play it when it came up? Possibly. I think I might play all of the World PvP zones if they were part of the random BG queue if they were adapted for it. But as a separate activity? I find myself choosing to do other things instead of Tol Barad.

I don’t think it’s just the lack of external rewards, though that no doubt contributes to it. The other battlegrounds offer similar rewards (Honor, Achievements) to battlegrounds I’ll willingly play, even when you set aside the pets and trinkets and mounts and gold from dailies and another exalted reputation and Honor Points coming out the wahzoo. (And those are a lot of things for a battleground to have – no other PvP area has come close to having this breadth of rewards.) So that leaves two other places to look – factors internal to me, and factors intrinsic to Tol Barad.

I wanted to beat Tol Barad. I remember this so clearly when I wrote a post where I basically agreed with people who said it was too hard – and my own attitude in that post royally pissed me off. It wasn’t that the battleground was too hard, it’s that we weren’t trying hard enough and blaming the battleground for it.

Anger can be a positive thing. Anger can motivate you to buckle down and solve a problem, to get over yourself and do the hard things. Winning Tol Barad with a demoralized, outgeared Alliance-Durotan team before the rules was changed was hard. Figuring out how to hold the keep was hard.

And in learning how to overcome that challenge, I think a lot of folks had a lot of fun.

But what happens when the challenge is finally overcome? What’s left? PvP isn’t like PvE, where content gets progressively easier as you gear up (and when content gets nerfed down). The difficulty of PvP is dynamic, but you never get to the point where you overgear the instance – they can have just as many, or more, ubergeared characters on their team as you have on yours.

Tol Barad never really got any easier, even when the changes to how quickly the first and last base flips went in. It’s still a pain in the ass to win on Offense, and a game of musical chairs on Defense. It’s actually kinda boring – go to Slags, okay, go to ICG, okay, go to WV, frak, losing ICG. So in comparison to some of the other battlegrounds, there’s less nuanced strategy, it’s more difficult to coordinate en masse, and parts of it are kinda boring. It’s both harder than the other battlegrounds, and lacks a lot of the fun parts of the other games.

When you take away both the internal motivation of conquering the battlefield and the external rewards for participating, it starts to become clearer why I don’t queue up for Tol Barad anymore.

WHY RAIDS GO STALE

Tol Barad provides an interesting segue into thinking about the replay value of raiding. The initial play value of raiding is really high, drawing from internal player motivations to overcome challenges, external rewards, story advancement and exploration. This is a great set of initial values to have, covering a wide variety of accomplishment, collecting, and tourism.

Consider the challenge of raiding. Raiding is hard at first. Your entire team has to learn the fight, to try different strategies to see what works. You have to get great gear. You have to execute your strategy well. Everyone has to be on the ball at first. And then after days, weeks, or even months of trying, BOOM, a boss goes down! Mission Accomplished! You have met this challenge and triumphed! But wait, there are still 12 more bosses to go, so you can keep going.  Raiding provides small victories along the way to keep you motivated, without altering the difficulty of any one of them. The difficulty of the encounter is set; your approach to it varies.

Once you get all of the bosses down on normal mode, you can go back and make them even harder with heroic modes – oh yes, raiding as an activity has the whole “challenge yourself and your team” thing down pat.

What does change the difficulty of the encounters is gear, which is a game all its own. The more bosses you down, the better gear you get, which in turn makes it easier to progress through the content. Better gear means that the execution doesn’t need to be quite as precise, random chance doesn’t have quite as much to say in the matter. In some cases (heroic modes) it’s really necessary, but the really great guilds find a way to down bosses with lesser gear.

Also, purples are shiny.

Ahem. Right. Got distracted there.

Lastly, raiding allows you to see parts of the story of Warcraft that are, frankly, not accessible to non-raiders. A lot of work goes in to each raid instance – okay, maybe not ToC – and getting to see the story unfold really does drive a lot of people forward into heroics and raiding.

There are also social motivations for raiding – which I don’t want to discount – but just by looking at these three reasons why people raid, you see how raids naturally lose their replay value over time.

  1. Eventually, your team runs out of raid bosses to kill, or you hit a wall where you can’t get past one.
  2. Your team gets all the gear that is useful to them.
  3. You see it all.

Over time, raids will grow stale, and they won’t hold the same appeal as they did when they were introduced. That’s fine! They’re hugely appealing when we first encounter them. But over time, their replay value degrades.

You’ll notice that my argument presumes that eventually the bosses go down and the raid goes on farm status, or partially on farm. This isn’t how it works for most guilds, even during long, comparably easy raid periods (like ICC at the end of Wrath.)

No, raid teams hit walls. They get to 3/13, or 9/13, and can’t get any further. Weeks on a boss turns into frustrating months on a boss, and unless there’s some other factor at play to help motivate players (title, achievement, end boss of the expansion), the replay value of raiding drops precipitously. Teams do the bosses they can do, so there’s (hopefully) still gear being acquired – but night after night of failure can really wear people down.

The effect of failure is, interestingly, the same as the effect of success: it lowers the replay value of raiding. No matter where you stop, eventually your team does have all the gear available, even if it’s from Zulroics and crafted epics and you’re 0/13, or if you’re pushing HM 13/13.

The contrast with PvP is striking. WSG is still entertaining after 6 years, but most Vanilla and BC raids are just visited for reputation, vanity items, or nostalgia. Kara and Ulduar, arguably the two best raid instances still in the game, are gorgeous – but they’re not really a challenge with max-level characters. The appeal is to story, not to conquering the challenge.

Warsong Gulch is a challenge no matter what level you visit it at.

WHEN BLIZZARD ATTACKS

On some bosses, though, better armor and weapons may not be enough because some mechanics just can’t easily be outgeared. To mitigate that problem, our tendency is to nerf content over time just to make sure a wide variety of players see it.

Ghostcrawler

Ghostcrawler is referring to what happens when the natural nerfing of raids (due to improved gear and community knowledge) isn’t sufficient to allow a majority of the player base to get past the mechanical challenges of a raid. There are some bosses which require coordination and execution that can’t be overpowered with slightly better gear, so to prevent raider frustration, Blizzard periodically nerfs raid content.

Coincidentally, Blizzard just announced a massive round of nerfs to the current tier of raiding content that will coincide with the release of the next tier, Firelands. This is certainly in line with what the company said they would do, and it makes sense when looking at the tradeoffs they have to make between initial play value and replay value.

To keep raiding going, new content has to be released. The enjoyment that raiders derive from their activity requires new challenges – precisely because of the low replay value of raiding. Static content gets boring over time. You can only do the fight so many times before you’ve got it down.

But what about raiders who are stuck? It doesn’t matter if you’re stuck at 0/13 or 9/13, the new content is going to be arguably harder than the old content, and that means you’re going to leave more and more players behind. Soon you’ll have raid groups stuck in a variety of places throughout the content – some stuck in the previous tier, some in the current tier, some in the current tier hardmodes – and some who complete it all quickly. Frustration grows and people go do other things.

The only viable solution to that problem is to change the variable difficulty of old content. Satisfy player’s motivations to see the content (which doesn’t really diminish over time, there’s a lot in this game from BC and Wrath I still want to see), help them get back on track with gearing up for the new content, and still let them achieve their goals.

Nerfing older content allows it to have more initial play value than if it remained static. If raids remained static throughout the course of an expansion, players would have to wait until an entire new level cap was introduced to see content. That’s just dumb. Players want to see things. Players want the satisfaction of accomplishment, of reaching a goal, even if it’s easier when others did it.

Raiding is all about initial play value. We should expect it to get easier all the time because it lacks replay value, not because Blizzard hates people who have already completed it.

THE ACHIEVEMENT DICHOTOMY AND CATACLYSM LEVELING

The genesis of this post was not about PvP or raiding, but a discussion on Twitter about leveling in Cataclysm. I actually have been leveling alts between bouts of PvP, and have found it to be quite enjoyable.

But I’m struggling with questing, too. Not to do it – it’s really a lot of fun – but to do it over and over again, to parcel out the experience between characters.

Questing in any of the revamped zones makes me feel like they’re a single, extended quest line, custom made for that character. They’re laid out well, the story moves along at a nice pace, and the zone can become a defining moment for a character. Cynderblock’s story is Westfall. Ashwalker came alive to me in the Plaguelands (surprisingly.)

Once a zone defines a character, though, I don’t have any desire to do it again. They have limited replay value. Not only have I seen what there is to see, I’ve satisfied my storytelling urge with the zone and revisiting it with another character feels wrong.

This tendency to only want to play through a zone once really worries me about the 80-85 zones. I did three of them on Cynwise (Vashj’ir, Twilight Highlands, then Hyjal), got midway through Deepholm, and then stopped. Cynwulf is midway through Uldum, and I’m stalled there, too – I think his story is really more suited to Hyjal, but I can’t work up the enthusiasm to do that zone again. (And he’s level 83, so no real benefit there.)

Did questing have more replay value in Wrath? Questlines were smaller units pre-Cataclysm, so it was certainly easier to pick and choose what you did. There was less a feeling you needed to do an entire zone for the story, because there were lots of little stories you could pick and choose. Now zones are one big, epic story, which makes it more fun the first time through, but introduces problems the next time around.

So in this one respect, questing was better in Wrath. It had higher replay value, though it was less attractive initially.

I think of it like the difference between a movie (or miniseries) and an episodic television program; one presents a coherent, tightly wrapped story with character arcs that change quickly, while the other allows slower exploration of characters, with gradual arcs that meander through the seasons. They both can be exciting, they both can have great moments; but one defines characters quickly, the other more slowly. If you have a bad episode the series itself can recover; if you have a bad movie, well, the whole thing is bad.

This disparity between initial play value and replay value in questing also leads to an achievement dichotomy; what if I want to get Loremaster on Cynwise, but doing so requires her to quest in a zone someone else has completed? There’s a tension there between characters that’s hard to resolve in my head.

It’s not that one can’t go back and do the zones again; obviously, it’s possible, I’m sure that I could force myself to do Westfall with an 85. I have Fel Flame now on a mouseover macro, I can zap mobs with impunity.

No, the tension is between completing a zone on an alt in a way which defines them (therefore removing the desire to do it again) versus the desire to collect achievements on a single toon. Limited replay value of a zone implies a choice between richly characterized alts (which are fun) and an accomplished main (a different kind of fun).

Do I want to do all these quests? Or do I want to do all of them on a single character? Do I do them when they can benefit the character for leveling, reputation, and gear, or do I do them on my max-level main?

I want my cake and to eat it too – or account-wide achievements.

HARDCODED FUN


A few players set their own goals, … but most are focused on getting a recognised achievement. In a massive game like WoW, a lot of players rely on hardcoded suggestions to find new content.

Tim Howgego

I remember reading WoW Insider’s interview with Tim Howgego, also known as El from El’s Extreme Angling, and his very practical attitude towards achievements. Fishing has some of the hardest, most time-consuming achievements in the game, but by in large they won’t motivate people to fish. They might motivate people to fish in certain places, or for certain things, but it won’t make them like fishing. Players either enjoy fishing or they don’t, which makes the role of WoW fishing in the larger game problematic.

I really liked how Tim described achievements as “hardcoded suggestions to find new content.” It puts achievements in the proper context of guiding players to try things they might never attempt otherwise. They’re an additional reward that helps extend the replay value of an activity, little rewards for going and doing something that players might lack motivation to attempt. Perhaps it’s a title, or a mount, or even an ability that other characters don’t have. Perhaps it’s a pet, or a discount at some vendors. Perhaps it’s just achievement points! But there’s something there that encourages players to try it.

Despite how much I dislike certain achievements in PvP – you have no idea the personal anguish getting the Double Rainbow screenshot caused me, dear readers – I think they’re by and large an effective part of the game. They extend the replay value of content, they direct you to try things you might otherwise attempt, and they provide a focused goal to work towards. I have no reason to visit Serpentshrine Cavern anymore, but I’ll go fish up the Lurker Below anyways.

There have been achievements which I’ve sought which have been entirely positive experiences – getting Ambassador on Cynderblock helped me focus my efforts on questing through the Horde starting areas before Cataclysm so that I’d have gone through them at least once – even though I had no desire to level an alt through them. It’s nice to work on something and go, hey, I got this shiny thing, and even though it doesn’t make me a better player, it was fun to do.

There are other achievements which are very negative for players – School of Hard Knocks is commonly cited here, but for me it was Sinister Calling. I was sick with the flu that week, but I doggedly logged on, hour after hour, hoping that the gorram helm would show up in the treat bag, and then running SM:GY as many times as I could manage.

I was as sick as a dog, pushing myself to play a video game for a fast purple dragon.

That was probably a low point.

I deliberately left achievements out when talking about PvP and raiding because they work differently than other rewards. They are suggestions, nothing more, about what your characters can experience in game. You can choose to do them, or not, as you please. They don’t modify how your character plays in any in-game capacity – given equal spec and gear, it doesn’t matter if you have 1000 achievement points or 13,000 when it comes to PvP, raiding, or whatever. At best, achievements show player experience with that character – nothing more.

That lack of real difference is one of the reasons I have difficulty reconciling my feelings about the new zones in Cataclysm. Experiencing them at the appropriate level means the time is spent well, leveling an alt, gearing them up, enjoying the story the way it was meant to be told. But I also want to be able to do them on Cynwise, to say, hey, look, this girl and I, we’ve DONE things together. There’s no real practical value to that desire – it’s entirely social – but it’s there, nonetheless.

Achievements are highly personal affairs.

CYN Y U NO RAID

I haven’t raided in 4.1 because I find the replay value of PvP to outweigh the initial play value of raiding. I’ve also found that leveling, in general, has been more fun than raiding.

So when I sit down at night and log in, I’ll either PvP or level an alt, or maybe PvP on an alt.

As players, we make choices every time we log in about what we’re going to do. And, when Cataclysm launched, I made the choice to solely focus on PvP with my endgame character, instead of splitting my attention between PvE and PvP (like I did in Wrath), or focusing on getting ready for raids. Could the alts turn into raiding toons? Could I go raid on Cynwise? Maybe. None of this is set in stone. But I didn’t want to raid.

The easy explanation for why I felt this way is that I was burned out on raiding due to spending far, far too long farming ICC. I kept running it on Cynwise long after I should have stopped or switched to an alt, but the worth of a well-geared DPS on an alt run is actually pretty high. You have to pack a lot of the raid DPS into a few characters in order to beat the enrage timers, even on farm bosses. We spent a long, long time in that place. “Burned Out Raider Takes A Break, Film At 11” is not really news.

But that’s not really it. Plenty of people got tired of ICC, yet returned to Cataclysm raiding in force. Something drew them back in, something that didn’t draw me in.

No. I looked at the known value of raiding in Wrath – with its known highs and lows – and the perceived difficulty of raiding in Cataclysm – with the reputed difficulties of Heroics, not even talking about raids – and said, this does not sound as much fun as PvP, or even leveling. One or two hours to complete a heroic dungeon, with no guarantee of success? Weeks of wiping on the same boss? Are you kidding me?

I was willing to spend months wiping on the Lich King. There’s a sense of completion there, a huge amount of motivation there, to do it at least once. But wiping for months on a raid at the beginning of an expansion? Really? Shit, I’d rather go play some Arenas, run some battlegrounds, heck, go level an alt. I don’t get enough personal satisfaction from raiding as an activity to even make it worth the attempt.

Acknowledging the constraints on your time is important. I’ve said it before: if I had unlimited time I’m sure that I’d be able to excel in all the areas of this game. But time is limited, and we have to make choices about what we work on.

So where’s the failure, here? Is it that Blizzard failed to make something appealing to me? Is it that I’m just lazy, and that I’d rather wait to faceroll it later than spend my nights being the first to punch through?

I look at the failure of Tol Barad to capture my attention and idly wonder why I don’t play it more, but I don’t think I’m a bad person for not doing it. Raiding feels a little different. My friends, my guild, could use a solid DPS. They could use my DK or Warrior, leveled up, as tanks. They wouldn’t want me healing on my Druid (OMG, trust me), but they could use me as a Priest. There’s a direct social component to raiding that Tol Barad just hasn’t captured – I don’t feel strong loyalty to my faction, but I sure as hell do towards my guild.

My guild needing me was the reason I went Demonology in ICC – to help the guild with the best raid spellcaster buff in the game. That’s why I farmed that first wing for months – to help friends gear up, even if it was gearing up alts. I got to kill Arthas and see the place, which is what I wanted.

But it always bothered me, just a little bit, that the majority of my friends in game knew me a Demo raider, not as an Aff/Destro PvPer. The closest they came was on Faction Champs, which is very much not a PvP fight, no matter how superficially it resembles one. I was the purple fuzzy demon pulling aggro instead of the dot-slinger with the Felpup, and I was okay with that, because we were raiding on our own terms.

Things are different in Cataclysm. The guild system now encourages guilds to try PvP, so that’s what I’m doing. Instead of raiding I’m helping to get my guildmates involved in Arenas and Rated Battlegrounds. Instead of farming bosses I’m running battlegrounds with folks. I’m not worried about my rating or my comp, I just like to PvP. There are more things for a guild to do than just level and raid, and I’m enjoying contributing to the guild in those things.

Raids? I can see those later. I can satisfy my curiosity some other time about all the fights. I’m sure I’ll get a PvE gearset together at some point and go run with the rest of the raiders.

Battlegrounds and Arenas are fun every time I queue for them. They are as enjoyable at level 10 as they are at level 85, and every time I queue up I get a different challenge handed to me.

(Sometimes, I get my ass handed to me, too. It’s still fun!)

Replay value matters.

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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Battleground Changes in 4.1

Patch 4.1 is going to bring some substantial changes to battlegrounds. The patch notes are up in a relatively final format, so I finally feel comfortable talking about them.
Let’s take a look.

HONOR GAINS DOUBLED

The rate at which Honor Points are earned has been doubled.

Thank goodness for this change. When the new system debuted at in 4.0.1, we assumed that the reason Honor was so hard to grind was because we weren’t at 85. Once we hit 85, it became clear that no, it just took a lot of time to get gear.

Then Tol Barad happened, and … well… let’s just say that if you got gear during that week, your grind was short, and if not, it was long. It felt about as tough as the grind in mid-Wrath, before Blizzard adjusted it to take as much time as gearing up for Heroics.

This will be good for PvPers gearing up. It may have unintended side effects when combined with the new Justice Point conversions, however. We’ll have to see how it works.

Speaking of conversions…

PvP AND PvE POINT CONVERSIONS

Conquest Points are now purchasable from the Valor Quartermasters at 250 Conquest Points per 250 Valor Points.

Honor Points are now purchasable from the Justice Trade Goods vendors at 250 Honor Points per 375 Justice Points.

Justice Points are now purchasable from the Honor Trade Goods vendors at 250 Justice Points per 375 Honor Points.

I’ve written about this change at some length before. Good? Bad? Tough to say until we see how the Honor and Justice gains pan out; my guess is that regular Battlegrounds will be a great way to get DPS into Justice Gear.

FOCUSED/BRUTAL ASSAULT

This change is aimed at Flag Carriers in WSG and Twin Peaks, and is going to make their jobs more difficult with the aim of shortening games.

After 3 minutes of both teams having the flag, both flag carriers will get Focused Assault, which increases damage taken by 10%.

Every minute afterward, an additional stack will be applied to increase damage taken by an additional 10%.

After 7 minutes, Brutal Assault will be applied in place of Focused Assault. In additional to the damage debuff, this debuff also caps the player’s movement speed at 100%. The damage taken debuff works the same and will add 10% to the debuff up to a maximum of 100% damage taken.

My take on this is that it is directed entirely at rated battleground matches, in an attempt to make the matches move faster. A good FC/2-healer team can keep themselves alive for some time, which prolongs the match. Most of the changes we’ll see to battlegrounds have this theme – make it easier to attack, harder to defend. This will have interesting implications in all brackets.

It also is a direct blow to Druid FCs, as their speed in Travel Form helps them be superior flag carriers compared to other classes. Damage Avoidance will now be key, so expect to see Blood DKs and Prot Warriors as FCs even more often.

10 v 10 ARATHI BASIN

Arathi Basin is now available as a 10v10-player rated Battleground.

While this is going to be weird, it’s necessary to add some variety to rated play. Right now there are two CTF maps and one Resource map; this adds in a second Resource map.  With the loss of the 15s, there needs to be more variety in Rated Battlegrounds, and this helps quickly add AB back into play.

FASTER FLAG CAPS IN AB/BfG

Flags should now cap in 7 seconds, down from 8.

This is another rated change. By taking a second off of the cap timer, bases should flip a little more often, which would invoke new graveyard conditions and resurrection vectors, making for a more dynamic game.

GRAVEYARD CHANGES: BATTLE FOR GILNEAS

Players who die at a control point that they own will now be teleported to the next closest graveyard, instead of the one at which they died.

If a player’s team owns the Mine and Waterworks, and dies at Waterworks, they will be teleported to the Mine.

If an Alliance player’s team only owns Lighthouse, and dies at Lighthouse, they will respawn at their base.

If a Horde player’s team owns Waterworks and Mine, and dies at Lighthouse, they will respawn at Waterworks.

The simple summary is: you will always be sent away from the base you die at, no matter if you control it.

This is a substantial change to make this battleground more dynamic, designed to make node defense more difficult by sending the defenders away from the node (just like the attackers), allowing a larger attacking force to actually overwhelm a node, instead of having the resurrection wave of the defenders keep them up.

Look at the example they used above:

This is a departure from the Arathi Basin paradigm, where you resurrect near the node you are defending. Attackers will still need to fight at the flag, but defenders will need to coordinate reinforcements between nodes. Instead of stationary teams, you’ll have to constantly replenish each base’s forces.

In some ways, this is an anti-healer change. Stationing a dedicated healer at each node in the current design allows a defending force to keep the base. This change will send the healer away from the base, allowing the attackers more time to kill the defending DPS. Right now killing a healer only gives them a window of about 15-45 seconds to burn as many people down as they can, and that’s not much of a window.

I have a few questions about how the resurrection vectors will work in certain cases (what if Alliance controls Mine but not LH or WW, for instance? Do they go back to the spawn point?) but will have to see how this shakes out.

Keep in mind non-rated play will be affected, just like rated matches, so coordination of team strength in a PuG will be key to success.

GRAVEYARD CHANGES: TWIN PEAKS

More changes to the graveyards and resurrection vectors, courtesy of rated battlegrounds:

Players will now only spawn at their base graveyard when they die in the enemy base.

Defending players will respawn at the middle graveyard.

Midfield players will respawn at the middle graveyard.

Attacking players will respawn at their base graveyard.

This is an interesting change.

First, it’s interesting because it reminds me that I still haven’t finished my guide to Twin Peaks, but I’m seriously lacking the motivation to do WSG 2.0 when WSG 1.0 is still so interesting!

Also, it’s interesting because it’s very deliberately making it harder to defend your base and the FC. No longer do defenders go back to the base graveyard, instead they move up to midfield. Balancing that change, however, is a huge penalty to attackers – getting sent entirely across the map, instead of rezzing at midfield.

Here’s a quick and dirty diagram of how it will work:

There are two problems these changes are trying to solve.

  1. Defenders, and by defenders I mean defending healers, currently can get back into the base, and back to the FC, very quickly. This change will make it easier to take down the FC.
  2. Sending attackers back to midfield was an insufficient penalty, allowing a team that focused heavily on offense to weight the field towards the enemy base, causing a turtle. (Defenders would rez by base, offense maintains pressure to keep them there.) This change makes the field more dynamic.

Frankly, this is going to mean more fights in midfield, which given some of the TP turtles I’ve seen, might not be a bad thing. This fits in very strongly with the anti-defense theme we’re seeing in this patch, which might make rated battlegrounds more exciting – but it also might be like introducing nets to football.

One item of note – I don’t see anything about fixes to the Leap of Faith exploit some people have reported in Twin Peaks. (Priest dies, rezzes, pulls FC up to GY, FC can’t be killed.) Hopefully that will be addressed in this patch, too.

GRAVEYARD CHANGES: WARSONG GULCH

This is the graveyard change that will have the greatest impact on players, as WSG is available at level 10, while Twin Peaks and Battle For Gilneas only open up at 85.

The graveyards outside both bases have been lowered in elevation and are no longer on the same plane as the main flag room entrances to either respective base.

When this change was originally announced, there was uproar because of the context in which it was presented – as an anti-camping change. It’s not. If anything, it will make graveyard camping easier, not harder.

No, this is purely a change for rated battleground play, and it’s the first change where rated play is going to dramatically impact non-rated play, including leveling characters. Let’s take a look.

This is how the Warsong Gulch graveyard currently operates.

The GY is on the same level as the main structure, which allows for numerous vectors when characters resurrect. They can rush to the flag room to assist with defense (about 15 seconds), they can assist with graveyard defense (immediate), they can go to the balcony (about 18 seconds), or they can leap down to midfield.

The proposed changes moves the GY down onto its own level, like so:

This change eliminates a number of options from the GY, most notably going directly back to the flag room. Resurrecting characters will be unable to get back into the base without going down to midfield and then running around to the tunnel or ramp entrances.

I hate to say it, but this change is really targeted at healers in rated battlegrounds. Rated BGs should have 2-3 healers, and with the current layout, healers are only out of a FR defense for about 30-45 seconds. This change is to open the window of opportunity for the attackers to take down the FC once the healers are gone.

As for ganking? Well, this change actually makes it easier to camp the enemy graveyard, especially with multiple healers:

Place your ranged up top, your melee down below, and your healers out of range of the GY. Once in position, your healers are essentially untouchable, and your DPS can grind the opposing team until they give up. Contrast that with the current layout, where you can directly engage your attackers if they are on the same level, or retreat out of range of ranged attackers firing through the hill below you.

Don’t believe the hype. This change is not about graveyard camping.

This is the first change made for Rated PvP where I think it’s going to have a negative effect upon the non-rated battlegrounds, especially leveling battlegrounds. It takes away the strategic depth of the Graveyard and limits player choices to essentially two routes – back up the tunnel, or out into midfield on offense. The lowest, non-mounted brackets will find this a real challenge to get back to the flag room, which can often mean the difference between a cap and no cap when everyone runs at the same speed (except Druids and Shamans.)

I’m not saying this change shouldn’t be made; I don’t play enough rated battlegrounds to know if they’re too defensive right now or not.

But this is going to have impacts on lowbie PvP that might – and I stress might – make WSG a lot less fun to play. We’ll have to see.

RESILIENCE SCALING CHANGES

Resilience scaling has been modified for linear returns, as opposed to increasing returns. Under the new formula, going from 30 resilience to 40 resilience gives players the same increase to survivability as going from 0 to 10. Resilience now scales in the same way armor and magic resistances do. A player with 32.5% damage reduction from resilience in 4.0.6 should see their damage reduction unchanged in 4.1. Those with less than 32.5% will gain slightly. Those with more will lose some damage reduction, increasingly so as their resilience climbs.

I’ve posted on this before, as well – the stat will change so that the effect of the stat becomes linear, instead of the stat. Oh, just go read the post. :-)

Overall this is a positive change. This will improve the survivability of people with lower Resilience ratings. That first piece of PvP gear should feel like it matters. Improving survivability early on while gearing will be a very good thing.

The higher levels of Resilience will be less effective, though, but again – that’s probably a good thing. Too much Resilience can go to your head.

UNDOCUMENTED ENCHANTMENT CHANGES

These aren’t from the patch release notes, but rather a compilation of changes discovered on the PTR at TwinkInfo. To sum up:

  • BC enchants which require an item level of 35 will now also require a character level of 25. (This removes the +15 Resilience, +6 Stats and +150 Health enchants from the 10-24 brackets.)
  • Several items, like the Haliscan Jacket, have had their item levels lowered, so they can’t take BC enchants anymore.
  • Wrath enchants will now require a minimum level of 50. This impacts the 49 bracket significantly.
  • Netherweave bandages and higher will have level requirements.
  • MP5 enchants have been converted into Spirit enchants.
  • HP5 enchants have been converted into Stamina enchants.

Most of these changes will actually make it a little easier to make a new twink, removing the effectiveness of some of the grandfathered items. While I’m a little disappointed I can’t bust out my Inferno Robe with +150 Health on Cynderblock anymore, I’ll get over it.

(Thanks to Psynister for the tip on this one.)

OTHER CHANGES

There are a host of achievement changes in 4.1, mostly tuning and bugfixes. PvP trinkets and Every Man For Himself will get a new spell effect, Escape Artist is no longer sharing a cooldown.

But the changes above are substantial enough. The smaller battlegrounds are starting to feel the effects of rated play, and we may see more changes coming to other old favorites soon because of it. This is new territory for battlegrounds, which means it’s a little scary and exciting all mixed together.

Let’s see how it all works out.

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The Currency Conversions of Warcraft Patch 4.1

World of Warcraft patch 4.1 brings with it an interesting change: conversions between PvP and PvE currencies. From the latest PTR notes:

  • Honor is now purchasable from the Justice Commodities Vendor at 250 Honor per 375 Justice.
  • Justice is now purchasable from the Honor Commodities Vendor at 250 Justice per 375 Honor.
  • Conquest is now purchasable from the Valor vendor at 250 Conquest per 250 Valor.

You could summarize this as the lower tier has a bidirectional exchange rate of 3:2 between PvP and PvE, and the higher tier has a 1:1 exchange rate from PvE to PvP, with no corresponding exchange between PvP to PvE.

These proposed changes are quite interesting. These four currencies are some of the primary rewards for endgame player, and as the different currencies have become increasingly unified over the course of the game, changes in one area of the game can increasingly impact others. There are both good and bad things about having a more simplified currency system, one that allows people to switch between different spheres of the game without necessarily participating in them. The rewards continue to have meaning and power once they’ve served their primary purpose.

What’s even more interesting is what activities the currencies don’t reward, where the walls of separation are maintained, where there are holes in the logical, perfect system.

Let’s take a look.

DUDE, WHERE ARE MY MARKS OF HONOR?

Do you remember battleground Marks of Honor? Marks of Honor were tokens that were awarded for completing a battleground, with different types awarded by different battlegrounds. You needed these Marks to get leveling PvP gear, accessories, mounts, and endgame gear (from Wintergrasp, for instance.)

There were other types of PvP currencies, too: Honor Points (gotten from HKs and accomplishing battleground objectives) and Arena Points (from playing Arenas.) Marks, Honor Points, and Arena Points all existed in a chaotic soup which made gearing up an interesting exercise. Depending on what you wanted, you might need to run EotS a bunch of times, or the original three (WSG, AB, AV) over and over to get the prizes you wanted. Mount collectors will probably remember this as a bad thing.

Oh yes, and there was a direct conversion between Marks to Honor Points (remember Concerted Efforts / For Great Honor?), and a conversion between Honor and Gold, so just showing up to a battleground could be profitable – but only if you had a balanced set of Marks for your level. If you just played WSG or AV (*cough cough*), you were stuck with a lot of unusable Marks.

Marks served a good purpose – they kept people going back to different battlegrounds. Without Marks, entire factions would have deserted battlegrounds in certain brackets – Horde would have ditched Alterac Valley in favor of Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin, Alliance would have ditched WSG/AB in favor of Alterac Valley – which would have led to hugely long queue times. Horde players would queue for AV in the Ruin battlegroup in the 51-60 bracket solely to get AV Marks – they had no chance of winning a 10v40 battle.

Marks kept the system running for a while. They weren’t great – they were pretty bad, in hindsight – but they provided incentive for people to show up for the fights, which was all they were supposed to do.

All Marks of Honor (except Wintergrasp) went away in 3.3.3, a change which coincided with the Random Battleground Finder. Blizzard introduced a tool which allowed people to queue for random battlegrounds, instead of specific ones. To avoid creating a conflict of interest with players, they removed the rewards which previously encouraged queuing for separate BGs and replaced them with the Daily Random Battleground quests we’re used to today.

It’s easy to forget how big of a change this was for PvP. We went from 10 kinds of currency to 4. Wintergrasp Marks still existed, as did Stone Keeper’s Shards for PvP Heirlooms, but suddenly it was either Honor Points or Arena Points, and that daily could get you great rewards if you didn’t do Arena.

In unifying the PvP currency, however, the differences in the average Honor Points between each battleground became a larger driver of player behavior. Alterac Valley had the highest Honor per Minute rates of any battleground, especially on it’s holiday weekends, so players flocked there to grind honor. Warsong Gulch had the lowest HPM, so it became the refuge of the randoms and the die-hard. Nothing sucked more than getting stuck in a hour-long WSG and losing. (There was no timer to end the match in the old days.) Players sought out the highest rewards, instead of spending their time grinding out each individual battleground for Marks, which meant the random feature was used a lot, and Alterac Valley, Strand of the Ancients, and Isle of Conquest got to see a lot of activity.

Marks were an artificial way to encourage players to play battlegrounds they didn’t like. It’s funny to put it that way now, but it’s really true. The balancing requirements of the Concerted Efforts repeatable quest (which converted 1 of each available Mark into Honor) kept people going back once all the mounts and gear were there, but it was a clunky system, designed to balance things out. Pushing people into a tool that randomly distributes their placement was a better idea, because all you had to do was reward people for using the random tool, and the unified currency works.

Except, of course, when those people have other ways to get the rewards they want.

THE PROBLEM OF LINKED CURRENCIES

The PvE Emblem currencies in Wrath were almost as confusing to new players as the PvP currencies. With a series of Emblems you could buy progressively more powerful gear. It works much like the Cataclysm setup, only the different tiers had different Emblems, which made it somewhat dizzying when you wanted to buy Heirlooms.

Points are better. Let me leave it at that.

There were two ways in which the PvE Emblems were linked to PvP.

  1. You could purchase PvP gear with Emblems directly
  2. You could convert Stone Keeper’s Shards/Wintergrasp Marks to Honor, which purchased PvP gear

The first method was in place to allow players who primarily raided or ran dungeons to do something with their Emblems once they had stopped being useful for PvE. You could assemble a good PvP set, not quite Arena quality, but certainly Battleground quality, with your PvE rewards. It allowed players to keep getting some rewards out of the Emblems, even if it wasn’t in the sphere that they originated from.

The second method was to let people who didn’t want Heirlooms to do something with those Stone Keeper’s Shards.

In theory, this was great.

The danger of a unified currency, however, is that it links seemingly unrelated activities, and that if one area is unbalanced, it will unbalance the other.

When Northrend Heroics became trivial to run, they became a better place to gear up for PvP than PvP itself. If a Heroic took 10 minutes, and a Battleground took 15-20, people start looking at those Heroic rewards really hard. I remember Ihra’s post when it came out, and my reaction was first of disbelief – then I looked at what I had, and what I could do, and he was absolutely right. I could burn through a Heroic in 10 minutes.

The majority of my PvP gear in the latter part of Wrath came not from battlegrounds, but from unused Emblems of Frost I got in ICC. It was easier than grinding it out or getting into Arenas!

But here’s the thing. You’re thinking, Cyn, that was all well and good, but that was at the end of an expansion, everything was out of whack, purpz were handed out by vendors in Dalaran like candy. That won’t happen again for a good long while! And it was just PvP gear, it didn’t affect Arena balance, it didn’t affect PvE balance! This is Cataclysm! Stuff is hard!

There’s nothing to worry about!

Oh, crap.

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT OF TOL BARAD

For a week, Tol Barad was given an insane boost in rewards -1800 Honor Points per successful attack – which caused a domino effect of win-trading that crippled the spirit of the zone. This allowed people who participated to gear up their Bloodthirsty PvP gear quickly, and with little effort, given that 1800 Honor Points is normally 12-15 battlegrounds of work. After this week, it was fixed so that it awarded less honor on offense (360 per win, plus a daily quest for 200), balancing the rewards somewhat in favor of the attackers, but still rewarding a failed defense. The rewards are now 180 Honor Points for a win, 180 for a loss, and the daily quest for 200.

The Tol Barad example is a shocking one which helps illustrate the challenge of an unified currency – if you are to have an easy, cheap source of one kind of reward, and that reward can be converted into another kind of reward, you may devalue the activities leading up to that reward. One activity can be the butterfly which spawns a hurricane in another part of the game.

In Tol Barad’s case, the explosive increase in honor devalued all other PvP activities. There was no reason to run battlegrounds during that week, unless you were really bored. Tol Barad was better than the random BG finder, which was better than selecting specific BGs, which in turn was better than doing PvP quests.

Now, consider what would have happened if the currency conversion of 4.1 was in place when this happened –  players would get 1200 Justice Points for winning Tol Barad. That’s an offset piece or so.

Thankfully, this inflated reward situation is not the case anymore, though winning Tol Barad remains the highest Honor Per Minute activity you can do in the game (380 Honor Points for about 20 minutes of work). That’s still pretty good. And if you’re grinding Justice Points, it might be a pretty good strategy, too – 253 Justice Points for 20 minutes? That’s 12.7 JP/M, which seems pretty good to my eye. At previous, post-win trading values (560 Honor Points) it was 18.6 JP/M, which would be insanely good. But 12.7 is pretty darn good.

Compare this to the time it takes to run a heroic. Easy Heroics run what, 20-30 minutes with a good group? 210-280 Justice Points per dungeon run? 350 for the first one? That’s 11 JP/M, about two-thirds your TB earnings. So winning your first Tol Barad of the day is a slightly better way to get Justice Points than a good Heroic run.

What about if you are having a bad Heroic run, though? Say you’re pugging as a DPS, so those 350 Justice points take 45 minutes to get – and an additional 45 minutes in queue. That drops your JP/M down to 3.8. Even a loss at Tol Barad, with no quest reward, still gives you 3 JP/M!

What about daily battleground quests? I’ve had some really good nights in the BGs of late, where we get 400 Honor Points or so in the first hour. (It tapers off due to the inital pop of the daily quest.) That’s 4.4 JP/M for an hour of BGs where you win. Still better for DPS without guild support!

Now, 4.1 has some hope for better rewards – the new troll-themed Heroics are supposed to award double the Justice Points that the current instances do, as well as drop better loot. That would bring them well ahead of Tol Barad’s awards for winning on offense, which should keep players doing PvE for PvE rewards and PvP for PvP rewards. (That’s 373 Honor Points per Troll Heroic, to keep ourselves honest – a very good return, but only if you can do them quickly.)

But … Honor is going to be increased in battlegrounds across the board, too, which means all these calculations will probably be moot. Open combat areas like Tol Barad could see considerable increases. AV might reclaim its place as the king of honor farming. Those Troll instances might be hugely hard to complete. There’s a lot up in the air that we won’t know until 4.1 hits.

I expect that we will see some interesting things come out of this. If you are not in a position to get ready access to quick runs of a Heroic, Tol Barad may be an easier way to gear up on Justice gear than running dungeons. The key here is that you don’t have to succeed at Tol Barad to get rewarded for it, unlike a dungeon which you actually have to complete.

So I hope you know how to win Tol Barad, because its going to be a good place for both Honor and Justice Points.

WHY CONQUEST POINTS DON’T CONVERT

There’s a glaring omission in the conversion schema – Conquest to Valor. You can take Valor points and turn them into PvP epics, but not vice versa. I strongly, strongly support this omission.

Unlike Justice and Honor, which you can grind as long as you can sit in front of a keyboard (and even if you’re not there, thanks, afkers), there’s a weekly cap to both Valor and Conquest Points. You can store as many as you want, but once you’ve reached that cap for the week, you’re done. Can’t get any more, don’t even try until next Tuesday.

Because these caps are weekly caps, the key is time and relative difficulty. Players reach these two caps in very different ways, and that difference is why there should be no Conquest to Valor conversion.

  • Valor Points are capped at 1250 per week. To reach cap takes all raid bosses and a few heroic bosses, depending on if you run 10- or 25-man raids.
  • Conquest Points are capped at 1340 or more per week, depending on your PvP rating. The higher your rating, the higher your cap. Hitting the cap takes 5 Arena matches.

Now, consider those two caps in terms of time and effort to reach.

  • Valor Cap: complete ALL raids with 9 or 24 other people, then run a few heroics with 4 other people, against a set level of difficulty. Several nights of work.
  • Conquest Cap: Win 5 rated PvP matches against a variable level of difficulty that adjusts to your skill level. Get a friend and play 2v2s for 2-3 hours.

It’s easy to cap Conquest points, and hard to cap Valor points. I know experienced raiders who didn’t even realize there was a weekly cap until recently!

If there was a 1:1 transfer of Conquest points to Valor points, raiders would rightly look at the situation and say: I will raid, but I must do Rated PvP to make sure I hit my Valor Point cap for the week, every week, every raiding alt. It doesn’t require a raid team, it doesn’t require an entire night – compared to raiding, it’s trivial to get a few wins at any rating, no matter how bad.

(I mean, come on. I’m no Arena wizard and I manage to cap each week. The system is designed to match you up against people with equal gear and skill; once you find equilibrium with your rating, you’ll win about half the time.)

This would be a bad situation, for both PvP and PvE.

Why is the current conversion (Valor to Conquest) okay?

  • PvP gear is better for PvP than PvE gear. Resilience is scaling well this season – too well, some would argue – and combined with the lack of overpowered legendaries like Shadowmourne, makes raiding gear unattractive for PvP. (Keep in mind that the PvP weapons were held back to allow raiding to catch up.)
  • PvP gear can be used in PvE, but PvE gear lacks critical PvP stats. You can raid in PvP gear – it’s not optimal, but the gear has all the right stats. Swap out your Spell Pen cloak, reforge for Hit, and you still have a lot of your primary stat budget. PvE gear, however, cannot be turned into PvP gear, and if you don’t have any Resilience, you will die very fast in PvP.
  • Time is money. The Conquest Cap requires far less time to reach than the Valor Cap, so PvPers will not look at raiding as an quicker option for them to get top-tier PvP gear.
  • High PvP Ratings raise the cap. The better you perform in rated PvP, the higher your cap is raised. This encourages players to try for better ratings, as the gear will come faster.
  • PvPers need more many more points to gear up. Excepting BH, there is only one way to get the good PvP gear – points. This is in stark contrast to PvE, where much of your gear will come from boss drops, and a smaller percentage will come from crafted epics. The absolute best raid gear doesn’t cost points at all – it’s all boss tokens and heroic drops. You can put this another way: Raiders run out of things to buy faster than Gladiators because raiding generates gear.

This is really an argument based upon ease of acquisition, not about balancing between PvP and PvE equipment. The best PvP weapons (requiring 2200 rating) were held back weeks because raiding hadn’t progressed to the point where people would flood Arenas to get gear for PvE. Now, this can happen a lot anyways – people will always go and get the regular PvP weapons, because they’re just plain good gear, and relatively easy to get.  But if you’re raiding and spending your Valor Points on PvP weapons instead of on Tier gear?

You’re doing it wrong.

WHEN POINTS BECOME USELESS

This happens every patch, every season – there comes a point where you buy everything you need. Your gear gets to the point where Justice and Honor points just don’t matter anymore, because there are no upgrades available to you with them. Surprisingly, this happens with Valor and Conquest points, too – at some point you are like, okay, that’s it, nothing else left in the store, why should I bother?

Getting your character to this point always feels strange. I am there with Honor Points on Cynwise – which was a long grind, but that’s a different post – and there’s always a sudden emptiness of purpose, a void where before you knew what you had to do. For nights you log in and say “tonight, I grind Honor! I will not stop until my fingers bleed!”

And then you wake up and go, huh, I really don’t need any more Honor. Now what do I do?

Providing currency conversions helps players overcome this problem. It extends the useful life of the reward for an activity which we (hopefully) enjoyed, so that we can feel that it’s still worth doing, if perhaps with less urgency than before.

If you look at the chart at the head of this post, I tried to break down what you can buy with each kind of currency. There are some anomalies (you can still buy old Wrath-era level 80 PvP gear in Dalaran for Justice Points, if I’m not mistaken) but by and large things have become much simpler than in previous patches and expansions. What do you do, right now, if you don’t need points to gear your character anymore?

  • Buy heirlooms, but that’s for other characters we’re not playing now
  • Buy old sets for RP, but that’s not everyone’s thing
  • Buy accessories, mounts, and consumables, but eventually you have them all
  • Buy trade goods that aren’t worth very much

None of these are really an incentive to keep doing what you’re doing. Patch 4.1 is going to bring something new, something that’s been missing since Wrath:

  • Buy decent gear for the other part of the game you’ve been neglecting

which is, all problems aside, a pretty nice change.

Keeping rewards relevant is important. That’s why I like this change.

THE LURKING BUTTERFLIES OF 4.1

I hesitate to do any serious analysis of HPM and JPM at this point until 4.1 is live. Not only will the new troll dungeons will have different rewards (and difficulty levels), Honor is getting buffed across the board. These are both good changes – the Honor grind was especially long this time if you never held Tol Barad – but they are both potentially disruptive. It might be that at low gear levels, battlegrounds and Tol Barad give better return on Justice points than the corresponding heroics, due to the length of time it takes to get through a dungeon. And perhaps at higher gear levels, the troll instances become the fastest way to complete a set of PvE gear – and of getting the mid-level PvP gear, especially if you’re losing a lot.

See? The mind starts to boggle when you think about this too much. There are a lot of possibilities when currency conversion becomes a reality and all of these activities get linked.

The upside of this change is that players will be able to do more stuff with the points they’ve accumulated. Right now I’m siting on a pile of Justice Points with nothing to do with them.

The downside is that there are hurricane-spawning butterflies lurking everywhere, ready to disrupt the balance of one side or the other. The old, confusing systems were not friendly, but they provided barriers between activities so that imbalances in one area didn’t affect the other.

We’ll have to see how it all shakes out.

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Warlock CC and You: How to Crowd Control Like a Pro in Cataclysm

I love Fear.

Let’s get that out of the way right now. There are a lot of things about playing a warlock that I like, and near the top of my list is Fear. That spell is bound to the 4 button in every spec I play.

I am going to quote from the great “How To Battleground” thread by Dusk:

These people want to kill you. You are a warlock. They all hate you.

They are going to go out of their way to harm you as deeply and as earnestly as they can, and then they are going to /spit and /lol at your corpse, because everybody hates warlocks.

They hate fear, they despise dots, your felhunter is a rage magnet and deathcoil once made the entire wow population cry floods of bitter tears for over a year.

You want to know why I quote from that thread so much? Not because it’s about Warlock PvP – though it is – but because it’s about what it is to be a great Warlock, a complete Warlock, a master of this crazy class.

And in PvP, that means you are a master of Fear. You rip control of other characters away from their characters, and then you kill them. And they can’t do anything about it.

But in PvE, Fear didn’t have the best reputation. It tended to send mobs scurrying hither and yon, sending them screaming into packs of their friends that the tank wasn’t quite ready to pull just yet.

That changed dramatically in Cataclysm.

CROWD CONTROL IS A REQUIREMENT IN CATACLYSM

I have been told that the new dungeons of Cataclysm are hard. That they are punishing. That they are not facerolls, where you can press your AoE spell of choice and go check Twitter!

I have also been told that there are damage dealers out there who have forgotten that when the going gets tough on the tank and healers, their job is to make it easier on those tanks and healers! That these people, playing DPS classes, are refusing to use crowd control! That they don’t even know what that is!

I have even been told that there are WARLOCKS out there who are refusing to use crowd control!

This cannot stand. Do you hear me? THE LINE MUST BE DRAWN HERE.

THIS FAR! NO FURTHER.

You bring shame upon this great class if you refuse to CC.

If you are a warlock, you have the best PvP CC in the game. Do you hear me? IN THE ENTIRE GAME. You have the biggest damn CC toolbox of any class. You have Fear, which when glyphed freezes the mob in place instead of running to bring their friends. You have Banish and are fighting an invasion of Elementals. You have slows, and stuns, and an instant terror that damages your opponent while healing you.

You have no excuses left, Warlocks. You are going to CC like a fucking pro, because Fearing things while killing them is what you do.

DO ONE THING WELL, NOT TWO THINGS POORLY

You want to know why CC looks hard in PvE? It’s not because people can’t open up their spellbook and drag Fear to their damn action bar. No, it’s because it involves multitasking. Instead of tracking one target, you have to track two. You have to watch your normal rotation as well as make sure CC doesn’t fall off.

The key is to not treat them as two targets.

Wait, what?

You heard me.

Don’t multitask – integrate your CC with your normal priority rotation instead. Monitor the CC just as you would any other DoT or CD. Do it in the same place on the screen, in the same mental space.

To do this you’ll need two things – a decent macro and a decent debuff tracker. Let’s start with the macro.

CC FOCUS MACRO

The Warcraft UI has a handy feature in it that allows you to track two targets at once – a Focus. Focus are an advanced kind of Target and is only available via macros and slash commands. Your Focus persists until you change it and is independent of your active Target.

If that’s confusing, think of it this way.

  • Your Target is set by tabbing or clicking on things. It shows up next to your character portrait.
  • Your Focus is set by macros, doesn’t care what you click on, and is separate from your Target. It shows up near the middle of the screen.

So what we’re going to do is use a macro to set your CC target as your Focus, while the thing you’re supposed to kill remains your Target.

Let’s take a look at a Fear Focus macro.

#showtooltip
/focus [target=focus, noexists][target=focus, dead] mouseover
/cast [target=focus, exists] Fear; Fear
/stopmacro [nomodifier]
/clearfocus [modifier:ctrl]

This macro is straight off of WowWiki. It’s simple and does the job. (If you haven’t used macros before, here’s a brief tutorial.) Make one for Fear and one for Banish.

Here’s what it does when you press the button.

  • Sets your mouseover target – whatever your mouse is pointing at – to be your Focus, if you don’t have one. Then it casts Fear at it.
  • If you aren’t pointing your mouse at anything, it will cast Fear at your normal target.
  • If you press Ctrl while clicking the button it will clear your Focus.
  • It also clears your Focus when your Focus dies.

Here’s how you use it.

You’re in a dungeon, and the tank has marked the mobs Skull, X, and Moon.

  • You target Skull.
  • Put your mouse over Moon.
  • Press your CC button. Moon will become your Focus. You’ll cast Fear at it.
  • Cast your normal DPS spells against Skull.
  • When Fear is about to fade from Moon, refresh it by pressing the CC button again. Do not retarget.  CC will go to Moon, everything else goes to Skull.
  • When it is time to kill Moon, just shift your target to it. Don’t bother with your CC button or clearing the Focus.

The reason to use a Focus macro is so that you do not have to shift your targets back and forth. Your CC goes to one mob, everything else goes to the other mob.

If you’re having trouble understanding this, go to the nearest set of target dummies and try this macro out on two separate targets.

NEVER DROP A BEAT

The Focus macro is only the first part of becoming an awesome Crowd Controller. The next step is making sure that your CC is always up, and that the mob you’re assigned to tank stays tanked. That mob is going nowhere while you are on duty. If it gets hit by an AoE attack, or someone tab-targets a DoT on to them, it does not matter.

They are going to stay put until you are damn well ready to kill them!

Remember that crazy thing I said about not multitasking? Well, the one thing you don’t want to do is have to track DoTs on two different mobs in two different places on your screen. Don’t focus solely on your target, because then you won’t see that your CC victim got hit with an AoE attack and is running loose. Don’t focus solely on your CC, or your DPS will suffer.

No, what you need is to unify your interface. Track your Focus CC alongside all of your other important DoTs and CD tracking.

I recommend the addon Need To Know for this.

I’ve covered my personal setup of Need To Know in more detail elsewhere, but the basic idea is to take only those the buffs, debuffs, and cooldowns you need to track and put them all into one central location, like so:

Here I’ve called out the essential things I need to track as a Destruction Warlock for DPS – Improved Soul Fire buff, Immolate duration on my target, Conflagrate CD – but I’ve added in a line for my CC, above my cast bar space.

But it’s important to note something – NTK isn’t monitoring CC on my target, it’s monitoring CC on my Focus. Once I start CCing that mob with the macro above, all I have to do is make sure that that bar stays up. If it breaks, the bar disappears and I recast. If it’s about to run out, I hit my CC button and recast Fear or Banish.

I don’t have to multitask to keep a mob under control. And neither do you. It is awesome when you don’t have to split your attention – just watch the NTK bars.

You set up your CC bar like other NTK bars, but with one key difference:

Instead of monitoring your Target, you monitor your Focus instead.

Also, since you will probably need to switch between Fear and Banish on different mobs, you can make NTK look for both in the same bar. I put all my CC into a single line – just separate them with commas.

These two things in combination make CC a breeze in dungeons. Do them, and Crowd Control becomes trivial. You will make it look easy, which is as it should be.

You’re a Warlock. You are the best damn CC class in the game.

WARLOCK TIPS AND TRICKS

The Glyph of Fear is what makes this all work, of course. It’s one thing to have a great CC toolkit for PvP, but the biggest problem with Fear before Cataclysm was how it sent mobs running all over tarnation, where they’d pull packs of their friends and make you less than popular among your PvE group. But you’re not limited to Fear.

Choose the right tool for the job. Fear is your default, but Banish is useful against Demons and Elementals. There are subtle differences between the two – Fear breaks on damage, Banish does not, but Banish is harder to chain – but they also give you the option of CCing two mobs at once (though you shouldn’t try DPSing the third.) Your Succubus’s Seduction ability is yet another CC option against Humanoid opponents, if you already have her out for her knockback.

You are the tank for your target and responsible for positioning; move them as necessary. You are not helpless in the face of AoE damage to your CC target. Many melee DPS classes rely upon area of effect spells as part of an effective rotation, and they sometimes errantly hit the CC target. Or, the tank might start AoE tanking and nick your mob – perhaps they didn’t pull the main pack far enough away, or things just aren’t going right. If this happens, you are not helpless.

  • Death Coil will break Fear and send the mob fleeing for a short burst of time, letting you reposition them away from the main fight. Reapply Fear when you get them where you want.
  • Searing Pain can be used to break Fear and draw the mob towards you. Position yourself in the direction you need the mob to go and use Demonic Circle to get out of harm’s way while you reapply CC.
  • Your Succubus has a knockback effect – Whiplash – and you can get your controlled mob out of the way of AoE with it. Blow a shard, summon the Succy instantly, then move the mob.
  • If your mob is Banished, casting Banish will break the banishment and move them towards you again. You can apply DoTs to make sure you have the mob’s attention, then reposition them as they come after you.

Howl of Terror and Death Coil are in case of emergency. These two spells are both very powerful when used correctly. If the tank totally loses aggro on a pack of mobs and they are all going towards the healer, Howl at them. Tanks don’t like gathering up fleeing mobs, but at least they’re not eating the healer. Death Coil is a similar tool; it can be used to peel a mob off a healer, but you aren’t in control with it. Use it as a way to seize control, since it’s an instant cast on a CD.

I personally also recommend that you glyph Shadowflame, as that will give you an awesome slow for PvP and PvE alike. It is a huge, huge slow – 70%! – but not everyone will want to spare the glyph slot. Consider it, at least.

THROWING DOWN THE GAUNTLET

I know that I can be… uh… enthusiastic? about Warlocks. But if you’re another DPS class with CC, you can absolutely take this approach and use it to become awesome Crowd Controllers, too.

Mages, if you can’t see that this works perfectly with Polymorph, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s bad enough you have Frost Nova, but there is no reason you can’t be sheeping and pigging and lord knows what else to mobs! Seriously, you have a rep to protect here! Are you going to let Warlocks show you up? Again?

(Also, buy my Tomes of Polymorph: Turtle off the AH. I have alts to support.)

And all the rest of you! Every DPS class with CC, no matter how good or how poor, can use focus macros and a good debuff tracker to ensure that they are controlling their assigned mob. Rogues have Sap. Ele Shammies have Hex. Druids have Hibernate and Entangling Roots. Hunters can trap and kite like no one’s business.

Every DPS needs to look at their bag of tricks and figure out what they can do. If you can’t CC, you can interrupt. Everyone has something. If you aren’t CCing, you should be on Interrupt duty. Period. End of story.

But this is what Cataclysm PvE is like; DPS needs to look at CC as something they have to do, and take pride in doing well.

And to my fellow Warlocks: I expect you to be among the best in the game. Show those Mages what we’ve got.

When everyone competes to be the best CCers, we ALL win.

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Calculating DoT & HoT Haste Sweet Spots

One of the biggest challenges with the new way DoTs (and HoTs) work in Cataclysm is knowing when you’re at enough Haste to make it worth your while to add more and get extra ticks on your spells, or when it would be better to switch over to a different stat like Mastery or Crit. This is further complicated because each spell has a different breakpoint or plateau due to their duration and intervals, so you can’t just say there’s a set Haste level for your class – it all depends on what you’re casting.

The formula for computing the number of ticks is relatively straightforward:

Round ( Base Spell Duration / ( Base Tick Time / (1 + Haste %)))

In other words, take the base tick time, modify it with haste, then see if the base duration would round it up to an additional tick.

Straightforward doesn’t always mean simple, though. In order to make decisions about how much Haste to stack, you’ll want to look at all of your DoTs and see where the sweet spot is for you.

Recognizing that some people are more comfortable with math than others, I went ahead and built a spreadsheet so that you could see how your spells would work with Haste. Cyn’s DoT/HoT Haste Calculator:

  • Lets you configure four spells with different durations and tick times.
  • Gives you a place to enter your current Haste percentage and see its effect on each spell and the GCD.
  • Lets you see how much Haste rating you will need to reach specific Haste percentages at level 70, 80, and 85.
  • Provides a table of Haste values from 0%-50% with related values for each.

To use it, download the file and open it with the spreadsheet program of your choice. If you don’t have one, I recommend the free OpenOffice suite. Change the DoT1-4 values to match the values for the spells of your choice, then put your current Haste value in the big yellow cell that says YOUR HASTE % HERE. The values should fill in.

Here’s what it looks like, if you don’t want to fire up Excel or OO:

I debated putting in a duration calculator, but it cluttered things up too much for a 1.0 release. I’d appreciate any feedback you might have on this spreadsheet. Corrections, comments, whatever, let me know!

(And for the Warlocks out there, I’m sure you see that the default DoTs are: Immo/UA, Corruption, BoD, BoA. Just as it should be.)

Update 12/31/10: I’ve updated the spreadsheet to version 1.1 to include Hamlet’s breakpoint math, below. (Thanks, Hamlet!) There is a new section that shows you where the first 4 ticks are added to your DoT/HoT, as well as the next Haste value you will need to reach to gain an additional tick.

Update 1/2/11: Updated to version 1.11. Fixed a bug in the table, thanks Hylix!

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Tol Barad and the Ghosts of Wintergrasp

Wintergrasp was one of the great success stories of Wrath – a PvP zone with epic battles between hundreds of opposing players. Hundreds. The Battle for Wintergrasp unified factions on servers like no event before or since. The call would go out in Dalaran that the battle was starting. “Please start a new raid, this one is full!” people would cry out in the prep rooms, and if you were smart, you used addons to create those raids. Every two and a half hours servers would come together to beat the crap out of each other on the frozen fields of Wintergrasp.

And it was glorious.

This is not to say Wintergrasp was not without its problems in the beginning – do you remember driving siege engines through the walls? – but it was an immediate success on a scale that Blizzard was not prepared to handle. Wintergrasp caused Northrend servers to crawl during good battles, and crash during the really big ones. The lag during larger battles never really went away, even when WG went to an instanced battleground.

Wintergrasp was an immediate success, and somewhat unexpectedly, it stayed successful for the entirety of Wrath of the Lich King. Tenacity and the self-righting mechanics allowed outnumbered factions to compete. The map is interesting and requires players to make choices about what to attack and what to defend. The southern towers required attackers to make choices about how much strength to commit to offense versus defending the towers, while giving the defenders a reason to leave the safety of the Keep. The Keep itself is large enough to prevent a concentrated buildup of defensive forces, requiring defenders to make positioning choices.

But most important of all, Wintergrasp gave players an incentive to participate.

There’s a fundamental difference between PvE and PvP encounters: motivation. A PvE encounter has to offer a reward for the players to make them want to do it. Justice Points, badges, gear, achievements – whatever it is – all these things are offered as incentives for players to engage in, and defeat, the PvE encounter. In PvP, however, you have to motivate both sides to play, winners and losers alike.

Think of it as having to pay raid bosses to show up to be loot pinatas. You can’t have PvP without the other players, and they have to have a reason to show up.

Wintergrasp did this extremely well. Not only did it reward victory extremely well – a zone-wide XP buff, Stone Keepers Shards for heirlooms, and tokens that let you get great gear – it rewarded failure, too. People wanted to win, but even if they lost, they still got both honor and tokens. Victory was rewarded well, but failure wasn’t a complete waste of time.

This brings us to Tol Barad, Cataclysm’s PvP centerpiece.

TOL BARAD

Tol Barad is, ultimately, a simple battleground. It’s smaller than Wintergrasp, with somewhat simpler objectives. Looking at it topologically:

The goal is simple. The attackers (who use the green graveyards) need to take and hold the three outer nodes (Warden’s Vigil, Slagworks, and Ironclad Garrison), while the defenders (who use the purple one in the center) need to prevent this. The 3 towers (Spires) can be destroyed to add time to the clock, but they’re not really important.

To capture one of the outer nodes, you need to have more players in that area. You don’t have to be winning, you just have to have more players around it. The more players you have, the faster the bar swings to your side.

Sounds simple, right?

There’s only one problem: Tol Barad is broken. Gevlon warned folks 10 days ago to stay away until it’s fixed. Mat McCurley over at WoW Insider has an excellent analysis of the six problems affecting Tol Barad, as well as solutions to fixing each one of them. Both of these posts are worth your time to read, especially Mat’s WI post.

Look at that map again. The defensive strategy is simple – send all of your forces along a purple line to the node where the attackers are weakest. The attackers, in turn, will have to keep circling around on the green lines, trying to outnumber the defenders at any one point. But the defenders will always be able to get to a new node first. The attackers have the tactical advantage at the node due to the nearby graveyard, but the defenders have the strategic advantage for the battle.

“I don’t believe in no-win scenarios,” a famous starship captain once said, and I don’t either. Attackers can win Tol Barad, in theory. It’s just really, really, really hard. It involves subterfuge, deceit, spying, and being as underhanded as you can manage, but you can do it.

But even though it’s possible, it’s just not worth it.

THE GHOSTS OF WINTERGRASP

I remember looking over the gear I could get from Tol Barad and wondering where all the PvP equipment was. I mean, for a place that you have to fight tooth and nail for, why would I want to even bother? Some daily quests? The incentives are all wrong. I would rather spend my time in battlegrounds grinding out Honor and Conquest points than fighting for Tol Barad.

I should not be ambivalent that the opposite faction controls Tol Barad all the time on my server. But I am. What is in it for me that I can’t get elsewhere?

Wintergrasp hit the rewards perfectly. Not only did you get access to a raid boss for winning, but you got heirlooms for the PvE crowd and good offset pieces for the PvPers. And the losers had a reason to participate – even if you lost, you edged closer to that gear, and eventually you’d win and be able to buy it.

Tol Barad, frankly, doesn’t offer me enough to make it worth the effort.

I was having a good night in the battlegrounds earlier this week, so on a lark, I queued up for Wintergrasp again, and joined into a 5v5 running battle across the entire zone. Wintergrasp doesn’t really work as a 5v5 Arena, but I saw a few familiar faces in there (mostly on the other side) and enjoyed securing workshops, building catapults (hey, it’s all we could afford), and trying to survive long enough to get some damage done on the walls. It was fun, but not very good. Small WGs favor the defenders, heavily.

But I knew that if we put enough people in, on both sides, it would have been a fair fight. You may not be able to do as much with only 5-10 people per side in Wintergrasp, but you certainly could take the keep with a little bit of work.

Not so for Tol Barad. The strategic problems are such that if you have 1 person, or 80, the results will be the same.

I love the idea of Tol Barad. I want to see it flourish, to thrive, to be the reason I log in at specific times each day. I want it to put Wintergrasp to shame, because Wintergrasp’s time is gone.

But for now, Tol Barad is just a pale ghost of Wintergrasp.

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Would You Like to Play a Game of Chess?

It's all fun and games in Warsong Gulch. And all the other battlegrounds, too!

Practice makes perfect.

That’s true in sports, it’s true in games, it’s true pretty much everywhere. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice, of course.

Starting with the latest Arena season, excuse me, Rated PvP season, you’ll be able to do just that.

From the official Warcraft blog:

Beginning with Arena Season 9, we’re giving Arena and Battleground teams the option to challenge each other to War Games, a new kind of skirmish that allows teams to practice, set up matches against friends or rivals, or even try out potential recruits.

War Games allow you to engage in a PvP scrimmage with other people on your server. It’s like a /duel, with groups, only you get to choose where you fight. You don’t gain any Honor or Conquest points here, nor Honorable Kills – but you do get to send your group and another group into any BG or Arena to practice your skills.

This is a great thing for casual and hardcore PvPers alike, allowing people to practice without consequence. You’re in a group that you choose, so you no longer have to pug a battleground to learn how it works. You can explore at will if your opponents are friendly (hellooooo, better BG screenshots!) or use it to actually compete with other groups in your guild.

I read over the FAQ Blizzard posted above and it covers a lot of possibilities War Games modes opens up. I think this is a great tool, one that can be creatively applied to make battleground PvP a better experience for everyone.  You can bring new players into Battlegrounds and teach them how it works without the pressure of competition.  You can try out different group compositions and strategies. You can hold intraguild competitions – my own guild leader is already planning a 2v2 bracket event with prizes.

One of the biggest challenges to getting people into battlegrounds and Arena is unfamiliarity with the game, combined with the pressure of having to learn very quickly. War Games will definitely help make them more accessible, while also giving a tool that high-end players will use to perfect their play.

I’m really excited that Blizzard implemented this. It’s due out this week, and I can’t wait to try it out.

Let me know how you plan to use /wg in the comments!

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Patience

Patience.

If I could give you one piece of advice on the eve of Cataclysm, it’s to have patience.

A great many things are going to happen over the upcoming days and weeks. They will be exciting, and fun, and you should take part in them.

But you should also remember that you have time.

A great many people will return to the game, or begin playing for the first time. There will be a lot of competition for resources, for position in the new guild society that is coming, for bragging rights.

Have patience.

Don’t let the expectations of others make you do things that aren’t fun for you. This is your play, not theirs. Take your time.

Enjoy the wonder of the new world. Don’t be in a rush to become jaded.

You have time to see it all.

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Battleground Brackets Halved

The PvP brackets have been cut in two.  What was once 10-19 is now 10-14 and 15-19; two brackets where one formerly existed.

Rilgon (of Stabilized Effort Scope) tipped me off to this today, and it looks to be true in all the brackets I checked. I can’t find official confirmation of this, but hopefully we’ll see something soon.

If true, this is a fantastic change. It will be great for levelers, as it removes the huge disparity between the top and bottom of the brackets.  It will be really interesting for twinks, giving people a lot of options where to lock XP.  (Level 10 twinks will probably become dominant in the 10-14 bracket due to favorable mechanics at level 10.)

Let me be clear – right now this is not official. There have been some posts on Something Awful about this, and my own observation is that this seems to be the case. Treat this as a rumor until you hear it from a blue post.

But man, what a thing to hope for. Just when I thought the surprises had stopped, Blizzard pulls this one out on us. Well done!

Update: while it’s not a blue post, there’s a great thread started with the new bracket listing.  Some interesting additions include Eye of the Storm in the 30s and AV having a 60-64 bracket, making it more difficult on the expansion twinks who tended to dominate the 51-60 bracket before.  (Expansion twinks just use endgame Vanilla gear and don’t get BC, so they never level up but have unlocked XP and hammer the leveling bracket. Now they’ll face Outland gear, and lots of it.)

Update: Confirmed! (Thanks, Ambermist!)

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Burning Down The House

So here it is, the Shattering of old Azeroth.  The old world is gone, and while parts of it are familiar, so much of it is not.  Stormwind and Orgrimmar are awesome.  They are different in ways I didn’t expect. They look better, they feel more like living cities.

Are you feeling overwhelmed? I sure am. And I love it.

Don’t get me wrong; it was disconcerting to sit there, dumbfounded, just trying to take in the changes to very familiar cities. I think it’s important to maintain focus, to embrace constraints, and to set goals.

But last night, I had no idea where to even begin. Any half-baked plans I had for Cataclysm were thrown out the window due to the sheer immensity of the changes.

What I felt, more than anything else, was like a younger me, logging in to this game some coworkers had talked about, saying, “how addictive can this World of Warcraft be, anyways?”  But instead of truly new player, I have at least some idea of what I’m doing now. I’m not struggling with how to move my character around, or how to write a macro, or how to fund my adventures.

No, I think what overwhelmed me, more than anything else, was knowing all the new things that are out there to experience, and knowing that I wanted to make it last.

I remember those heady feelings of going into a new zone, knowing nothing about it other than that I had a quest to deliver something there. The experience of discovering something new is potent, heady, and I want to savor it.

I looked at my stable of alts, of those that I’d gotten up to level 20 or so, and thought about them a lot. See, I’d experienced the old game through the eyes of Cynwise; all of my effort was poured into her. For a while it was her and her banker; then Cynwulf was born, then another alt, then another… all good, because rolling alts is a joy all its own.

But it leaves me with a question I think a lot of players are wrestling with right now: how do I want to experience this new game? If you’ve been playing for a while, you have the knowledge and resources to do pretty much whatever you want. You can ignore the new old world, wait for Cataclysm to be officially released, and level your 80s to 85 and start playing at the level cap again. You can roll a bunch of alts and level them all at the same time. You can roll one alt, and experience the game again. You can take your existing characters and run them all through it. You can delete everything and start over from scratch.

I feel like we wrestle with the Tyranny of Choice in Warcraft too much; with so many choices of what we can do, we sometimes forget what it is we really we want to do. But in this case, I think the choices are a good (if completely overwhelming) thing.  It’s time to challenge those assumptions we’ve made about what we want out of our play time.  It’s time to try new things, to see if we like them.  It’s okay to not be perfect, to not be leet, to not know what you want to do.

Sometimes you have goals. I’m someone who likes goals, even if they’re kinda silly. Absurd. Far fetched. I’m big on having goals, on embracing constraints. It’s good to have a narrow focus.

But sometimes, you don’t know what it is you want to do next. You wander from activity to activity, sampling a bit of everything.

And that’s okay too.

I don’t know what I’m going to do next in Warcraft. I’ll log in tonight and… see what happens. I’m not in any rush, not in any hurry to get it all done now. Maybe I’ll roll an alt. Maybe I’ll play the AH. Maybe I’ll try soloing Deadmines again. I got no clue.

But I’m not going to try to do it all at once.

Slow down. Take your time. Find out things that you want to do, and do them. The joy and wonder of things being new wears off all too quickly. Don’t be in a hurry to be jaded.

This game will only be new once. Well, twice, since this game was already new once.

Okay, MAYBE, it can be new a third time in the future if they do this all over again. Whatever. My point still stands.

So.

If you feel like you want to do everything that’s new in Warcraft, but don’t even have a clue where to begin?

I’m right there with you, happily overwhelmed.

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