Category Archives: Cynwise’s Battlefield Manual

Valor and Vengeance: Rethinking Resilience

I like looking at how other games do things. This is true for board games, computer games, RPGs; it’s great to see other ideas that people come up with. So, while I don’t play Rift, I was interested to see this dev PvP-focused post on the Rift community blog that Rilgon tweeted a few nights ago.

I don’t play Rift, so I apologize if I get the nuances of this wrong, but they’re making a few interesting changes.

  • PvP damage reduction (Valor) is being standardized across gear sets and tiers.
  • Gear sets will be differentiated by their main stats instead.
  • Attack and Spell Power on select PvP items will be divided into Vengeance – a PvP only stat – and regular offensive power, making these items far less appealing for PvE (but desirable in PvP).

Hey, those are some pretty cool ideas!

STANDARD DAMAGE REDUCTION

There are several big challenges regarding damage reduction when progressing through endgame PvP during an expansion.

  • Resilience levels become unevenly distributed through the PvP playerbase as characters reach different gear levels at different times.
  • Resilience levels increase with each new tier of gear. This increase somewhat offsets the increase in main statistics and overall firepower, but unevenly.
  • PvE gear usually starts off weaker or more difficult to get than PvP gear, but eventually becomes more powerful. (Don’t mention Legendaries, please.)
  • As more raid tiers are released, PC abilities are tweaked for those encounters (and the gear they drop), in turn unbalancing PvP play. (Same thing in reverse for new PvP seasons, let’s be fair.)

There’s something really appealing about moving from this messy, dynamic situation where people could have from 0-45% damage reduction to a simpler model, where a full set grants you a specific amount of Resilience, no more. Perhaps you can choose to enchant or gem a little higher, but in general, players having more Resilience wouldn’t lead to the increasing returns on damage reduction we saw early in Cataclysm (and continue to see.)

Let’s imagine a game in which all PvP gear gives you a certain % damage reduction bonus, regardless of level. (This can be accomplished through Resilience scaling, or some other means.) For survival, the only important point you’d have is to have a complete set of PvP gear. It wouldn’t matter if it was crafted, last seasons, heck, level 70 gear  on an 85 – if you have it, you get the flat 30% reduction, and your survival goes up. (Probably not way up, because you wouldn’t have the health pools of the later gear. But up.)

Offensive power, health pools, and some resources (like Mana) differentiate gear sets. Once you have a basic PvP set, you might not be as effective as people with better PvP gear, but at least you have the standard Resilience level.

The downside of this kind of model is that it causes PvP to speed up as gear improves over time. So at the beginning of the expansion, let’s say you have 6,000 Spellpower, midway through, you have 8,000, and at the end, you have 11,000. (This is a hugely simplified model.) Spells are hitting for 83% more damage – and if there is constant damage reduction, then PvP damage increases at the same rate. The only ways around this is to make abilities scale non-linearly with Spellpower/AP etc., to increase health pools at the same rate, or to accept that PvP will get faster during a given level cap. It’s not actually a bad thing to mix and match responses here – health pools will get bigger, so that slows down the increase a bit, but yeah, the first season will feel a little slow, while the last season feels a little bursty.

So I think it’s kind of a mixed draw at the endgame, to be honest. I think standard damage reduction on PvP gear would make PvP more accessible, but not necessarily easier to balance over time.

Where I think this idea absolutely shines is for leveling. Having a standard set of PvP gear available every 10 levels or so that lets you add damage reduction to offset the burstiness of low level PvP would be fantastic. It wouldn’t need to be treated like Resilience is now – it could be a neutral stat on a lot of items, just something that says “this gear is approved for battleground use.”

The key here, though, is making Resilience a neutral stat on items, because right now it isn’t – it’s a key component of the item budget, which means that if an item is marked for PvP use in WoW, it gets less potent in PvE (and PvP). You make tradeoffs, and when stats scale as well as they do at low levels, those tradeoffs are important.

There’s a balance challenge here, between bringing better PvP scaling into the leveling game (which could be accomplished simply by introducing Resilience gear at low levels), making PvP more accessible to new players (especially at endgame), making it less grindy and possibly easier to balance – with the potential for really disrupting endgame PvP by making combat increasingly faster, of making people feel like they’re actually getting weaker over time.

I don’t know if I’m for or against standardized damage reduction in WoW, to be honest. It’s not as cut and dry as it seems.

PLAYER-ONLY DAMAGE

Vengeance is another really interesting idea. What if a component of damage could be made to be only affect players? You then have a way to make PvE and PvP gear functionally different and remove the desirability of PvP gear in PvE. That’s a good thing. If you have two equivalent pieces of gear, and the one you get through PvP does half the damage in PvE as the other, then it’s not going to be an appealing piece of gear for anything but PvP.

The challenge I see here with WoW is that while there’s a real problem of bringing PvP gear into PvE (tanks, I’m looking at you!), there’s an equally bad problem of PvE gear disrupting PvP, especially in the latter stages of an expansion. PvPers bring heroic raid gear because it’s the best gear they can get. Taking some of the damage out and making it player-only doesn’t help with this – since that damage is all PvP damage.

This leads to an interesting thought exercise – how could you make PvP gear in WoW work so that it was not appealing to PvE, but more appealing to PvP than the best PvP gear you could get? You make it better than the PvE gear, but assign half its damage to a player-damage only stat. You’d have to flip the current model, where PvP Conquest gear lags behind PvE Heroic raid gear by half a tier, and instead move the PvP gear up – while degrading it’s PvE utility considerably. That would be a pretty substantial change.

The effects of this change on other parts of the game would be felt pretty quickly. Let’s say PvP gear jumps up a tier. Relatively speaking, within PvP it’s balanced, but now you’re closer to that bursty end-of-expac state where damage is high and mitigation is low.

What about players who supplement their gear with PvP gear in certain places? I’m not talking about the tank in full Conquest gear, I’m talking about the healer who picks up a set of bracers and a nice weapon and uses them in both PvP and PvE. Those pieces become useless in PvE, which makes gearing up for raids a bit harder. Not a lot, just a little.

Instead of applying to gear, this might make more sense to apply player-only damage to abilities. This would change the dynamic of abilities to allow them to be buffed/nerfed separately in PvE and PvP. And while it usually would mean that PvP damage would always seem to be higher than PvE damage, the assumed standard damage reduction would help bring it back in line. If an ability does X damage in PvE, and X+10% in PvP, if there’s a standard reduction of 30% the PvP damage remains lower than PvE. But that involves a pretty radical restructuring of abilities.

I think Rift’s Vengeance is an interesting idea, especially coupled with the standard damage reduction of PvP gear. But you have to really structure everything around it. It solves one problem brilliantly – PvP gear going into PvE. It would make a great solution to PvP weapons, allowing them to be immediately available but not desirable for PvE. This would allow the gating mechanism – which serves to drive PvPers into PvE – to be phased out. But it doesn’t seem to really address some of the big issues, like having an ability be overpowering in PvP, but the nerf seriously impacting a PvE function.

Vengeance is another way of expressing having the same ability do the different things in PvP and PvE, only it applies universally to all the character’s activities. That’s pretty neat. It’s also a way to make PvP gear unappealing to PvE players, which could solve the clunky gating on weapons. Perhaps weapons, trinkets and bracers would be the best place for a Vengeance-like mechanism in WoW, since those are the items most commonly sought after by PvEers.

The issues with PvP/PvE balance in Warcraft are complicated. As a core game mechanic, I think this is pretty cool – but it’s not a core mechanic of WoW, yet, and while it solves one problem neatly, it exacerbates others.

Still, I find it really interesting to consider the possibilities.

CYN IS A RIFT NOOB

It probably bears saying that I don’t play Rift, and as such, I have no idea how this is going to affect Rift PvP. My commentary (both enthusiastic and skeptical) is solely directed towards Warcraft, and shouldn’t be taken as a commentary about Valor and Vengeance in Rift PvP. I leave that to the Rift PvP bloggers!

My gut tells me that if you make these kinds of decisions early on, and make them the core of your PvP game, then they’ll work just fine. So I hope Rift PvPers will let me know how it all works out!

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The Challenge of Fixing Low Level PvP

In Zarhym’s recent foray into the PvP forums, the sentiment that low level PvP is broken in Cataclysm was voiced over, and over, and over again. The floating skull responded diplomatically:

We talked to Ghostcrawler about this yesterday. He’s well aware of this, but more importantly, he’s not very happy about it either. The class design team’s first priority is obviously balance around the end game, but absolute neglect of low-level balance isn’t okay. This is something that isn’t going to improve much in patch 4.3, but we hope to have more sound solutions coming.

I really sympathize with Zarhym here. This is not an easy topic to cover; I think the issues around low level PvP are actually more difficult to resolve than the balance problems of the endgame, because there are contradictory elements that simply cannot be reconciled – elements which do not exist at the end game.

These elements have a name. They are called new players.

And they are the reason not only why low level PvP is imbalanced, but why it should stay imbalanced.

THE PROBLEM OF LOW LEVEL PVP

It’s not enough to wring our hands and say, “low level PvP is broken.” While it may be true (and I believe it is), we have to look at the specific ways in which problems manifest in the battlegrounds.

  • Classes are imbalanced. Some classes have very good burst, others do not. Some have very good defenses, others do not. Some have counters, others do not.
  • Damage is very high relative to health. Characters die quickly in 1:1 situations.
  • Statistics vary wildly between characters within a bracket. Whether it is due to gear, professions, or enchants, players in the very early brackets show up in a wide variety of gear that can make one character ten times more powerful than another.
  • Stat scaling at low levels heightens small differences in gear. Due to rating decay, a few points in any stat will have a more dramatic impact at low levels than at higher ones.

These four interrelated problems cause lowbie PvP to appear “borked” and “broken.” I don’t like using those terms because I think that even in its current form, lowbie PvP is actually a lot of fun, both on the geared and ungeared side. But these problems combine to create strata of twinks within low level battlegrounds that can create seriously lopsided matches.

The real problem of low level PvP is that Blizzard removed one kind of twink from lowbie battlegrounds, only to have the void be filled by by another, more pernicious kind of twink:

Regular, experienced players.

LEARNING TO PLAY THE GAME

Think back to when you first started playing WoW, or your first MMO. Not just the early levels, either – the very first day.

I remember my first login, fumbling around on my MacBook’s trackpad, trying to right and left click with a single button, struggling to simply move and target. Concepts like combat stat decay and burst damage were far from my mind; I was trying to figure out how to perform the most basic functions of character control. And I struggled with it! It took me a week to get up to level 12; I didn’t even know basic MMO conventions. I didn’t get my first green piece until my second character – it was a Disciple’s Vest of the Whale, and I had no idea that green items existed before then.

I bring this up because the starting experience for a new player has a radically different set of challenges than that for an experienced player, and the game must take those into account. It must teach them basic mechanics of the game while also making them feel like they are accomplishing things. In order to retain customers, the game must reward new players and make them feel powerful and heroic – to pull them in and get them so they want to see more, to challenge them just enough so that they hit level 10 and go, WOW, this is awesome, let me keep on playing!

What Blizzard does not want to have happen is for someone to get frustrated at level 5 and walk away from the game, leaving a virtual corpse in the road outside Goldshire.

This is why characters start off with one ability and grow slowly – so players don’t get overwhelmed. This is why early abilities were substantially reworked in Cataclysm – so that each class would have just enough abilities to keep things interesting without overloading someone. It’s not just to make classes easier to learn – it’s acknowledging that new players are learning a lot of other things, too, and that low levels don’t need class complexity to make things worse.

Compare and contrast this with an experienced player, one who has learned the fundamentals of an MMO through the endgame. Zones which forgive the mistakes of someone just learning how to steer their character become trivially easy to a character who has a gaming pad and mouse set up, customizes their UI on the fly, writes attack macros as soon as they log in, knows how to pull multiple mobs, etc.. This isn’t about “catering to casuals,” however you want to take that term – this is about a real difference in skill between someone who is just picking up the game and someone who has played it for some time.

I used to think that the lower levels were easy for me because I outgeared them on my alts. I’d go roll an alt with enchants and heirlooms and stuff would die very quickly. It was only later that I realized I could do the exact same thing in starter gear and quest rewards, because I was a better player than the first time I leveled a character. Of course I should find the content easy! It’s made to be challenging to someone else, to teach them the skills which I already possess!

Think of how big this skill gap is that these early zones have to cover – be accessible enough to a completely new character, but not completely bore a veteran rolling yet another alt.

This is a fundamental truth of the lower levels which cannot be ignored when talking about low level PvP imbalance: the early game has to hook new players on the game and teach them the skills to play it. It has to be accessible to new players – not just to teach them the new skills, but to hook them on the game so they don’t go do something else! World of Warcraft has to be engaging enough through the first 20 levels that someone picking it up for the first time says, hey, this is pretty cool, it’s worth paying money to keep going.

From a business standpoint, this is a far more important priority than keeping experienced players challenged for 30 levels or so. They’ll get their challenge through other means.

Keep this in mind as you think about low level PvP, and as we dive into the math of stat scaling.

WHY THINGS ARE ALL DOWNHILL FROM LEVEL 10: THE PROBLEM OF STAT SCALING AND RATING DECAY

Most of the low level zones follow a fairly consistent character development arc. You start with trivial tasks at the very early levels, overcoming a minor obstacle by level 5 or 6, gaining experience, and overcoming a moderately difficult challenge by 10-12. By then you’re ready to move on to another zone, where the difficulty increases substantially over the next 5 levels or so, but so does the importance of the story – and the rewards. By the time you hit level 20 in that next zone, your character is authentically heroic – low level, but they’ve saved the day in a major way.

This arc is reinforced by a substantial shift in game mechanics that takes place at level 10.

I love going over at Shadowpanther.net’s formula page when trying to explain why a character at lower levels is sometimes better than one at higher levels due to stat scaling. Having each level laid out in a chart provides a better visual aid to see how ratings decay for a lot of people than mathematical formulas.

If you haven’t read these kinds of charts before, the first seven columns go over how much of each combat stat you need for 1% of the value; so if the Crit column in the level 19 row says 2.94, that means you need 2.94 Crit to equal 1%. (3 Crit rating is therefore 1.02% at 19.) The rest of the table relates to a very specific Rogue (and Hunter) stat called AEP, which isn’t relevant to our discussion here.

The Shadowpanther chart helps illustrate how stat scaling works. The more you level, the more value of a particular stat you need to get 1% of it. You need more stuff on your gear as you level in order to maintain a certain level of power. You can think of it as gear getting weaker as you level, if you like, or of driving you to acquire better gear to stay in good form.

Where stat scaling gets interesting is in the really low levels. Look at levels 1-10. There is no change in stat scaling in those first 10 levels – 1 point of Crit will get you 1.85% increased critical strike chance. There’s no gear decay at all until you reach level 11 – when suddenly, stats start to drop off pretty quickly.

Let’s go back to the initial character development arc again, but this time, looking at stat scaling.

From 1-10, characters get increasingly more powerful as they level. They gain primary statistics at each level that apply linearly; if you gain 5 of your primary statistic, you get the full benefit of that 5 points. This happens with or without good gear, mind you – because combat statistics are flat, the more you gain, the better your character becomes.

This increase has a deliberate, positive psychological effect on players. People feel like they’re getting more powerful as they level – because they are. This is much like a traditional RPG, where a level 5 character is substantially more powerful than a level 1 – it’s an entirely different ballgame.  Challenges have to be adjusted for the fact that you’re now a badass. That can be pretty cool.

Magical gear and enchants function in a linear fashion with this model. Just like in AD&D, a +1 Sword in the hands of a level 1 character functions exactly the same as in a level 10 character. It increases the chance to hit and damage the same amount. The damage might be a lower percentage of the higher level character’s overall damage, but that’s a function of them doing more damage overall. The gear remains unchanged.

Let’s translate this idea into WoW: let’s say a piece of gear gives you +3 Haste, which (for example’s sake) gives you +1% Haste at level 1, and at level 80, and at level 85. The more you level, the better gear you gain, the better your stats get. You could wear your level 70 gear and be just as effective at level 85 as you were at 70 – more so, since your base statistics have improved! Perhaps your linear stats (like Stamina and Mana) are lacking, but your gear is as effective as it was when you raided in Burning Crusade! It would make for a very different kind of game, since once you reached a certain level of power on your gear, it would be sufficient to handle most challenges in the game – but that would eliminate the idea of a gear tier, where it gets progressively more powerful.

For the first 10 levels your character gains in power, drawing you in, making you feel like yeah, I’m getting good at this!

Starting at level 11, linear scaling goes completely out the window, and rating decay sets in.

Starting at level 11, characters get decreasingly more powerful as they level due to stat scaling. At some point, they actually get weaker as a result of rating decay, as each point of a statistic they get by leveling counts for less than it used to. Gear becomes required to start making up the difference.

Look at the charts again. See how all the stats (other than Resilience) start going down in potency at level 11? That’s rating decay in action. Each point of a rating contributes less actual impact the more you level.

During the normal questing arc, this change is ideally hidden by moving to a new, more challenging zone. Things feel tougher in the second zone because they are tougher – but it’s not just because the opponents are tougher. You’re getting progressively weaker as you level, at least until you start getting gear to help make up the difference – and even then, you never really go back to the great scaling you enjoyed at level 10.

The story arc carries you towards a heroic achievement at level 20 at the same time game mechanics make you less potent. In a way, it makes a lot of sense to increase the overall difficulty of the game at this point for new players – but instead of making the mobs substantially more difficult, WoW makes PCs weaker and more dependent upon gear. This bait-and-switch works because it prepares players for the rest of the game, where they will be acquiring increasingly powerful gear to overcome more powerful challenges. The challenges are harder, but characters don’t get any more efficient from their improvements. The damage numbers are just bigger. The mana pools are bigger  - but so are the spell costs. You’re not actually any faster or more accurate. You’re not more skilled, you just have bigger numbers.

This ties in directly to the first symptom most people point to when talking about low level PvP’s problems: gear.

THE PROBLEM OF GEAR AND ENCHANTS

Heirloom gear and enchants represent two sides of the same problem – adding stats where new players lack them. They are both fundamentally unbalancing because the early leveling game is balanced for new players who lack those stats, not for experienced players with them. By walking into one of the 1-20 zones with anything other than quest rewards, you’re overgearing the content.

Generally speaking, that means the content is geared for:

  • Mostly whites through level 10-12
  • Whites and greens through level 15
  • Greens and maybe 1-2 blues by level 20

Keep in mind that many slots will not be filled either, even by white gear, so you’ll be missing a head, neck, 2 rings, 2 trinkets, and maybe a ranged slot.

The obvious problem is that there are players who have gear with stats in slots where other players don’t. It doesn’t take long to figure out that someone in blues versus someone in whites is imbalanced.  And that is absolutely true: better gear increases the amount of damage, healing, and health available to low level characters.

But the unseen problem is that, even with rating decay, gear scales better at lower levels. That scaling curve makes small differences much more prominent at levels 11-20 than at 40-60. It’s not just that gear grants more spellpower, attack power, or stamina – it’s that it grants more Haste, more Dodge, more Crit than it will at later levels. Heirloom gear is better gear at level 10 and 19 than at 35. 

But wait; enchants are even worse.

I’ve maintained that enchants outperform heirlooms in terms of raw power, but they’re even more potent at lower levels because of stat scaling. Keep in mind that many of these enchants were to be used at level 60 for raiding, and are not scaled for the leveling game. So an enchant like +15 Agility is pretty good at level 55, but it’s amazing at level 10. With the right combination of enchants, you can approach 100% Crit, Dodge, even Haste (Iron Counterweights FTW)!

But only for levels 1-10. After that point, stat decay kicks in, but vanilla enchants remain overpowered for the early brackets (up to 20-24, at least.)

Consider that you can have two rogues in the 10-14 bracket, and one could have 10x as much Agility as the other. Ten times as much.

And that Agility is giving more Dodge and Crit than at any other point in the game.

Let that sink in for a bit.

You have experienced players with access to gear through heirlooms, professions, and the AH. They can get great enchants which are at the peak of their potency in the early brackets. They have access to consumables (scrolls, rum, buff food) that new players don’t.

And they are playing the same game with players who are over the moon about a blue cloak with +4 of their primary stat on it.

I don’t see any potential problems with this in PvP. Nope.

THE PROBLEM OF CLASS BALANCE

You know, the gear problem is actually probably the easiest problem to solve with respect to low level PvP. Modifying the BG matching algorithm to filter based on an aggregate gear score – be it item level, total attack power/spell power, things like that – would be hard to implement, easy to work around, but conceptually it could work.

Class balance is a much harder problem to deal with at low levels.

Cataclysm brought with it a complete reworking of how abilities were learned by classes. A few gained some abilities early on, but many abilities were moved to later. Most AoE abilities were moved up to at least level 20. And Talent Specialization at level 10 granted some new abilities, but at the cost of a more flexible playstyle. I once wrote in Wrath that I needed to think of myself as a Mage, not a Frost Mage. Now I have to think like a Frost Mage – only lacking a lot of the tools of one.

The abilities at lower levels always present people with a challenge. Things are so basic and elementary at low levels. You have some of your core abilities, but not all of them. You don’t have many things that work together. Very few classes have counters, and those that do are OP.

The decision to move abilities around was entirely driven by making a class easier to learn for new players and for players new to the class. The first 5 levels are very basic, with abilities coming at a relatively steady, bearable clip. (The only class where I feel like you get too much at once is Druid because of Cat form at level 8.) The first 20 levels see a lot of abilities get introduced to a character – but not all abilities are equal, or are granted at the same time. And that’s not a bad thing, for leveling! Druids having Cat form at level 8 is honestly good for their leveling!

But how do you propose to balance this?

Look at the level 10-14 bracket and what different classes gain. Warriors gain Taunt at 12 and Heroic Strike at 14. Warlocks gain Bane of Agony at 12 and Fear at 14. Hunters gain Wing Clip at 12 and Hunter’s Mark & Disengage at 14.

  • Warriors get basically one attack which replaces an attack they already have (Strike).
  • Warlocks get an instant cast DoT (dramatically improving their damage output) and the best PvP CC in the game.
  • Hunters get two different escape methods: a snare and a leap. Both of those can’t be countered at this level by melee classes. They also get an attack buff.

There are two points here.

First, each class changes between the bottom and top of the low level brackets. In most cases, these are important abilities that get picked up in the early levels.

Second, each class changes differently. Warriors are actually becoming excellent lowbie tanks, while Hunters are picking up skills to make them great in PvP.

Third, many abilities have counters later on – but not yet. Warlocks might have a reliable escape from melee – but it comes at level 80. Warriors get gap closers – but at level 35. Counters add a lot of complexity to a class that, frankly, a new player isn’t ready for, and many experienced players who are new to the class aren’t ready for, either.

This isn’t a case of simple DPS balancing, of tweaking damage output to bring classes in line with each other. Each change made for PvP has to be considered in the context of a specific bracket, not “low level PvP.” What will it do at 10-14, 15-19, 20-24? More importantly, what will it do to the leveling experience? Will it give players too many buttons to push too soon?

Here’s the thing – when you take away gear as a factor, like in the xp-off bracket, you still see differences between class performance in both PvP and PvE. This is true at level 10, it’s true at level 70, and it’s true all the way up to level 85. Level 85 is where it’s the most balanced, not only because that’s where the majority of the players play, but because that’s where class toolkits are complete.

If you ask me who you should play in low level PvP, my standard response is to play what you enjoy playing, because then you’ll have fun. But secretly, I keep a list.

(I know, you’re shocked, shocked I say.)

You want to be OP under level 25? Play a Hunter, a Sub Rogue, Arcane Mage (Frost is also good at 19), Disc Priest, or Resto Shammy.

Consider what is really being asked for when people want class balance throughout the leveling experience: please balance 30 specs across 15 brackets in addition to the endgame. That’s 450 different class/spec/level combinations to balance against each other at 15 different points.

Oh, with no real standard of gear.

And make sure it’s balanced for PvP and PvE, too. Don’t screw up the leveling curve and cause players to get overwhelmed.

And don’t forget that you have to keep the endgame balanced, too.

See where this is going?

I’m not saying that classes shouldn’t be roughly balanced – they should, and this is where homogenization comes in handy. And this is a real problem in low level PvP – some classes are just not very good at certain points, even with the best gear you can get on them. I don’t PvP on my level 19 Warrior twink anymore, it’s too damn hard to be successful.

But blanket calls to fix class balance at low levels have to consider the context of that balance, and why it’s not as simple to implement as it is to ask for.

LOW LEVEL UTOPIA, OR THE PROBLEM OF EXPERIENCED PLAYERS

When you combine aggressively scaled statistics, rewards for experienced players that allow them to easily and consistently overgear early content, and a redesigned leveling program which spreads class abilities further along the leveling curve, and then toss that mixture into the early part of a game designed for new players, you get a highly combustible mixture.

Sending it in to Warsong Gulch at level 10 makes it explosive.

The complaints about low level PvP are valid enough – burst damage is too high. Some classes lack any real PvP defenses. Other classes and races may have abilities which are perfectly suited to PvP.

But… these problems have always been there, in the lower brackets, in the higher brackets, pretty much everywhere in Warcraft.

It’s interesting that these complaints are so rampant now, in Cataclysm, when there were periods in Warcraft’s history when low level PvP was far more hostile to new players.

Before the split brackets, before xp-locked brackets, before heirlooms, there were twinks. Twinks ruled low level PvP with an iron fist. They weren’t kind or gracious about it – they were as good as they could be, they played to win against the other twinks, and if you got in their way as a new player you were going to get steamrolled.

It was not balanced. It was not fair. It was not a good experience for new players, to be sure. And twinks were reviled for it, but they had unapologetic fun on their own terms.

With 3.2, battleground XP, and the creation of the xp-off battleground bracket, twinks were moved away from new players and given their own playground. Battlegrounds became a place not to perfect your craft and your self, but rather part of the leveling experience.

And that, right there, is where the current problems started. Not with heirlooms, but with adding experience to battlegrounds.

The promise of twink-free BGs was a heady one. I remember the excitement of those first months when people flooded into BGs to level through PvP. And it’s remained great – being able to mix up PvP with dungeons and questing keeps leveling fresh and exciting. It lets you avoid Outland or Northrend entirely, if you’re burned out on those expansions.

But with experience came the expectation that leveling through PvP should be fair(er).That by removing the twinks, the leveling brackets were now safe places to go with undergeared characters or new players. They weren’t, of course, but as long as the gear difference between characters wasn’t too extreme, the brackets weren’t too out of whack. And that was actually what happened, since those BGs were for leveling, people didn’t stop to get great gear and PvP – they came in the gear they had.

And then came heirlooms.

Heirlooms allowed players to outgear their opponents right from the beginning in PvP, and as more heirlooms have been added, the problem has gotten worse. While enchants are actually more imbalancing than heirlooms, most players aren’t willing to blow 500g on a glove enchant for an alt. (Heirlooms are vastly more popular than Hand Me Downs, so they get the blame for this one.)

Heirlooms gave early PvP levelers the edge they needed to be really good in PvP, to the point where they could dominate (and level faster.) Others noticed this, and got BoA gear too, and Heirlooms are now a really good idea if you want to level through PvP from 10-60. A new twink class was born: experienced players.

Instead of the PvP utopia that removing the twinks and granting XP was supposed to create, the exact same conditions prevailed.

The only difference was that now there was an expectation that new players could participate in low level PvP, that you could go in without putting a lot of work into your gear and still be successful.

The expectation might be there, even if the reality doesn’t match it.

Oh! And that the people who formerly decried twinks had become them. Let’s not forget that.

But PvP in Warcraft hasn’t changed. It has been, and always will be, very dependent upon gear. If you have better gear, you will do better. It’s also very class dependent; certain classes will do better at certain points than others.

Can low level PvP be improved? Absolutely. There are class tweaks that can be made to help both with leveling and PvP – Destro Warlocks getting Soul Fire at level 20 was a good example of this.

But even if you can fix some of the class balance issues, you will still have to contend with the very brutal fact that there will always be a great disparity between new and experienced players. As long as you have PvP as a viable leveling option, there will be wildly different gear levels between players.

Balancing low level PvP makes the endgame balancing act look easy.

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A Brief History of Alterac Valley

Foury @ Spinebreaker’s “A Brief History of Alterac Valley” is a gem of a post on the official forums.

Over the years, you have made a significant number of changes to Alterac Valley. Some changes appear to have been made in isolation. For example, maybe you felt that there were too many NPC’s before patch 1.8, so you conjured up a mighty avalance and buried the treacherous Syndicate stronghold. Other changes, such as the introduction of reinforcements, were in response to problems caused by other additions like the Mark of Honor system.

Unfortunately, each individual change has brought about such a drastic reshaping of this battleground that its purpose is now virtually unrecognizable when compared to what the initial vision seems to have been. Even the isolated changes became catalysts for a chain reaction that has, in the opinion of a significant number of players, gutted Alterac Valley and made it totally un-fun to play in.

We have been engaged in thoughtful discussion for some time now, but I have decided to provide some additional background for players who might not know exactly what they were missing when AV was truly a legendary experience.

He then goes through a detailed history of Alterac Valley, one that lives up to its promise of giving the reader a thorough understanding of how the somewhat fragmented battleground that exists today came to be. It is a long read, but it is exceptionally good, and I suggest you read all of it. Even the poem.

Starting with post #8, Foury then goes into a detailed proposal for how to change Alterac Valley to restore it to its former glory. Remove it from the random battleground rotation, lower the honor per minute, make significant restorations to the environment, make quality of life changes – make it cohesive and relevant PvPvE again. There’s a lot of attention to the little details of AV, things that have always bugged me (the location of the trinket teleport, the lack of owls in Van’s chamber) that shows that this is the work of a careful though.

Seriously. This is a good post; go read it. You can agree with it, or disagree with it, but you will learn something about Alterac Valley.

 

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Fence Jumping in WSG and Terrain Exploits

There’s a spot near the middle of the Horde fence in WSG where, if you approach it just right, you can jump onto the fence and then on to the other side. It’s over the tunnel entrance, to the left of the little juke in the fenceline, by one of the torches.

No matter the faction, pretty much every twink FC knows about this jump. Pretty much every twink knows about this jump after playing level 19 for any period of time – you see people going over the fence all the time, you better figure out how to do it quick or you’re going to be SoL. I expect that this is not as commonly known in Rated Battlegrounds, but skilled FCs know how to do it.

Seriously, this fence jump is the worst-kept secret terrain exploit in PvP. I’m a terrible jumper, and even I can do this jump.

It’s a little odd, then, that Blizzard GMs have finally come out and started saying that this jump is illegal and will get you a warning and a ban:

“Hello Dakoduh! My name is Game Master Rodoux. I’m going to need you to refrain from hopping up there on the fence in Warsong Gulch.” This was followed by a temporary ban when the request was not honoured.

In addition to the GM whispers, twinks are reporting that people are getting disconnected mid-jump. I haven’t had it happen to me yet (and I have jumped the fence in the past week, I FC at level 70 after all) but I’m sure it’s probably a matter of time.

I don’t think this situation is like the terrain exploit charges in the Walls of Wintergrasp. It’s pretty clear that there’s a glitch in the Horde fence, and that you have to hit it just right to get over. There’s no corresponding glitch in the Alliance fence, there’s nothing really ambiguous about this – this is a terrain exploit.

Yet… it’s been in there since WSG launched six years ago, and it’s something that tactics and strategies have adapted around. It’s one of the quirks of the terrain, just like the rocky patches around the zerk huts or kiting melee around the tree stumps while firing at them. Your opponents will use it against you, so you better know how to do it in response. It’s been reported many times on the forums as a bug, but has never been fixed. So folks do the jump.

My working theory is that all changes to the battlegrounds right now are due to balancing issues in Rated Battlegrounds. The developers have already stated that their focus is on level 85 PvP, as that’s where most of the player base is at. The BG graveyard changes earlier this year were aimed entirely at disrupting healer-heavy comps in rBGs, by preventing healers from getting back to the FC quickly.

And if your FC is skilled at jumping the fence in rated play, they have an advantage in getting back to their healers quickly. Graveyard blocked? Go fence. Fence blocked? Go ramp. Healers, keep moving to the left until you meet the FC. This isn’t rocket science – there’s a slight imbalance in the map due to this exploit. Even though it’s been there since the beginning, it only matters now because of rated play. This shouldn’t really be a surprise that Blizzard is treating it as an exploit.

But it is, a little bit. The timing is odd. This is one of those quirks which showed you knew what you were doing in Warsong Gulch, that you’d played the map enough to know all the tricks. It’d been there for ages. And it never got fixed.

The warnings, bans, and DCs are likely precursors to an actual fix of the fence. (I so want to see Orc Peons out there repairing the fence when this gets fixed. For real.) The GMs know it’s a problem, they’re watching out for it now, word is getting out that it’s no longer okay for this jump.

The dead-letter law of terrain exploitation may not have been enforced for 6 years with this jump, but it is now.

Part of me does get frustrated with Blizzard when they suddenly start handing out bans for behavior that’s been accepted for years. That’s the part of me that says, fix your shit, Blizzard, it’s broke, don’t blame players for this. More importantly – don’t put players into a position of choosing between using a jumping exploit or not to win in PvP, because even if some don’t, others will.

The other part of me says, yeah, but just because everyone does it doesn’t mean it’s not still a terrain exploit. It sucks, because it’s part of the charm of WSG – but it’s hopping over a fence that is obviously supposed to block movement.

Here’s to hoping that Blizzard fixes it soon so the issue is put to rest.

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Getting Exalted with Northrend Factions through PvP

One of the interesting effects of having an unified Honor Point/Justice Point currency in Warcraft is that it becomes possible to get unrelated rewards to the activity you did to earn the points themselves. You can PvP for PvE rewards, and vice versa. Things that you never considered when the currencies were separate are now possible; you might just have to look for ways to make it happen.

Like, reaching Exalted with five different Northrend factions while leveling, without doing any of their quests. You may never even come in contact with them!

Currently, Honor and Justice points can be exchanged for a 3:2 ratio at the Honor Trade Good Vendors and Justice Trade Goods Vendors in Stormwind and Orgrimmar. You can trade 375 Honor Points  for 250 Justice Points at the Honor vendor, and vice versa at the Justice vendor. This allows you to fund either PvE or PvP purchases with your preferred activity.

Honor Points are rewarded starting at level 10, while Justice Points don’t show up as a reward until around level 70. Generally speaking, Honor Points are easier to get than Justice Points while leveling. (At level 70, you can get 100-200 Honor Points from a single battleground, while a Northrend Dungeon awards 12 Justice Points. And that’s only for the first 7 you do each week.)

Because the award rate of Justice Points while leveling is so low, it’s much faster to play Battlegrounds for Honor Points and convert them to Justice Points for use. If you’re leveling to 85 to join in the endgame fun quickly, you can build up a large store of Justice Points and be ready to get 3 epic pieces of Justice gear as soon as you ding through smart conversion – and this is a good thing.

Now, an unrelated fact: late in Wrath, you could purchase Commendation Badges for five of the neutral factions with rep rewards with Emblems of Triumph. These Commendation Badges were introduced to help gear up alts, and they were a godsend for getting shoulder and helm enchants.

These commendations are:

Each one of these grants 520 reputation for the appropriate faction, up from the original 250. Humans get 10% more, so 572 for Diplomacy. (Pilgrim’s Bounty has a buff which can give you an additional 10%. Yes, it stacks with Diplomacy.)

When these Commendations were available for Emblems of Triumph, they were only available by running Northrend dungeons. But since the Emblem system was removed and replaced with Justice Points, these are now cheap.

How cheap? Each Commendation is 16 Justice Points or – thanks to the conversion – 24 Honor Points.

That’s dirt cheap.

Neutral to Exalted for any faction is 42,000 reputation points:

  • Neutral to Friendly: 3,000
  • Friendly to Honored: 6,000
  • Honored to Revered: 12,000
  • Revered to Exalted: 21,000

Since each Commendation rewards 520, you’ll need 81 of ‘em, which will in turn cost you 1296 Justice Points.  Or, 1944 Honor Points.

That’s less than a PvP mount costs!

Keep in mind that this can be done at any level; level 19 achievement twinks have used this method to get toons who can’t even have a mount Exalted with the Knights of the Ebon Blade et al.. All it takes is Honor Points.

I know that this isn’t something that everyone will want to do. But it’s an interesting example of the things that can happen when you unify a currency system. It’s not unbalancing, and it can add a lot of flavor to your character. Heroic Death Knights can be exalted the Ebon Blade well before reaching level 85; same for Mages with the Kirin Tor.

And, most importantly, keep your eyes open for other items you might be able to get now through PvP.

Northrend Commendations can be purchased from Arcanist Miluria and Magistrix Vesara in Dalaran.

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Choosing Which PvP Gear to Get First, Warlock Edition

I received an email today from a regular correspondent commenting on my recent CFN post on vanity and gear choice. He has been having a running argument with some DK friends about what slot was more important to upgrade first – shoulders or trinket.

The trinkets, my correspondent correctly points out, have a very high Resilience/Conquest Point ratio, and the on-use effect is very potent for burst kills. The shoulders have a lower R/CP ratio, and their secondary stat is Expertise – not something that Frost and Unholy DKs often go for. But invariably, the shoulders got chosen over the trinkets because they looked cooler. They’re the flashy upgrade, not necessarily the smart one.

But here’s the thing – how much do secondary stats matter? Is choosing the flashy upgrade a really bad move? Once you get past the primary stats and Resilience, how much are these secondary stats influencing decisions? I’ve maintained in my gearing guides that you should pick gear with your spec’s preferred secondary stat first, but is that always the case?

MODEL WHAT YOU KNOW

I turned to Ask Mr. Robot for help on DKs, but his stat weights confused me – sometimes Expertise was very good, other times it was very bad, and I couldn’t tell you why. There are nuances to each and every spec, and I realize I don’t know enough about DKs to really answer my correspondent’s question.

But I do know warlocks. And I know warlocks in PvP. So I built my model around warlocks, instead, with the hope that people who know more about other classes can adapt it to suit.

My approach is relatively simple:

  • Gear can be evaluated by assigning weights to each primary and secondary statistic and totaling their values. This number is a quantitative representation of the relative value of the piece of gear for each spec.
  • This gear value can then be compared to the cost of the gear, allowing you to determine how effective your purchase will be.
  • By comparing the value/conquest point ratios between gear, you can determine which piece will be the best value.

Obviously, this method evaluates the full value of the gear, not the incremental upgrade value. You could easily modify it to suit a specific upgrade query by using the difference of the Conquest gear and your current gear instead of the full value of the gear. But for a starting model I think it’s okay to evaluate the full gear.

I took the stat weightings from Ask Mr. Robot because they were 1) easy to find and 2) relatively neutral. (Just keepin’ it real, yo.) I normalized them down to 0-1, and then added Resilience at 1.00, to reflect that I think it is as important as Intellect for PvP. I think it’s fair for all classes to do this – Resilience should be as important as your primary stat, not more, not less.

Once I had the stat weights in place, I then filled in all of the gear with values from the Ruthless Gladiator’s Felweave set. I left Hit in there, because it’s important, but I did skip Spell Penetration because there are several ways you can reach the Spell Pen cap, many of which can depend on your profession. Spell Power also presents a little bit of a tricky stat to weigh, but since weapons and trinkets use SP not Int I kept it in there and used the stats from the robot.

Here’s the spreadsheet if you’d like to follow along.

Applying the weights to the values on the gear, I came up with a normalized value for each spec (rows 23-26). This number doesn’t represent anything in game, really – it’s a relative measure of gear that only makes sense in context of the rest of the gear available.

I tossed in the Conquest Point cost for each item (line 21), which then lets us look at each piece in terms of purchase value it has – how much bang for the buck we get for spending Conquest Points. This is the value we really want to use to compare gear, because it’s obvious to see that some items have more oomph to them than others – that’s why they cost more. No, we want to compare based on what we get for our hard-earned CP.

My first pass through, I thought that I could stop here – getting a number for each item should be sufficient, right?

Well, not quite.

You’ll note that the weapons (MH/OH), trinkets, and pieces with Hit are better values than the set pieces. I think this has to do as much with the set bonuses not being included in each item’s budget, as with the set pieces costing substantially more points. These items also tend to have more sockets, which further diminishes the item’s onboard statistics. They should probably be higher than they are.

I initially ignored enchants, gems, and set bonuses because when you upgrade from PvP set to PvP set, they are static, while the rest of the gear changes around them. That’s the correct way to capture the upgrade model – ignore stats that don’t change or are not important (like Stamina) and only evaluate based on differences.

But this model only evaluates the gear, without reference to what we’re upgrading from. Even a character new to PvP is upgrading from something; they’re not coming into PvP stark naked.

The solution, of course, is to apply the same analysis to the gear currently worn by a character, and then to compare the difference between the two. That difference represents the value of the upgrade, which can then be divided by the cost of the upgrade.

So the correct model is:

  • Assign a normalized value to each piece of gear based on stat weights for the spec and the amount of primary/secondary stats on the item. This includes both the current gear and the future gear.
  • Get the value of the upgrade by taking the difference between the future gear and the current gear.
  • Divide that upgrade value by the cost of the upgrade.
  • Compare that value between the different gear slots to determine the most efficient upgrade path.

Since there’s no way to be accurate to any given Warlock’s upgrade situation, I chose the Season 10 Honor gear with S9 weapons as my baseline in the spreadsheet (rows 39-62), and then compared the Conquest set to the Honor set.

See, it’s important to think about gear purchases this way – you’re not purchasing a new set of gloves with +300 Intellect for 1650 Conquest Points, you’re purchasing an upgrade of +37 Intellect from your current gloves for 1650 Conquest Points. The key is to evaluate on the cost of the relative upgrade, not just the cost of the new gear.

Here’s how it looks.

As a key:

  • Trinket 1 is the Ruthless Insignia of Dominance, which procs randomly.
  • Trinket 2 is the Ruthless Badge of Dominance, which is an on-use “pump” trinket.
  • The PvP Trinket is the faction Insignia.
  • Ring 1 is the Ruthless Band of Accuracy, which gives Hit.
  • Ring 2 is the Ruthless Band of Cruelty, which gives Crit.

When we change the model to evaluate based on upgrade value and not just purchase value, the set pieces – hands, legs, chest, helm, shoulders – are more attractive because we aren’t ignoring their sockets, socket bonuses, and set bonuses when comparing them to other items. We’re now comparing them to earlier versions of the same gear (which correctly nullifies the effects of those bonuses) and allows us to clearly prioritize upgrades.

I think it’s interesting to see how the upgrade lists differ between specs, all driven by the stat weights originally assigned. Items with Hit are preferable to those with Haste, and the relative value of Crit can play havoc with the lower areas of the ranking.

Since Intellect and Resilience are weighted the same, items with a high Resilience/CP ratio (like trinkets) place higher than you might expect. Take a look at the Intellect/CP and Resilience/CP of the Conquest items to see what I mean:

Since this is Warlock gear, Spellpower devalues the MH weapon’s Intellect budget, as well as the trinkets. And the Intellect / CP chart has a strong correlation to the number of sockets on a piece of gear.

But look at how much Resilience those trinkets give for their cost! If you’re trying to gear up for PvP and improve your survivability, trinkets are the way to go. The set pieces weigh in favorably too here, and that’s before the set bonus kicks in.

INTERPRETING THE RESULTS

Now, all these numbers are well and good, but PvP is not just about numbers – it’s about performance. Is the random proc of one trinket better than the on-use effect of another? If we’re to just evaluate it by the numbers, absolutely yes. One gives more value for the CP (and more DPS, incidentally) than the other.

But this is PvP. Affliction warlocks, for example, are not known for their burst, and having an on-demand trinket that can be used to burn down an opponent at the right time is critical.

I think it’s interesting to see how dependent all this is on the stat weights you choose at the beginning. If you were to go on a straight primary stat / Resilience evaluation, you wouldn’t see a lot of the subtle differences in the gear pieces. Small changes to your stat weights will have a big impact on the gear’s purchase values, so these lists should not be set in stone. They are absolutely dynamic and need to be adjusted to your specific situation – which you should do.

Generally speaking, the pieces high on these lists either have a lot of the primary stats warlocks want – Intellect, Spellpower, or Resilience – or they have the secondary stats – Spell Hit, Haste. When all other things are equal, choose the gear with the best secondary stat – but it’s interesting to see that all other things are not always equal.

It’s nice to see that my general rule of thumb holds – get the stuff that has your secondary stat first – but you should also look at the rest of the item’s budget and cost when choosing what to upgrade next, and use your head.

All those disclaimers aside: the MH/OH weapons are always excellent buys.

VANITY PURCHASES

Getting back to the original question: are players who upgrade their shoulders first doing so out of vanity, or out of logic? If the secondary stat on them isn’t the best one for your spec, how important is that?

I think there’s a strong argument to be made that the shoulders are not a good first buy for warlocks – you get a bigger boost of Resilience from the trinkets.

But there could be other reasons to get them which outweigh the numbers. Perhaps it is important for the player to show others that the character is progressing into the next season of gear. Perhaps the new shoulders are a bigger upgrade due to not having a complete set of last season’s gear. Perhaps the player just likes the look of them! That’s all okay.

It’s okay because eventually, with enough time and focus, you can get all the gear, and it won’t matter which order you got it in.

However, when you are sitting there at the vendor, wondering what to get next – don’t be so quick to upgrade only the visible pieces.

New shoulders are great and all that, but there are other pieces that probably have more bang for the buck.

Like, you know, gloves. :)

Happy shopping!

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Thursday Reading

Hey! You!  Yeah, you, down the street there.

Don’t hide from me, I won’t bite. Craggle Wobbletop, at your service! I sell toys! You like toys, don’t you?

Oh.

You want epic PvP gear? You can go to Old Town for that.

Oh, you want epic raiding gear? Oh. Old Town for that, too.

How about a Paper Zeppelin? They don’t give you repair bills.

No?

Oh.

How about some blog posts to read, then?

  • I could link to pretty much every post that Lara does over at Root and Branch, but I think you’ll enjoy A License to Print Money, which is about leveling entirely through PvP and the unexpected benefits (and drawbacks!) of that process.
  • Zinn has a great post about the virtue of patience and Paragon’s H-25 Rag kill. This, so many times this. Patience, perseverance – these are the way to success.
  • Icedragon rebuilds her UI for Cataclysm with some beautiful results. I love how she customizes each one for each character.
  • Fulguralis has a nice post up about Warlock Trinkets, a subject near and dear to many of your hearts. Also, he wrote a book! Check it out!
  • This is an older post, but Onike talks about Teamwork and the shift of PvP philosophy between Seasons 8 and 10.
  • Vidyala has a problem with achievements. Achievements are an interesting compulsion. I should write more about my own issues with them.
  • Anexxia has a bittersweet piece of short fiction up about her own stepping back from raiding, in A Sort of Homecoming in Brill.
  • Speaking of the undead, Rades’s undead DK has a problem with her plate mail bikini. I don’t like it because it doesn’t match, but Rades has some more to say about it than just that. :-)
  • Psynister takes on Trial Account Twink Professions with his usual depth and insight. (c.f. GTG’s article for an introduction to the concept).
  • Razz over at Planet of the Hats talks about Raiding Fatigue, which is hitting home for a lot of players right now. Spinks has a related, insightful post on Auction House burnout.
  • Zel has a very funny non-WoW piece up on Twigisms. For the WoW parents out there.
  • Syl talks about wiping expansions off the table, something I’ve been thinking about recently. I think there’s a larger discussion to be had here about the expansion model, the concept of endgame, and how we interact with “content.”
  • I rather enjoyed listening to Ophelie and Oestrus on the latest episode of the Double O podcast, with Vidyala and Vosskah. That podcast is picking up steam quickly.
  • In something that has become all too common, Beru considers walking away from Warcraft in The Straw. I have a lot of sympathy for Beru, as you’ll see in the comments.
  • On a sadder note, Alas takes a few pages from the Complete Guide to Not Giving a Fuck and is taking a break from blogging. I’ve enjoyed her WoW Pride and Prejudice posts for some time, and while I’m sad to see them stop, I’m glad to see people take control of their lives. This is a game, it should be fun.
  • And finally, my good friend Psynister talks about his challenges in staying motivated to play Warcraft in Three-Legged Stools. This is a tough time for players right now, and Psynister paints a great picture of his struggles with the game.

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I’ve started a blogging experiment on Posterous – Cynwise’s Field Notes - for shorter, more informal posts. To quote the introduction:

I take a lot of pride in the posts that go up on my main websites, but they tend to be big – really big – and I also try to keep them very topical. It’s a good thing to be topical and thorough, but for a while now I’ve wanted a more informal place to post, someplace without a lot of bells and whistles, with a little more room than Twitter but without the pressure of focus that both CBM and GTG have.

Like my field notes, this is very much an experiment. I’m at a strange place with Warcraft now, so I offer no guarantees about content or direction. I like Posterous (really neat interface!) but it’s no WordPress replacement. This is just a simple little site that takes my emails and turns them into posts.

I’m not moving, but I am definitely keeping CBM focused on PvP, warlockery, and other guides. I have no idea where I’m going with CFN, but … well, I hope you find some of the posts interesting.

Enjoy!

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ilvl 365 Vicious Gear and the Phantom Tier

I’m sorry; I’ve not been able to let go of the changes to how PvP gear is handled between seasons I talked about in my last post. I think that the issue around compensating players for the miscommunication between seasons threatens to obscure a more pernicious problem – the way in which gear changes between Seasons – which will have effects well beyond the mistakes that were made between Seasons 9 and 10.

Surely, there must be a reason for all this.

THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER

Let’s address the compensation package Blizzard has put together for players affected by their screwups first. Blizzard is going to offer 4k Honor Points to players who acquired gear during the interseason week as an apology for wasting their time; had Blizzard told players that the Vicious gear they were getting would be obsoleted in a week, players could have made an informed decision about gear purchases. Blizzard forgot to say anything, so players spent a lot of time grinding gear only to have it be replaced without warning.

No matter how much s9 Vicious gear was gained during that time, no matter how many Honor Points were ground out on Alterac Valley weekend, affected players will get 4k Honor as a consolation prize. There’s no accounting for the actual investment of time players made, so the relative justice or injustice of this payoff will vary between individuals.

This is a relatively simple fix that, most importantly, can be rolled out quickly, on a large scale once affected characters have been identified. There’s no need to perform a case by case analysis of each character – just identify all characters who made a purchase of S9 Vicious gear during a set period of time, and email them 4k Honor.

The problem is when this refund doesn’t make a customer whole. By not addressing individual effort, Blizzard shortchanges many of the affected players. If you’d ground 12k Honor Points for naught and got 4k back, you might be glad for the little bit back, but you’re still out a lot of Honor.

There are a few things Blizzard could do instead. They could refund all Honor Points spent during that week, and give people another week to make their purchases. This doesn’t replace enchants and gems and the like, but  at least it brings the gear pieces up to parity. The advantage to this solution is that it targets only those people who could have been affected by the miscommunication, and not people who waited a week.

The other option is to upgrade the S9 Vicious gear to match S10 item levels, either in bulk or only for affected individuals. A bulk update is simpler to achieve, but if you’re trying to apologize to players who actually lost time, upgrading only affected players would be the fair thing to do. This could be much harder to implement than one might expect, despite the simple logic behind it all.

I don’t think Blizzard will pursue either option.

THE VICIOUS CHANGE OF SEASONS

I really feel that the new Vicious and Bloodthirsty sets introduced in Season 10 represent a step backwards for Blizzard. They represent a change of philosophy which will make PvP less fun and more confusing should it happen again in Season 11.

Take a look at the way the Season transitions were handled.

The original system that was introduced by Blizzard in Season 9 was:

  • Each season would have three tiers of gear available for purchase: fair (crafted), good (Honor), great (Conquest).
  • When the season ends, a new tier is introduced at the Conquest level, and all the other tiers slide down. Conquest becomes Honor, Honor becomes crafted.
  • Players in the previous season’s Conquest gear are now in Honor gear, and will get upgrades from Rated PvP.
  • Players in the previous season’s Honor gear are now in crafted gear, and will get upgrades from regular battlegrounds or Rated PvP.
  • Players in the previous season’s crafted gear are now a tier behind, and will get upgrades everywhere.

This system is easy to understand, plan for, and keeps the overall amount of PvP gear available to a manageable level. It mirrors the PvE gear setup, providing a consistent, universal gear philosophy that corresponds to the points system introduced in Cataclysm.

The system introduced with Season 10, however:

  • Each season still has three tiers of gear available.
  • When the season ends, the old tiers are removed. Three new sets are introduced, two bearing the names of the previous season’s Conquest and Honor gear.
  • The new sets are effectively a half-tier ahead of the previous season’s version bearing the same name. The current season’s Honor gear is a half-tier ahead of the previous season’s Conquest gear, and the current crafted gear is now a half-tier ahead of the previous Honor gear.
  • Players in the previous season’s Conquest gear are now a half-tier behind the current Honor gear, and will need upgrades from both regular PvP and rated PvP.
  • Players in the previous season’s Honor gear are now a half-tier behind the current crafted gear, and should get upgrades from the AH, regular PvP, and rated PvP.
  • Players in the previous season’s crafted gear should hit the AH ASAP.

I don’t understand how this change benefits players. You take an elegant system which showed no problems and substantially modify it with negative consequences.

  • More gear sets: instead of going from 3 to 4 PvP sets in the game, we’ve jumped up to 7. Each season will compound this issue.
  • More gear confusion: not only are there Glorious Conquest recolored sets for 2200+ ratings (which confused a lot of players), but now there is gear with identical names but different stats.
  • More gear grinding: instead of letting players continue playing in their chosen realm, we’re sending Arena players back to regular battlegrounds to grind out a new set each season.
  • More time spent acquiring gear: not only will rated PvP players have to spend more time getting gear, but casual PvPers – BG enthusiasts, PvEers who like a little PvP on the side, etc. – will lose the benefits of any Conquest pieces they managed to get last season.
  • Different gear systems for PvP and PvE: instead of having a unified system that new players can pick up in one realm and transfer over to another, now we have two different systems.

Consider that last point for a moment: what if the Valor and Justice point systems required raiders to go out and grind heroic dungeons for gear each tier, just to stay competitive?

(Oh, wait, that was actually proposed for 4.2. But it was dropped, and for good reason – raiders wanted to raid to get Valor Points, not run heroics they outgeared.)

Is this trying to get players to spend more time in battlegrounds? I wondered about this one briefly – perhaps because I’m playing Alliance with instant BG queue times I don’t see population problems across servers. But why regular battlegrounds? All of Blizzard’s focus has been on getting players into Rated Battlegrounds, not regular ones.

What problem could adding a half tier to PvP gear between seasons possibly hope to solve?

THE PHANTOM TIER

It’s easy to lose sight of things when you’re angry. I think a lot of people are still really pissed about the miscommunication of the Vicious gear ilevel change and compensation package, which jeopardizes losing sight of the substantial changes made to how gear upgrades from season to season. The personal injustice of now has more urgency than a longer gear grind later.

But I too am angry, and I think I got lost in my own anger at Blizzard bringing the Honor grind back into PvP. The problems that have been introduced are real, and will have a wide-ranging unpleasant effect on people, and there’s no explanation from Blizzard why these changes were made. Getting pissed about what this change meant to a lot of casual players blinded me to a very simple observation.

Season 10 Conquest Gear is an extra half-tier higher than expected.

This isn’t about the low gear. It’s not about Vicious gear. It’s about Ruthless gear.

It’s easy to get lost in the urgent now, in looking at the problems with Vicious gear that will make players spend a lot of effort to get back up to their previous baseline. But that’s not the point of this change. Not at all.

The gear model that I presented above is actually a currency model.

  • Great: Valor, Conquest
  • Good: Justice, Honor
  • Fair: Gold, Materials

The currency model is then mapped to an activity model, corresponding to the rewards you get:

  • Great: Raids, Zulroics, Rated PvP
  • Good: Heroics, Dungeons, Tol Barad, BGs
  • Fair: Playing the AH, gathering, dailies

Now we can go ahead and equate the gear gained from these activities with the currencies that they provide, right?

Except… the model is missing something.

In PvP, going from activity to currency to gear works flawlessly, because there’s no other way to get gear in PvP. You have to PvP to get the currency to get good PvP gear, period.

In PvE, the activity itself randomly rewards you with gear. Currency buys you good gear, great gear even – but not the best gear.

No, the best gear in the game comes from raiding heroic modes. There’s an entire tier of gear that’s not in the currency-based model. A phantom tier, one of superb gear.

  • Superb: Heroic Raids
  • Great: Raids, Rated PvP
  • Good: non-raid PvE, unrated PvP
  • Fair: Crafted, quest

The simple currency based model which worked so well in PvP – where points are the only way to get gear – doesn’t translate when you take Heroic Raids into account. Look at the various item levels of rewards from specific activities.

Source Item Level
 Heroic Firelands  391
 S10 Conquest Gear  384
 Firelands  378
 T12 Valor Gear  378
 Heroic T11  372-379
 S10 Honor Gear  371
 S9 Conquest Gear  365
 T12 Justice Gear  359
 T11 Raids  359
 PvE BoE/Crafted  359-379
 Zulroics  353
 S9 Honor Gear  352

The best gear available at any given time is always heroic raid gear – that’s a given. But look at the point differences between gear types.

  • PvP gear is always 13 ilevels apart within any given season.
  • Heroic raid gear is always 13 ilevels higher than the regular raid gear.
  • T12 Justice gear is 19 ilevels lower than T12 Valor gear because it matches the T11 raiding gear ilvl (per the currency model).
  • S9 Conquest gear is 19 ilevels lower than S10 Conquest gear. If S9 Conquest gear adhered to the currency model (like Justice gear) and converted to S10 Honor gear, PvP would be imbalanced because of the huge gap between Honor and Conquest.
  • PvP gear has a higher ilevel than equivalent vendor-purchased PvE gear, likely due to Resilience in the item budget.
  •  Conquest gear is always 7 ilevels below Heroic raid gear.

The reason that Season 10 PvP gear was bumped up 6 ilevels has nothing to do with PvP at all. PvP item levels were bumped to keep pace with PvE gear, most notably Heroic Firelands gear. Honor gear was kept within 13 ilevels of Conquest gear to keep PvP balanced.

Consider what would have happened if the S10 Vicious gear had not received a 6 ilevel boost: S10 Conquest gear (Ruthless) would be 13 item levels higher than S10 Honor gear (Vicious), putting it at 378 – equal to T12 Valor gear. That’s not bad in and of itself, but then Heroic Firelands gear would be 13 ilevels higher than the Conquest gear – which is a full tier better.

If the best PvE gear available is a full tier ahead of the best PvP gear, PvPers will go after that gear. Each sphere of the game will do this – if the other side grants better gear, then it becomes Best in Slot and people feel they have to go after it. In PvP’s case, such items can unbalance rated PvP play – Shadowmourne in S8, anyone? – which can cause a ripple effect through the lower brackets.

So the reason that we have two different sets of Vicious gear, the reason that we have a lot of PvPers grinding out another Honor set, the reason why the PvP gearing system is out of whack right now, is not because Blizzard is trying to screw over casual PvP players.

No, it‘s entirely because Firelands drops 378 loot, 6 ilevels higher than the T11 Heroic raids. Firelands could have dropped 372/385 loot, but it doesn’t. I can speculate on why this was done – more epic feel, give people who have been raiding Heroic T11 immediate upgrades – but in order to maintain parity between PvE and PvP, PvP gear was bumped up too. That decision had a negative cascading effect for PvPers gearing at the start of the season, as well as inadvertently causing a major snafu with the transition from S9 to S10, but it will keep PvPers from having to get Heroic raid gear in order to be competitive.

I no longer know if this is going to happen every season. I seem to recall that PvE gear levels used to go up in pretty even tiers of 13 in Wrath, but there must have been a 6-point jump somewhere to get to 245. (There was 200, 213, 226, then … 232 in Ulduar, 245 with ToC?) So it might happen, it might not happen.

I feel better knowing that there is a explanation for it all.

I may not like its effects, but at least there’s a reason for the change.

DON’T POINT FINGERS

This isn’t about PvE screwing over PvP.

I mean, yes, in this specific instance a design decision in PvE had wide-ranging implications for PvP players. And it’s a decision I don’t personally understand – because I don’t raid – but because I don’t understand the nuances of it, I’ll take it at face value for now.

This is the price we pay for having an interconnected game. Balance issues in PvP affect PvE abilities. Class issues in PvE can cause problems in PvP. Gear needs to be balanced between the two, which is – obviously – more complex than it seems.

Changes in PvP affect PvE, and changes in PvE affect PvP. This happens all the time. There’s no agenda here, just the butterfly effect. One example of this happening doesn’t prove anything. Instead, let it serve as a reminder: little changes matter.

Adding 6 item levels to Firelands gear caused Conquest-clad PvP players to get new Honor gear at the beginning of the season, but that grind also was also a byproduct of ensuring an even tier between Conquest and Honor gear, and prevent PvPers from seeking out Heroic raid gear for PvP.

Is this still a problem? You bet. If T13 comes out with another half-tier boost, we’re going to go through this all over again.

But at least we can have a discussion about if that boost was worth the trouble it causes in PvP.

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The Changing Face of PvP Gear and the Rocky Road to Season 10

The transition from Season 9 to Season 10 has not been smooth.

  • Conquest Point caps were adjusted to encourage players to participate in Rated Battlegrounds. The resulting system is more complicated than what it replaced, and also splits the uniform PvP/PvE reward model introduced in Cataclysm.
  • At the end of Season 9, Conquest Points were converted into Honor Points (as expected.) Unfortunately, the Honor Point cap was not raised during the interseason week (as intended), causing all points over the 4000 cap to be converted to gold, preventing people from using their earned Conquest Points to complete their Vicious sets.
  • In an unannounced change, Season 9 Vicious sets (ilevel 365) purchased by Honor Points in the interseason week were not the same as the Season 10 Vicious sets (ilevel 371) purchased by Honor Points during Season 10. This means that players who spent the week between seasons grinding out Honor Points to start Season 10 in full Vicious gear found themselves with inferior gear than what they could have purchased once S10 started.

The first one is a policy change, and is irritating because of the devious way in which the change was introduced, but at least it was communicated and isn’t going to be a long-term frustration. Either you’re okay with it, or you’re not, but it’s the way things are now. Rated Battlegrounds are here to stay and Blizzard wants you to play them.

The second change was a deployment bug. Someone fucked up and included code in the 4.2 release that shouldn’t have been in there until a week later. In hindsight it really wasn’t that big of a deal, because the gear you could get with the lost Honor Points wasn’t going to be all that great in a week’s time anyways. But it was frustrating if you had Conquest Points and wanted to do something with a nice big pile of them.

Which leads us to the third change, which actually is a really big fucking deal, and there are two parts of it.

  • There is a major change in the way PvP gear is going to be upgraded between seasons, with significant implications for all PvP players.
  • And Blizzard forgot to tell anyone about it.

Let’s be honest. Blizzard fucked up in not telling anyone about this change, and they know it. They’ve had the good graces to come right out and say it, to their credit. How something like this gets missed is a lesson in corporate communications – someone might have noticed it, but it wasn’t the right person. Sure, I have found forum threads talking about it on the PTR (which does me no good in hindsight), but the right person didn’t stand up and say, hey, we need to mention this.

A lot of people spent time and effort in that week between the seasons grinding Honor Points so they’d be ready for Season 10. It’s a chance to get all caught up – everyone starts off equal at the beginning of the season. Only, because someone at Blizzard forgot to mention a critical point in the patch notes, that effort was wasted.

Don’t forget, that’s real time spent. Don’t try to say that it’s only a week. That’s bullshit. That’s real time people could have spent doing other things. That’s customer time just outright wasted.

Will the communication gaffe blow over? Eventually, maybe, I don’t know. Blizzard has indicated that they will try to make it right, because this is an actual customer service issue, but how can they really compensate them for it? Customers didn’t get the rewards they were expecting for the work they put in because of a corporate mistake. They made choices with their time that were wrong, and time is money.

But that’s not even the biggest problem here.

BRINGING BACK THE PVP GEAR GRIND

And there is no longer a requirement to “grind” unrated BGs for Honor each season, so the real time investment isn’t changing as much as some players are perceiving it to be.

- Zahrym, “4.2 Conquest change

The Bloodthirsty and Vicious Gladiator’s gear of Season 9 (i352 and i365, respectively) are not as good as the Bloodthirsty and Vicious Gladiator’s gear of Season 10 (i358 and i371). You can make a good argument that the set and gem bonuses of the S9 Bloodthirsty Gladiator’s gear are equal to or outweigh the stats of the S10 crafted Bloodthirsty gear, but the S9 Vicious gear is a clear loser to S10. Not by a lot, mind you – but it’s better gear.

The gear progression path laid out for Cataclysm, both for PvP and PvE, was both simple and elegant.

  • Raiding and rated PvP gets you the the current tier of gear (Conquest/Valor Points).
  • Heroics and unrated PvP gets you the last tier of gear (Honor/Justice Points).
  • Crafted gear gets you two tiers back.

Yes, the absolute best PvE gear can only be gotten by raiding, but this currency system made sense. It’s easy to understand the flow between different tiers, it’s easy to plan out your gearing needs when a new raid tier is introduced, or a new season starts. Your current gear drops down a level, and you work your way back up to the next one.

Zahrym touches on this in his post on the 4.2 Conquest Points changes, quoted above. There were many great things with the new PvP system, but one of them was the promise that once you’d geared up for rated PvP, you didn’t have to go back to unrated BGs to do it again. This was good for both Arena players and regular Battleground players, as seasons past would see a swarm of well-geared Arena players either destroy casual battlegrounds, or resort to afk/botting to grind the Honor Points required for their PvP kits. The new system allowed people to assume that, by having a full Conquest set in one season, it would become a full Honor set in the next, eliminating the need to visit unrated Battlegrounds to gear up. Rated PvP players could keep playing what they wanted to play.

And don’t forget – the Honor Point grind for a full set is long. If you’re getting about 150 Honor Points per battleground – a pretty good average, by the way – that’s 179 BGs. At 15 minutes a BG, that’s 44.75 hours of play. So not having to grind out Honor Pieces each season is actually a really attractive perk, and Zahrym is right in calling that out.

But that’s no longer the case.

The change that was introduced in 4.2 is that each season will introduce three completely new sets of PvP gear. These sets will be calibrated for that season, not for the season preceding it. They will (confusingly) share the names of the previous season’s sets, but that’s it. No more cascading tiers, no more smooth transitions from season to season.

Every season, you start the gear grind over again. Rated PvP for top gear, with a weekly cap. Unrated PvP for the rest of your gear until your eyes bleed, or you seriously consider botting.

You can argue that the slight increase in stats between the i365 and i371 isn’t worth the time to upgrade. It’s not a huge difference. It’s only six points, after all!

Well.

What if I rephrased those six points as half the difference between Vicious and Relentless sets? What if the sets were called “Season 9.5″ instead of “Season 10 Honor Gear”?

If you’re in full S9 Conquest gear now, you can upgrade to S10 slowly with Conquest Points, and S9.5 quickly with Honor Points.

The difference between tiers is 13 item levels. The difference between seasons is 6 ilevels. If you’re in S9 Conquest, you’re now 19 ilevels behind S10 Conquest, not 13.

You still think you can’t use some upgrades?

Whether this was done to encourage players to spend more time PvPing in general, or to increase attendance in regular BGs (something I hadn’t thought was a problem, to be honest), or to just make it take longer to get geared up – this has the effect of laying naked the gear grind that’s such a central part of Warcraft’s endgame, of taking the last shreds of a system that rewarded past effort and throwing it to the winds.

This isn’t a slight change. Changing gear distribution so that PvP players are faced with investing time they were not planning to spend is not something you forget about. This change not only destroys the symmetry of the PvP/PvE point system, it brings back the gear grind that we had hoped was gone the way of the dodo.

And that is the real problem with this change.

STOP THE RIDE, I WANT TO GET OFF

I took a break from Warcraft this past week, expecting to come back refreshed and ready to tackle S10 and Firelands. I rather enjoyed reading books at night and going to sleep early, but I still missed WoW. I was going to get into some PvE, see what these dungeons and raids were really like, but still keep my hand in with PvP through Arenas. After all, I have a full S9 Conquest set, I have some time free to work on my T11/T12 now, right?

I may have been refreshed when I logged back in, but my enthusiasm for PvP got washed away pretty quickly once I saw the changes to PvP gear in S10.

These changes are bad ones. They complicate the PvP gear system, which is exactly the wrong direction it needs to go in. They reintroduce a gear grind that is unmatched by anything in PvE.

And, most damningly of all, the PvP developers forgot to put them in the release notes.

If you want to give the appearance of not caring about your customers, about the fans of your game, I think this is just how I’d go about doing it. I think if I wanted to give the impression that I didn’t give a damn about PvP, this is the way I’d do it.

You seriously forgot?

(W)e’ve maintained an open dialog with our developers over the past 24 hours regarding the way in which the PvP season transition went down since patch 4.2 (this includes relaying a lot of the feedback we’ve seen on the forums to them).

- Zahrym, “i365 Vicious vs. i371 Vicious”

I trust that y’all will make up their own minds about this change, and will either decide that it’s a big deal, or not a big deal, and just get to work getting your Vicious (S10!) and Ruthless gear, or go find something else fun to do. I know you will!

But you know what? I liked getting enough sleep, and cleaning out my home directory, and shopping for crap on the internet, and playing stupid cute addictive games on my iPhone, and having nice, relaxing non-WoW evenings with my spouse. WoW is fun, but it’s not that much fun.

I’ll be honest. I’ve never been more disappointed in this game company than I am right now, and the only thing keeping me from canceling my account is that my son wants to see how the Gilneas starting area ends. There have been enough mismanaged changes to PvP in the past few months that, frankly, I’m sick of dealing with it.

I’m tired of the sticks and carrots to get me to do the things that I don’t find fun.

I’m tired of the gear grind. I’m tired of feeling like a rat in a lab being told to do this thing and that thing and oh my god where is my cheese now? Dailies and heroics and rated battlegrounds and cheeeeese!

I’m tired of the bullshit.

I would rather go fly a turtle to Mars than PvP in Warcraft right now.

Blizzard, you can take that feedback how you will.

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Battleground PvP Gear in Cataclysm Patch 4.2 / Arena Season 10

Cataclysm patch 4.2 brings with it the start of a new PvP season, season 10, which means a new tier of PvP gear – Ruthless Gladiator’s Gear – has become available.

Following the Cataclysm pattern outlined in my Season 9 guide and 4.0.6 update, there are still three levels of PvP gear you can consider current: crafted, purchased with Honor Points, and purchased with Conquest Points.

There has been a substantial change with the introduction of Season 10, however. Unlike the previous 9 seasons, last season’s gear has been completely replaced by sets with the same name but different item levels. PvP gear is now marked with Season 9 or Season 10 in the tooltip to help distinguish between the two sets.

The changes affect the gear purchased with Honor Points and Conquest Points last season.

  • ilvl 352 Bloodthirsty gear (purchased with Honor Points in Season 9) has been replaced by crafted ilvl 358 Bloodthirsty gear.
  • ilvl 365 Vicious gear (purchased with Conquest Points in S9) has been replaced by ilvl 371 Vicious gear (purchased with Honor Points).

This means that, unlike every other previous season within an expansion, the gear earned in a previous season is actually worse than the same named set of the new season. Full Season 9 Conquest gear is inferior to Season 10′s honor gear by 6 item levels, or half a tier. This is a noticeable difference in PvP, so you will need to decide if grinding out the full set is worth it. Fortunately, the honor gains from regular Battlegrounds have been increased, so it should take less time than the Season 9 grind, which was too long (without Tol Barad.)

Due to this change, it is no longer advisable to grind Honor Points in the week between PvP Seasons, as the gear gained will be obsoleted at the start of the new season. Max out both your Honor and Justice Points to prepare for the new season, but wait for the new gear to drop before grinding out a new set.

Last season’s crafted pieces (blue gear with no set bonuses) are no longer available, as the patterns have been replaced with the new Bloodthirsty versions. Crafters do not need to do anything to upgrade existing recipes – the new ones just show up. If you have any of the old gear (like a Fireweave Robe), replace it with the new crafted Bloodthirsty gear right now. Or, better yet, go straight to Vicious gear through Honor Purchases.

A new level 85 character who wants to start playing in Battlegrounds should purchase the crafted Bloodthirsty gear as soon as possible. Getting the 2-piece bonus should be your priority if you are only getting a few crafted pieces because of the +400 Resilience bonus. The crafted gear lacks gem slots, so properly enchanted and gemmed S9 Bloodthirsty gear is about on par with the crafted S10 Bloodthirsty gear. A full crafted set is a great start.

You can, of course, start PvPing without PvP gear, but generally I don’t recommend it. Endgame PvP is designed around a certain amount of Resilience gear, and while you might do okay in PvE epics, your survivability will be low.

Let’s take a look at what you can get in Season 10 from PvP.

HONOR AND CONQUEST

The PvP vendors for level 85 are still in the Hall of Legends in Orgrimmar’s Valley of Strength and the Hall of Champions in Stormwind’s Old Town.  There were some minor changes in Season 9, notably the addition of the <Honor Trade Goods> and <Honor Heirlooms> vendors, but otherwise things are the same.

If you’ve never been in these locations before, the picture above shows the Stormwind vendor layout, and below is the Orgrimmar layout. The person you’re going to want to talk to first is the <Honor Quartermaster>.

Regular battlegrounds, Tol Barad, and world PvP award Honor Points. With them, you can purchase last season’s top gear, Vicious Gladiator’s gear from the Honor Vendors. If you don’t participate in Arenas or Rated Battlegrounds, this is the set you should be aiming for. You can only have up to 4000 Honor Points at any one time, but there’s no limit to how many you can earn over time.

Arenas and Rated Battlegrounds award Conquest Points. Conquest Points purchase the current top PvP gear, Ruthless Gladiator’s gear, from the Conquest Vendors. There is a weekly cap to the amount of Conquest Points you can earn that is related to your Arena Rating and Rated Battleground Rating, but there’s no limit to the amount you can have at one time. You purchase Conquest gear from the <Conquest Quartermaster>.

The point costs for each set of appear to be unchanged from Season 9, with two exceptions.

Slot Vicious
Honor Points
Ruthless
Conquest Points
Head 2200 2200
Neck 1250 1250
Shoulder 1650 1650
Back 1250 1250
Chest 2200 2200
Wrist 1250 1250
Hands 1650 1650
Waist 1650 1650
Legs 2200 2200
Feet 1650 1650
Ring 1 1250 1250
Ring 2 1250 1250
Trinket 1 1650 1650
Trinket 2 1650 1650
2H Weapon/Ranged 3400 3400
MH Weapon 2450 2450
OH Weapon 950 950
Wand/Relic 700 700
Minimum Total 26,850 26,850

The exceptions are for purchasing PvP weapons.

  • PvP weapons can now be purchased with Honor Points. This is a great change, as PvP weapons were formerly not something regular Battleground players could acquire.
  • PvP weapons now require a minimum number of points earned in Season 10. You must first get 7250 Honor Points before the Vicious weapons can be purchased, and 7250 Conquest Points for the Ruthless weapons. Points earned the week before Season 10 do count towards this total.

The first change is great for people who only run battlegrounds, and for people gearing up alts. It provides a way to put PvP gear in every slot to get Resilience up, and provides a level playing field for PvP.

The challenge it introduces, of course, is that those weapons are really good for starting out in PvE. This change could potentially drive people into PvP just to gear up their characters for raids, which is – in part – why we have the second change, requiring players to grind out a certain amount of Honor Points before they can get them. This will prevent these weapons from being easily obtainable for PvE, though 7,250 Honor isn’t a terrible amount to grind. The original figure of 18,500 Honor Points was 69% of the way through assembling a full Honor BG kit, and was probably prohibitive.

This is all a good thing. Battleground enthusiasts will now be able to get weapons, and PvE enthusiasts will find better weapons in PvE.

The Conquest weapons are similarly restricted to make them unavailable to endgame raiders at the beginning of Firelands. At the very top tier of PvP play, these weapons will not be unlocked until the 3rd week of Season 10. At the lowest tier, they’ll open up in 6 weeks.

LEVEL 85 GEARING STRATEGY

For level 85 endgame characters, I would adopt the following general strategy for gearing up for battlegrounds, Rated Battlegrounds, and Arenas:

  1. Get as many of the crafted Bloodthirsty pieces made as soon as you can. Any Resilience is good. Go for the 2-pc bonus (+400 Resilience) as soon as you can. These tend to be selling very cheaply on many Auction Houses right now.
  2. Supplement with good items gained from PvE, but only if they’re a substantial upgrade over the Bloodthirsty gear.
  3. Run Tol Barad dailies for the PvP head and shoulder enchants. Use good PvE enchants on your gear in the interim.
  4. PvP in regular BGs for Vicious gear. I use RatingBuster to help show what each upgrade will give me, but in general if the primary stat (Intellect, Strength, Agility) and Resilience bonuses are the same, I upgrade the secondary stats (Hit, Haste, Crit, Mastery) which favor my current specialization first.
  5. If you are upgrading from crafted Bloodthirsty gear, you will want the bonuses on the Vicious PvP hands first, followed by the 2-pc and 4-pc set bonuses. If you are coming off the Bloodthirsty gear purchased through PvP, the order doesn’t matter much.
  6. Once you have a complete set of Vicious gear, use Honor Points to get PvP enchants for your new head and shoulders. You don’t need Tol Barad dailies anymore.
  7. Participate in as many rated PvP matches as you can, up to the limit of Conquest Points you can gain each week.  Even pugging Rated Battlegrounds can net you some benefit.
  8. Upgrade your weakest pieces with Conquest gear. If you have a mix of Bloodthirsty and Vicious gear, upgrade the Bloodthirsty to Ruthless first.
  9. Upgrade your PvP weapons whenever they become available, regardless of level. If you can upgrade to the Glorious Conquest weapons (2200+ Rating), do so in favor of other upgrades.

You can upgrade your Conquest armor to Glorious Conquest armor with a 2200+ PvP rating, but it is purely a cosmetic upgrade. A high PvP rating only gets you better PvP weapons, not better armor.

PVE GEAR IN PVP

Generally speaking, I don’t like having lots of PvE gear in PvP. You need a lot of Resilience to stay alive and do your job, and too much PvE gear dilutes it.

That said, if you are able to run Heroic raids, the ilvl 391 Heroic Firelands trinkets look like an attractive option over the Ruthless trinkets. Much like the Darkmoon Cards of Season 9, these trinkets can give you a damage boost without sacrificing a lot of Resilience.

If you’re able to get your hands on one of those trinkets, definitely consider them for PvP.

RATED PVP CHANGES

This doesn’t affect players who strictly play regular battlegrounds, but there have been some substantial changes to the way in which Conquest Points will be awarded in Season 10.

  • Players will have different caps for Arenas and Rated Battlegrounds. They can earn total Conquest Points up to the higher of these two caps.
  • Rated Battlegrounds will have a 22.2% higher Conquest Point cap than Arenas for the same PvP rating.
  • Arena Conquest Point caps range from 1350 to 2700.
  • Rated Battleground Conquest Point caps range from 1500 to 3300.
  • The Arena and Rated Battleground caps govern how many Conquest Points can be gained doing that specific activity. If one’s total Conquest Point cap is higher than the activity cap, then the additional Conquest Points must come from another source.

I’ve talked about these changes before at some length, so let me focus instead upon what this means to the casual Arena and Rated Battleground player. If you’re running Arenas with friends for weekly Conquest Points:

  • If your Arena rating is below 1500, you will not reach your total Conquest Point cap each week.
  • At low Arena ratings, you can still get a minimum of 1350 Conquest Points, which is equivalent to the Season 9 cap.
  • You can supplement your Conquest Point earnings through a variety of means – Rated Battlegrounds, daily random Battleground/CTA weekend rewards, or converting Valor Points to Conquest Points from raiding, Troll Heroics, and random Heroics.
  • At the lowest ratings (or no rating at all), you’ll need 150 Conquest Points from other sources to hit your cap.

If you are able to run Arenas with your friends, it’s still a worthwhile activity that gives you a gearing edge in regular Battlegrounds. You can supplement it with other activities, including PvP, to gear slightly faster than in Season 9 at sub-1500 ratings.

One last note: if you are primarily a PvE player, you can convert Valor Point to Conquest Points at a 1:1 ratio. Once you have exhausted your Valor Point upgrades, you may want to consider using them to purchase Conquest PvP gear.

UPDATES

Like with previous seasons, I’ll update this page as new information is released.

June 28th, 2011 (Patch 4.2 Day): Patch 4.2 has dropped, but not all of the gear described in this article is available yet. Vicious Gladiator’s Gear is still available at the Conquest Quartermasters, but it now costs Honor Points. It’s marked with “Season 9″ underneath the title, which is a nice addition.

Ruthless Gladiator’s Gear is not yet available, but should be once Season 10 starts. I expect that all of the gear will shift to their normal places once that happens.

I’ve updated the section on crafted gear based on feedback from Poneria and Gameldar, as well as what I’ve finally observed on live. The crafted patterns now have “Bloodthirsty” in front of their previous items names (i.e. Bloodthirsty Fireweave Cowl instead of Fireweave Cowl), and they’re a little different from the original sets. They are slightly higher ilvl than the original (358 vs. 352) and generally lack gem sockets. It’s a moot point for upgrading – if you have Season 9 Bloodthirsty, go straight to Vicious, do not stop to craft – but it’s an interesting move by Blizzard.

I can also confirm that they lack all bonuses but the 2pc +400 Resilience bonus, so get whichever pieces you can get, in whatever order you can get them. The crafted Bloodthirsty gloves lack any unique bonus, so I’ll remove that section from the post – but those should still be the first ones you get with your Honor Points.

Also, Vicious PvP weapons currently require you to have earned 7250 Honor Points in the current season. I assume that requirement will go up to the 4.2 patch notes level when Season 10 starts, so it’s probably a good idea to grind out some honor this week and get them first.

Update 7/8/2011: Wow. I step away for a few days and miss a gear debacle.

  1. Blizzard screwed up the Conquest to Honor point conversion at the end of Season 9, making it so that players who had amassed Conquest Points with the goal of converting them to Honor points lost their stockpiles early.
  2. Blizzard failed to announce that the gear ilevels of the same tier of gear would change between seasons, so that the Season 9 Vicious gear is a lower ilevel than the Season 10 gear of the same name. This caused people to go farm Vicious gear during the week between the seasons, only to be rudely surprised that it was inferior to the gear purchased a week later.

Blizzard has issued an illuminating statement on the matter:

We agree that the mistakes made were very unfortunate and unfair to a lot of players. We’re currently exploring some options to try and alleviate some of the misfortune many of you experienced while purchasing PvP gear in the last week.

… We know we messed up in multiple ways. This not only made our intentions very unclear, but led players to make choices to spend their Honor Points they otherwise probably would not have made.

If everything went according to plan, you probably would’ve spent any HP over the 4,000 cap last week on any remaining Season 9 items you maybe didn’t have. You then would have saved 4,000 HP to get started on the low tier Season 10 items. This is the way we’re looking at it and will let you know if and when we have more information to share.

Looking at some threads on the forums, I see that this was picked up on the PTR but never made it into the patch notes. I’m sorry that I didn’t see those threads earlier – this is really a case where I feel like I let folks down in not catching it. Following the patch notes sometimes isn’t enough. :-(

This season transition has not gone well. Let’s see what, if anything, Blizzard does to rectify the situation.

Update 7/15/2011: I have updated this post significantly to account for all of the changes that took place with this transition. Entire sections needed to be rewritten due to the issues around the transition from Season 9 to 10.

For my analysis of the changes, please see The Changing Face of PvP Gear and the Rocky Road to Season 10. My followup post, ilvl 365 Vicious Gear and the Phantom Tier, goes into the reasons behind the change. There are good reasons, though they don’t excuse the lack of communication on Blizzard’s part. But what’s done is done.

I updated the following in this post:

  • Clarified the difference between the S9 and S10 versions of Bloodthirsty and Vicious gear.
  • Added item levels to gear descriptions as appropriate.
  • Updated the required weapon HP/CP requirements to 7250, not 18,500 Honor Points or 11,650 Conquest Points originally stated in the release notes.
  • Added note about Points earned before Season 10 applying to weapon point limits. (Thanks, Gameldar, for these two!)

Blizzard has said that the 4k Honor Point compensation package will be coming to affected players on 7/19, next Tuesday’s maintenance. Affected players are defined as those who purchased Vicious gear between Seasons 9 and 10, and should receive the Honor Points via in-game email. I won’t be able to personally validate this, but it should be present after the servers come back up.

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