Archive for August 2008

WotLK Beta: Tanking The Nexus

August 28, 2008

The second instance in Wrath of the Lich King is The Nexus, located on the island of Coldera in the Borean Tundra.

Having already tanked Utgarde Keep, I found this dungeon to be quite a different experience. UK features near trivial trash, paired with challenging boss fights. The Nexus, by contrast, felt more trash focused. I don’t know that there really is any more trash in The Nexus than UK, but there are slightly larger, more closely spaced pulls. I forced my party to work extra by accidentally pulling multiple groups several times.

The bosses, however, never really felt like a threat. They do have some interesting mechanics, but they never felt at all chaotic. I don’t have any specific complaints about the fights, except that they somehow didn’t seem to be the focus.

The biggest challenge of the run was simply navigating the group through the zone. The final boss is in the middle of the zone, with the other three (along with the entrance), surrounding it. A path circles the instance, connecting the bosses, and “spokes” join each bosses area to the center. Sounds easy enough, but the hallways wind quite a bit, and it is pretty easy to get turned around. Having DPS’d the instance once before, I had an idea of the layout, otherwise we would have spent far more time wandering around. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t Sunken Temple or BRD, but it is a slight departure from the TBC standard.

I will note that my wife disagrees about zone being trash heavy, and seems to have enjoyed it quite as much as Utgarde Keep. I’m not entirely convinced that running with a Unholy Death Knight , who was a bit to eager to lay down AOE attacks, didn’t make the trash more of a hassle than they otherwise have been. Being a warrior, and still hoping for something good in promised “prot-review”, I had more trouble controlling the largish packs of non-elites than other tanks might.

The Nexus does score some major points for it’s story. When coupled with the quests in Coldera, this instance really is very interesting – far better than Utgarde Keep’s lore. I strongly suggest playing through the entire Coldera quest lines, even if you skip the rest of Borean Tundra. The zone is also visually stunning, far moreso than UK.

The drops are similar to UK, in that they are Karazhan+ level gear. Coupled with the three quests that you can complete in The Nexus, each of which also provides very nice rewards, and it is certainly worth running the Nexus at least oncewhile leveling. More if you get tired of Utgarde Keep.

A Tale of Two Betas: Wrath vs WAR

August 25, 2008

This past weekend I was able to play in both the Warhammer Preview Weekend Beta, and, of course, the Wrath of the Lich King Beta.   Since I’ve been in the WotLK Beta for quite some time, Friday afternoon & evening were devoted to Warhammer.

**Note:  Both of these games are still BETA.  This simply reflects my feelings at this point, pre-launch.**

Some initial thoughts:

  • WAR has style.  The visuals are very interesting, and give the game a unique feel.
  • RvR is amazing.  The RvR skirmishes (battlegrounds) are a lot of fun.  You can queue from anywhere, and you get XP (and other rewards) for the time spent.  Leveling trough RvR goes surprisingly quickly, and the auto-balancing within the level brackets is a great move.   Also, the low levels of CC and “teleports” (charge/blink/vanish) really make positioning much more important.
  • Collision Detection is awesome.  The Collision Detection in PVP is amazing.  Being able to physically shield my wife’s healer toon with my tank is great.  Once we perfected the “moving screen” her (and by extension, my) life expectancy went way up.  It is jarring going back to the PVE world where there is no Collision Detection.
  • Public Quests.  Like a mini-instance without any of the hassle.  Show up, solo or grouped, and start playing.  You get Influence (rep) no matter what, and a chance at loot.  The single element I’d most like to see moved to all other MMOs.
  • The tanks all feel similar.  Order has two tanks, and while they have different “combat point” mechanics, their game play ends up feeling not all that different.
  • Slow combat.  Not sure about this.  The slower pace of combat (longer global cooldowns) gives more time to think about your actions in RvR, but PvE feels slow and sluggish.  There also seems to be a bit of button lag for abilities, I didn’t feel like I had an immediate reaction to a button press.  Nothing major, just a bit squishy – reminded me a lot of LotRO in that regard.

Overall, I very much enjoyed the playtime over the weekend.  I do plan on playing the Open Beta in a week or so, and then playing at launch, but this is not “The One True Game.”

Things that Wrath needs to steal from WAR:

  • Collision Detection – Great in WAR RvR, wish they would implement it everywhere, and that WoW would copy it.  I know there are issues with crowds, and access to quest givers… but I don’t care.  It is awesome enough that those issues should be worked out.
  • Queue for RvR from anywhere.  Being able to join the Skirmish/Battleground queue while questing, and then teleporting back once you finish is great and would greatly increase my Battleground time.
  • Public Quests.  Period.
  • Some PvE Advancement through PvP/RvR – while leveling there are real motivations to engage in WAR RvR.  Would be great if this was the case in WoW.

Things that WAR needs to borrow from WoW:

  • PvE Questing.  The PvE game in WAR feels more than a little hollow.  None of the early quests particularly interested me.  The quest text seemed to be there mainly to be ignored.  Not a major issue for most WAR players, but coming from Wrath (Dragonblight in particular) where the ongoing story is amazing compelling, this bugged me a bit.  One of my toons skipped questing altogether due to this.
  • Class differentiation.  One of the selling points in the game is the number of classes, and although they do play somewhat differently, in combat they feel like Tank/Healer/Melee DPS/Range DPS.   The actual abilities of the classes past that description don’t really seem to matter so much.
  • Polish.  Warhammer is beta, and hasn’t had the years of “Live Time” – but that hard to describe “feel” of doneness just isn’t there.  Lots of tiny things that should “just work”, are just a little off.   This should work itself out over time, but I’d love it if WAR had another 4 to 6 weeks of beta time prior to launch.
  • Mob pathing.  Not so much something to be stolen from WoW, as any functional MMO.  PvE mob pathing is either broken, or amazingly poorly implemented.  I presume that this is a bug, and will be fixed, so I won’t go on too much here.  However, if it does Live like this, it may be a deal breaker.

So which am I playing once they launch?  I expect that Wrath will be my “Main” game, while I’ll play some WAR on the side.  I enjoy the RvR elements of Warhammer, by I don’t think that it will end up being deep enough to be my full-time game.  I’m a PvE player, and that just the focus for WAR.  Even this weekend, I logged as much time in the WotLK beta as in WAR.  Warhammer is a great game, and the RvR is amazing, but it will likely fill my “I have 45 minutes before bed” time slots, where I don’t have time to hop into WoW and setup an instance run.

WotLK Beta: Tanking Utgarde Keep

August 25, 2008

I finally got around to tanking my first WotLK instance. I’d been playing around with Fury, so I went back to Protection (8/0/64) for the run.

I picked a Enhancement Shammy, a Hunter and a Warlock from the LFG queue, and rounded things out with my wife healing the run.

Short version: Great instance, super quick and mostly easy.

After running so many 5-man heroics in Outland, tanking a regular 5-man is a bit odd. The trash is really quite easy, not at all like the heroic mode trash that is commonly tougher than the bosses.  I don’t remember any pulls having more than 3 elites, and was able to hold everything easily, even without using any CC through the entire run. There are even a few sections made up of mostly non-elite mobs, which are a nice change of pace. The pace was quite fast as well, as the trash never pushed my wife low on mana – even though she was DPS’ing much of the time.

The bosses, however, are a step up from the trash. They are in fact downright challenging. All the fights have a gimmick – something special – that makes them more than a simple spank’n’tank.

Our one wipe of the run came on the first boss, which none of us had seen before. Turns out that if you don’t know that the boss has some “Illhoof-like” tricks, things can go bad quickly. We took him with no problems the second time, and by paying a bit more attention to the other bosses, were able to through the rest of the run cleanly.  We had a solid group of Epic geared toons, and even with that each boss fight felt like a real victory that could have gone the other way. I’m not sure how a group in leveling greens is going to manage this place, at least at level 70.

The boss drops are quite solid. I think one of the items was actually picked up to be used, and I equipped the blue quest reward ring (in place of a Kara DPS ring). The gear seemed to be at (or just above) Karazhan level, so anyone in TBC blues and greens will find some huge upgrades here.

Overall, for a run that we finished in about 45 minutes, Utguarde Keep is a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to running this place back-to-back several times at launch.

Guild Status

August 18, 2008

While I’ve been logging into the Live WoW servers again, I haven’t really done much. My Auction House toon is working to start getting ready for Wrath, but I’ve mainly been logging in to chat for a few minutes.

In my absence several people have left the guild, but most of those are people I don’t miss. However, a group of people who I did play with a lot split of and formed a new guild.

It seems that when I left, the guild leader also stopped logging in very much. There was a bit of a power struggle between some of the officers, who were all ‘just trying to help’. Eventually the guild leader showed back up, but was still very burnt out. He ended up passing the guild off to one of the senior officers, a good friend of his, and I haven’t seen him back in game since. We email regularly though, and I’ll likely be playing in the Warhammer Beta with him.

I’ve chatted with the new Guild Leader and told him that I’m not sure what my plans are. I’m certainly not going to jump back in and take on a lot of responsibilities, and I’m not sure if I’m even going to stay guilded. He is trying to convince us to hang around, and if we do stay, it will be mostly for his sake. He is a great guy, and while he would never say so, he’d be hurt by our leaving. Also, I’m still reasonably well thought of in the guild. While a few carefully chosen words could splinter the remaining guild, my continued presence validates the new leadership.

The ‘splinter guild’ I mentioned is another source of drama. A wife/husband couple formed the guild along with some other former-guildies. I know this caused a lot of drama, and they’ve gotten plenty of grief over it, but it seems to me like a reasonable reaction to the situation. No less so since they weren’t officers in the guild and didn’t like the way things were going.

So, where am I going? I don’t think I’m joining my friend’s new guild – at least not for quite a while.

If I stay where I am at now, it will likely be just because I have nothing else to do, no where else to go. Not a good reason to be somewhere.

So, what am I even looking for? A T5/T6 progressing guild. Serious & skilled, but not angry & hardcore. I’m not interested in simply gear waves of new people in Karazhan or heroics. For me, at this point, gear isn’t an issue – but I would like to find a good group of people, and see some of this content. I’d also like to see how other guilds deal with raiding.

I think.

[70E] BlizzCon 2008 Tickets

August 12, 2008

BlizzCon 2007 was so much fun, that when I heard the BlizzCon 2008 announcement I was quickly making plans. In ’07 we took the long flight out for the convention, and then hopped on a boat for a short 4-day cruise from Los Angeles.

This time we decided to wit to make plans until we knew we had tickets, so when I heard that tickets had gone on sale yesterday morning around 10:00 we headed home “for a few minutes” to order tickets and finalize the rest of our plans. By noon we had made most of the trip plans, and were just waiting on the tickets.  The servers were not behaving themselves.

I eyed the collection of Scotch bottles.

Another hour later, I made a call to the office to let them know I wasn’t going to make it back in, while my wife ran back to her office to lock up and picked up lunch on the way back.

Hours passed. More Errors. I stopped simply eying the Scotch bottles took action.

I got my Blizzard Store account created. Entered my credit card information. Repeatedly refreshing, I once made it to the final pre-confirmation screen. More Murloc.

More hours passed. Blizzard reported that they hadn’t actually sold *any* tickets yet.

In the spells where the store wasn’t completely shut down, I refined my technique. I stopped cursing the Murloc before pressing “back” in an oft-futile attempt to get the previous screen to load. A simple spamming of ‘F5’ meant that I at least didn’t go backwards in the process.. at least till Maintenance STV showed up again. And again.

My glass was once again empty. I had no tickets.

The store went down. The store came back.

Then – as if by magic – I progressed through the five order screens. No errors. No Murloc. It was almost like using a website developed by people who aren’t masochists. I got the final screen. The “Place Order” button was there… and… Murloc.

I, at this point, perhaps, slandered the murloc. And his family. Some special attention paid to his parentage and questionable heritage. Evening activities for the murloc were, most likely, suggested. Ahem.

Out of breath and dejected, I glanced at the window showing my email account.

Inbox (1)

Blizzard Store Order #15…..

It took a few moments to convince myself that the message was what it appeared to be. Having been slapped down far to many times, I was wary to trust it. Afraid that this was simply a new tactic being employed by the murloc. However.. it looked real. In the Blizzard store ‘My Orders’ verified that the order had gone through. A quick check of the credit card showed that a hold had been placed by Blizzard.

Jubilation! More Scotch!

My wife made reservations for the rest of our trip out west. I watch, and encouraged – however I was too beaten down to help much.. and drunk.. that was a lot of Scotch.

A Look at Utgarde Keep

August 5, 2008

Last night I had a bit of time to play around on my Priest in the WotLK beta. Planning on hitting a few quests, I’d turned on the LFG flag for Utgarde Keep – adding a note that I was spec’d Shadow. I’m enjoying soloing as Shadow, even though it isn’t radically different than pre-Wrath. Dispersion is a nice talent, however most of the SPriest changes seem to be stacked into the new abilities between 70 and 80.

When the “Want to join for UK? We are past the first boss” whisper came in, “Looking for dps? healing?” was my reply. Knowing that there were a dozen other DPS on LFG – at least 4 or 5 of whom weren’t Death Knights – the “Ahh. we need healing” reply didn’t shock me.

Having not run UK yet, I decided I’d rather respec than to try to and talk another tank/healer into running. I got a portal to IF to dump my shadow talents, and then picked out a holy/disc spec while I followed the group through the first part of the instance.

We did the 2nd and 3rd bosses in about 30 minutes, with a single wipe on the 2nd boss. That wipe was largely due to my playing an alt-spec on an alt-toon.. damage was being spread around more than I’d expected, and I had trouble finding the spells I needed. Plus, the slightly agrro-happy bosses focus-fired my ass down.

After the run back, we cleared through the rest of the instance with no problems. Most of the trash barely required me to do anything, and were I not a still working at learning my beta keybindings I would have had plenty of time to pump out some sweet-sweet holy dps. The final boss,however, does push out some serious damage. I nearly lost the tank after letting him drop to 70%, and then having a G-Heal interrupted with a several seconds long silence. Once I managed to recover, I simply overhealed the rest of the way through. Not elegant, but the fight was quick enough that I had no mana worries.

My Priest’s healing gear is mostly Kara level, with a few Arena pieces thrown in for survivability. The tank was Kara + Badge geared. We did run with some CC, but I get the feeling that most Kara level groups should tear through UK without too many problems. I’m planning on actually tanking the run in the next few days, so I’ll have a better idea of the difficulty then.

What Blizzard could/has learned from other MMOs

August 1, 2008

As part of my WoW-break, I’ve spent some time playing the Lord of the Rings Online.  While I think that the whole of LotRO is somehow less than the sum of it’s parts, several of those parts are very cool.

A sense of height – Graphically LotRO is on more realistic end of the scale.  Very pretty, with many subtle elevation changes.  A rolling landscape allows many moments of popping over a small rise to see what is on the other side.  Turning around while climbing a winding path up a larger hill gives an amazing view.  The main elements are that the zones don’t feel like a series of “levels” connected by paths up and down, and that rolling hills really provide a natural feeling environment.

Story driven questing – LotRO has it’s share of dull quests – the apparent standard for MMOs – but it’s main story line Bokos & Chapters are different.  Here you interact tangentially with the Fellowship (and the main LotR plot.)  These quests tell that story, with each quest being part of the story.  This type of plot focused quest is great, pulling me from quest to quest like chapters in a book.  By comparison, simple ‘kill x’/’gather y’/’deliver z’ quests which use ‘quest text’ as simple window dressing rather than driving any real plot along, feel extremely empty.

Achievements/Traits – The LotRO there is an achievement, an form of mini-advancement, for almost everything.  Kill a goblin?  Explore an area? Finish a quest? Craft an item?  Use a special ability?  All count towards achievements.  These have tiers, with the first ‘Kill 50 goblins’ version giving a ‘Goblin Slayer’ title.  Then the ‘Kill 150 goblins’ level unlocks a new Trait.  Traits are basically minor stat  bonuses, and as you level you can have more and more ‘equipped’.  Even without trying you’ll have more available traits than you have slots, and this is part of the genius of the system – unlocking a new trait is at best a minor upgrade, but it is still a tangible reward.

In Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard manages to closes the gap on each of these points.

Height: Even at Blizzcon last year the first available zone stood out for it’s sense of height.  I completely understand limiting everyone to ground mounts, as so much of the new content is based around terrain that has a very real sense of elevation.  Flying over a few mobs is one thing, skipping over a mountain is another entirely.

Story: The early Northrend and the Death Knight starter zone quests feel far more plot driven.  The quests really do feel like pieces of a story, just told in ‘quest size bites’.

Achievements: The WotLK achievement system is nice, even if it only provides cosmetic rewards.  I think that the existence of several hundred ‘mini-dings’ may more important than the actual reward.  Will see how this plays out.

Having read so many articles complaining about games simply cloning Warcraft, I’m quite pleased to see that Blizzard seems to be watching what other are doing right.  None of these are groundbreaking, and only Achievements will ever show up a ‘feature-list’  (imagine the box for Wrath listing “Quests that suck 60% less”) – but these are the small type of minor changes to the game that I’m looking for.  No WoW expansion will be revolutionary, but seeing that it is more than ‘Outland with snow’ does make me happy.