Saturday, December 19, 2009

Special Assignments

DPS is, well, it's not a BORING way to play WoW. We have our recount meter e-peen wars, and our gear spreadsheets won its inventors the Fields Medal, but it's all very static. All us DPS have our rotation (a word that is getting increasingly outdated with more priority systems arising) that we cling to preciously, and most fight mechanics are simply attempts to disrupt that rotation. Switch targets, run around, get out of fire, that kind of thing. But every now and again, we noble DPS, who toil in obscurity, seldom recognized for leading us to either great victory or defeat, get a Special Assignment. Let's look at Special Assignments, and how they enrich the DPS'ers life.

If you do only 5-mans, you don't really get to taste the sweet nectar of being put on SA duty. 5-mans need to be relatively simple, with obvious mechanics or mild punishments to assure a PuG can expect to do well without prior training in the intricacies of the fight. Oculus is the only dungeon to do anything close to this with the drakes, but that's a vehicle fight; everyone's doing something different (and horrible, in Oc's case).

My favorite Special Assignment to this day is staying in the back for Four Horsemen. For those who didn't do Naxx, there are four horsemen in four corners, and if any one of them has no target within 40-ish yards, they start wiping the raid, so two dudes must stay near the two weak-ass spellcasters while the other two are tanked like normal. I got to stand in the back because I am crazy awesome rad, and have skills to pay ALL the bills. Also, I can heal myself.

When the raid leader picks you for a Special Assignment, he is saying "You. You are more than your numbers, impossibly huge though yours may be. You are clever and adaptable, so you can be TRUSTED with this". DPS are never trusted; they are the shady mercenaries in the cheap bar to any raid leader, whose loyalty is bought with the promise of loot, which leads to higher numbers. Being trusted is one of the two greatest honor a DPS can receive (the other is Vigilance).

I hunger for these encounters, where instead of "this fight is a tank-and-spank except for this, that, those, and these" it comes out "us 6/7/8 guys just do our job like normal, but YOU chosen ones need a special briefing. Report to spec-ops". Saurfang is case in point; men chosen not for their crazyrad deeps, but their kiting skill. It brings in mechanics we as DPS never otherwise touch, changing our experience up drastically. So here's to Blood Beasts, to Brain Rooms, to Arial Command Units. I hope ICC has more of the unexpected in store for us.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Halls of Reflection is Stupid

Finally got a chance to run through all three of the new dungeons, see all the plot and stuff, and first let me say the premise, and the first two dungeons are totally fine and pretty cool. I especially like the suppression room in Pit of Saron, how the ice crashing gives a sense of urgency and all that. But the Halls of Reflection is bed-wettingly stupid.

Firstly, we're brought in to it with a mountain of dialogue from the ghost of Uther, about how the last refuges of humanity in Arthas are holding back the LK from facerolling all of Azeroth. What? In his whole character progression, for three goddamned games nonetheless, Arthas never once acted even hesitant to throw away his humanity, and now you're telling us he isn't completely corrupt? What about Tyrion's quest where he blatantly states with his magical paladin powers that there is no "Arthas" left in the Lich King? My theory: some nine-year-old kid from the Make-A-Wish foundation won the prize, and his wish was to write HoR dialogue for Blizzard.

Secondly, doing the dungeon is like pulling especially boring teeth. When doing the first part, the waves of adds, you have to LoS them in a corner, making my camera cry. What, so half of the most epic and climactic battle in 5-man WotLK takes place in a walk-in closet? The bosses are fine, if same-y in theme and appearance. I would complain about how HoR has no interesting mechanics, and is really just a gear check, but when it comes to something that will be pug'd a lot, I guess simple is better.

Now, the final fight, the other suppression room (notice how the whole dungeon is just 2 suppression rooms stapled together with bad storytelling?) is you running away from the big bad spooky LK. Surprisingly, I am OK with that in theory, but theories are strange creatures that often fall apart like wet cardboard when implemented. His very slow gait is ponderous; is that Sylvanas/Jaina slowing him down with majickz, or is he just that lazy? The real problem is the ice walls; they're so clearly scripted to break right as the pull ends, it breaks a sense of causality. Which went on extended vacation the second Sylvanas started shooting arrows at an ice wall to break it, but I digress. They should break at a certain time, or maybe if you finish a pull early you can help break them down. That would make for a much more real sense of immediacy.

My final complaint: you don't kill the Lich King at the end. Really, he should have died right there. What if, instead of Arthas getting shot at by the airship and running back to his couch, you got IN the airship, and battled him with cannons in a glorious vehicle combat extravaganza, blowing Arthas to kingdom come. But who is the final boss of ICC, you ask? Ner'zhul, duh. Arthas might die from acute cannon-in-chest syndrome, but the real spirit of the Lich King must be re-bound to the Frozen Throne or some such. Hell yes, son!.

Blizzard seems to be allergic to the unexpected; Ulduar aside, this has been an extremely by-the-numbers expansion in terms of theme and plot. Nothing really surprising has happened, unless you count Arthas being surprisingly pussy. I pray to all-powerful Atheismo that there's SOME twist deep in ICC to save WotLK from amounting to more than an amateur's first Dungeons and Dragons plot.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The New LFG Order

I just got a chance tonight to try the new 3.3 LFG system. Of course, it was plagued with sluggishness getting into instances with the servers taxed as they were. With that in mind, here's my early impressions. Disclaimer: I didn't do any of the new dungeons, by random chance, so expect something on that later in the week.

- The new UI is delicious eye candy, and looks very slick. It also follows the BG queue interface closely, which helps the game feel more like an integrated whole.

- The tank can raid mark even if he's not the leader. Fucking. Finally.

- Voting to kick players has been a smooth and elegant system in online FPSs since 2000-ish, it shocks me it didn't make it into WoW sooner. The new procedural group making probably helps make that less personal approach socially acceptable.

- Speaking of which, getting into a group is smooth, stress-free, and fast if you're not just DPS. I'd expect some people to pick up healing or tanking to get into groups faster in the near future.

- Deserting a dungeon imposes severe penalties on those who flake on instances, and make it easy to find replacements mid way through a run. It would be lame to come into a dungeon that's already half done, but better than dooming those in the dungeon to SOL status. No rational, self-interested person will drop from anything but the most atrocious groups.

- The rewards are delicious, and make chain heroics feasible, rewarding, and fast. Perfect for the end of an x-pac, where gearing up needs to be fast for someone to get into ICC by this point.

- Oculus nerf was brilliant and needed, but riding dragons still fundamentally sucks and is boring. Now we just need a way to start CoS faster and not make VH wipes so putative and we'd be in instance bliss!

I was incredibly skeptical of this new system, but it's intuitive and very smart. Top-notch job, I never realized how frustrating pugging a group was, even before the first pull, until now. Long live the new order!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hooray for Limited Attempts

Next in a series on things that I actually LIKE about WoW, is the way they're introducing Icecrown. Not the story or themes, I haven't looked much at those, I mean the implementation. There's two things that stand out: limited attempts on certain bosses, and a gradual phase-in of the kind done in ToC.

These are good things, people, even if it's not obvious. And it isn't, cause I know what you're thinking, cause I thought it at first too. "WTF, my guild is so uber leet that we can faceroll Arthas day 1 yo. Well, no, that's a lie, but we should at least get the chance!" And indeed, for that illustrious top 5% of guilds, they probably could blow through ICC in the first week, and get crackin' on hard modes. But think of the rest of the guilds, the ones who will wipe and have the terrible birthing pangs of learning a new raid. If Arthas were there from week 1, taunting guilds ever so temptingly with his sexy exposed loot tables, guilds would push headlong into ICC, grinding fights out, maybe extending raid locks. And once Arthas was down, they'd have to grind for several more lockouts.

Face it, most people require some serious practice before many boss mechanics become natural to them. ICC would consume our raid schedules, we'd spend every raid minute pushing through it without stopping to learn the earlier fights more or gear up more as the earlier stuff becomes more farmable. Now that raid lockouts can be extended, this brutal dystopian future was very close to reality, but Blizz wisely intervened. Now ICC will be small, it will not dominate our lives, and as we learn and master earlier fights, the later ones open up for more progression. Limited boss attempts saves us the frustration of wiping 10 times on a single boss, but feeling as though we must continue for progression's sake.

I always thought of limited boss attempts as a way to reward elite raids who don't die with extra Amani War Bears, and phase-in raids a way to slow down these same guilds. I never thought of using them to socially engineer a less stressful and demanding raid culture in the majority of guilds. Kudos.

p.s. it was super gay in ToC because there were only 5 goddamned bosses to phase in, and they were all super easy. It's only a good idea now.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Casual vs Hardcore Guilds

There are no terms used to describe guilds more vague than 'casual' and 'hardcore'. Really, these are not two opposing categories, and guilds are not simply one or the other. It's a continuum, based on how aggressively a guild aims to progress. To the extent a guild's policies reflect a desire to down bosses quickly, get gear faster, and complete hard modes and their achievements, they're that much hardcore.

But there's more to it than that. It's not even a single standard; a guild might be very casual in one aspect, while be hardcore in another (I'm beginning to hate these terms, but I told myself I'd work with them, so soldier on). Think about all the different things a guild regulates: guild ranks, bank privileges, recruitment, raid comp, loot system, raid schedule, and on and on.

Let's imagine two guilds called, say, Hocturne and Honviction. Hocturne uses suicide kings for a loot system, raids 3 times a week, 3 hours at a time, and recruits mainly friends of members. Honviction recruits by application, raids 3 times a week 4 hours at a time, and use DKP. Is Honviction more hardcore? Maybe, but what if Hocturne frequently attempted hard modes, and raid comp was based on performance. While Honviction only does normal modes and raid comps based on gearing up people? That muddles the issue a great deal, doesn't it?

The point is, casual versus hardcore as labels only work when a guild is very, VERY casual or hardcore. Most guilds are not one or the other, and find some mix between the two that works for the memebers' skill and ambition. One might even say that the concessions necessary for raiding makes ANY raiding guild non-casual to an extent. At any rate, we need to be careful not to use these terms like there's some clear line between the two, or that there is something inherently wrong about 'hardcore' guild policies. It's just a question of what works for whom.

Of course, you can also talk about casual or hardcore players, but I'll leave that for another day.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Arthas is Stupid

Patch 3.3 will probably be around next week, so before we all march on Arthas' domain and nerd-rage over limited boss attempts, it behooves us all to look back on the lead up to ICC. In which, we learn that Arthas is stupid.

I admit, I was very excited when WotLK was announced; Deathwing and Sargaras aside, I could not imagine a more climactic or deadly final boss than the Lich King. I was further excited by announcements that Arthas won't hide behind the couch like Illidan. Well, to be fair, Illidan hid behind his massive fortress and army of demons, but whatever. So Arthas will be involved in leveling and dungeons, he'll get in my grill; OK, I can dig it.

Well, turns out, Arthas DOES hide behind his couch, aside for the occasional celebrity guest appearance, usually right before or after I faceroll some minion of his that was completely ineffectual. Oh, that works a few times; Sorrowgrave in UP was done right. I dug killing the Vry'kul much more; knowing that they were Arthas' minions was good enough to forge a connection. Tyrion punching him right in the childhood was priceless, if a little curious. Just saying, if Arthas doesn't open with that kill-everyone move in any dungeon he's in, he'll just look dumb.

The problem is not what Arthas does, but what he fails to do: succeed. Rarely is Arthas ever proactive; most of the time he's just hanging around as you unearth and systematically dismantle his allies and support network. Drakuru is a rare example of the LK actually doing something aggressive or expansionist, and it was cool until the end where he shows up to laser Failkuru and high-five you "4 teh lulz". What kind of ineffectual Saturday-morning trainwreck lets the architect of his failure in Zul'Drak live, cause it was hella funny? That's embarassing characterization, and there's no excuse.

Arthas needs to be threatening. In 3.3, they need to (but won't) have the LK gain ground in Icecrown, instead of just hiding behind his couch waiting patiently for raiders to rock his face. Perhaps he re-takes the Shadow Vault, and the Ebon Blade has to fall back. That'd shake up the status-quo (a rare, and consequently powerful move in an MMO), and make Arthas seem half-way competent. And Blizz needs to learn we don't need to see Arthas to feel his presence; he is a villain defined by his minions. Less is sometimes more, but in this case, Blizz will have to take some strong steps to re-establish Arthas as a threat now, when in the ENTIRE EXPANSION he's done nothing but fail. The first time I repelled the Lich King's machenations single-handedly, it was cool and exciting. The tenth time it was routine.

There's a disconnect here, between what Blizz tells us Arthas is, and what they show us he is. They say he's a terrifying badass with a nigh-unstoppable army. They show us an incompetent who never wins a battle and is constantly losing ground. For the climactic battle to work, we need to see the Arthas we've heard about, rather than the one we know.