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The End Begins Now…

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been a year since Cataclysm was first released.  There’s been a lot that has happened – good things, bad things, and things in between that people really aren’t sure about.  The expansion on a whole seems to be controversial in the fact that some believe it’s been a big success, while others believe it’s been a failure.  I personally think that it’s an experiment that was partially successful, but that’s for another time.

As of November 29th, the beginning of the end of Cataclysm is upon is.

Blizzard has said that this will be the last full content patch for the expansion, and that this will basically be the end for updates before Mists of Pandaria comes out.  This could be taken two ways: the optimistic way, thinking that we’ll be seeing MoP sooner rather than later and won’t have to do this content forever; or the pessimistic way, thinking that we’ll be doing the exact same content for a year, as we did with Icecrown Citadel at the end of Wrath of the Lich King (Ruby Sanctum doesn’t count).

Unfortunately I don’t work for Blizzard, and I don’t know when they hope to release MoP.  Like everyone else, I’d rather see it sooner rather than later, but we know that it will be done when it’s done.  However, all that being said, I’d like to take the optimistic view.

The 4.3 content patch has a lot in it.  Not only do we get the new raid on Deathwing, but there are three new 5-man dungeons, a revamped Darkmoon Faire, Transmogrification, Void Storage, the Raid Finder, a bunch of new items from the raids and other content, and a whole bunch of balance changes.  It would take too long to go through each one, so I’ll suggest you check out WoW Insider’s guide to Patch 4.3 to get the details about many of the new features.

Briefly, I’m very happy with Transmogrification.  The interface is incredibly easy to use, and I finally am rewarded for being such a packrat for all these years.  I was able to have one of my favourite looks of the Tier 5 shoulders and Wildfury Greatstaff for my Druid, which really makes me happy and nostalgic.

Void Storage is nice, but unfortunately a bit too restrictive.  I have a lot of stuff in my bank from the many holidays that have come around, and I was hoping to empty a bunch out to free up some room.  The biggest thing is that items labelled “unique” or items not soulbound cannot be deposited to VS.  Many tabards, as well as other holiday things are all unique, and some of the holiday items like the Brewfest and Winter Veil gear are not soulbound, but I wanted to keep them nonetheless.  So I deposited what I could, and at least freed up some room.

The Raid Finder has been one of the things I’ve been looking forward to most.  As I’ve mentioned before, my schedule is very weird for when I can raid, so now I can raid whenever I want – as long as there’s enough other people queuing as well.  I was able to get into a group, and successfully get the four bosses currently available with little drama.  We only wiped twice, and there were people taking charge of the raid to get things done.

We also got Tyrael’s Charger.  It’s pretty.

All in all, there’s some great new content that everyone can enjoy no matter what you do.  Raider, casual player, leveling player, there’s something for everyone.  As I experience more of the new content, I’ll post my thoughts about some of them.  In the meantime, happy exploring!

Mists of Pandaria Talents and Specs – DON’T PANIC

The words “DON’T PANIC” are inscribed in large, friendly letters on the front of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

When something new comes, there’s only a few different ways that people can react. If the new thing looks appealing and pleasing to the person, there’s a sense of excitement and anticipation. If the new thing doesn’t hold any interest to the person, there’s a bunch of apathy and boredem. If the new thing looks not good at all to the person, there’s a sense of doom, dread, and panic.

Something new came this week.

Earlier in the week, Blizzard released an early look at the Mists of Pandaria talent and spec calculator. It shows every class, what their new talent tree will look like, and more importantly what the different specs will look like come patch 5.0 and the release of the new expansion.

If you missed it, at BlizzCon it was revealed that talent specs are changing with MoP. Rather than just adding to a specific arsenal of abilities that every class has, each spec will become even more specialized. As an example, only Fire mages will have Fireball and only Frost mages will have Frostbolt, but every mage will have Frostfire bolt.

Between BlizzCon and now, there has been a bunch of speculation about how much each class would change. With the new calculator, it’s shown that every class will be changing, but each class has differing amount of change. The pure DPS classes seem to be having less change than the hybrids, which seems to give the impression that Blizzard wants the spec to do one thing and one thing only – which is what they spec into.

The big disclaimer that has been stated is that this is a “pre-alpha” build, meaning that the information given can and more than likely will change between now and release. Bashiok said that they are giving this information out because they want to get feedback from the players and see what can be improved or tweaked. If you decide to leave a note for Blizzard, just please remember the most important thing (and Wheaton’s Law): Don’t Be A Dick.

Since my main is a Feral DPS Druid, I thought I’d give my impressions about that class.

One big change to Druids is one that all hybrids who can do any sort of healing are experiencing. If you’re not specced into the healing tree, there will be very limited choice for what healing abilities will be present. Rather than having Healing Touch, Regrowth, Nourish, Rejuvenation, and Lifebloom – it’s down to Nourish and Rejuvenation that are baseline. All of the other spells will be available at certain levels if you spec into Resto.

On the other hand, the times when a Bear could do decent DPS while not tanking are long gone. Druids are having the distinction of being the only class that will now have four specs: Balance (Moonkin), Restoration (Tree), Feral (Cat), and Guardian (Bear). If you want to be a bear, you’re a tank and a tank only. Even though this is definitely a loss for Druids, it is bringing us in line with the other classes that are out there. A Protection Warrior isn’t able to do good DPS while still in spec, why should a Bear be able to shift to Cat and do well?

That was definitely one of the benefits of being a Druid in the first place, and we’ll still have a limited capacity for it with the level 90 talent of Heart of the Wild (there are some bloggers out there who think that it will not be very useful at all – which I’m inclined to agree with). However, Druid specs will most definitely be very specialized.

The biggest news that I’ve seen so far is the new level 87 ability called Symbiosis. The text reads: “Creates a symbiotic link which grants the druid one ability belonging to the target’s class, varying by the druid’s specialization. In exchange, grants the target one druid ability based on their class and combat role. Lasts 1 hour and persists through death.”

On first glance, this looks absolutely amazing. Of course, this likely means that it won’t be as amazing as we hope it will be. Lissanna at Restokin gave a really good writeup about how she thinks it will work, and I think she has the right idea. It will probably take a specific ability from each class, rather than taking a random one, and since it will last an hour and persists through death it shouldn’t be left up to chance. Unfortunately, this won’t be able to be properly tested until the beta comes out, so until then we’ll be left with speculation (unless Blizzard decides to give us details about how it exactly works… /wink).

As with expansions in the past, we just have to get used to the “new normal”.  There are things we may not like, but at the moment they’re not set in stone.  If this is how things look when MoP is launched, then there might be some other words being used at the time.

I think that things are going in the right track, but will definitely need some tweaking.  While we see the specs make the player focus on a specific role, there are then talents which encourage us to do other roles… but we won’t have as many tools to do said roles.  It just doesn’t make much sense to me now.  We’ll see how things go as time progresses – just remember, the game isn’t even close to being out yet.

Memories of Azeroth: Naxxramas

Lately I’ve had difficulty having inspiration for a new post, and have been thinking about what to post about. Patch 4.2 has just recently dropped, but sites such as WoW Insider have much more comprehensive coverage of things in there than I could ever give. However, one thing that I can give is where I’ve come from through my time in WoW. Let’s take a trip with the way-back machine to Wrath of the Lich King and look back at Naxxramas.

Courtesy WoW College

Naxx was one of the entry raids of WotLK, the other being Malygos in the Eye of Eternity. It was originally a 40-man raid at the end of Vanilla, but the difficulty level and attunement process was quite high at the time. Very few people were able to experience it, even through Burning Crusade. Thus Blizzard decided to bring it back in Wrath, along with updated items and tier armours.

This tier of raiding was the first time people got to experience having the choice between 10 and 25-man groups of the same instance. They were on separate lockouts, so if someone had enough time they could do both versions of the raid to get gear faster. Personally I felt it was better suited for 25-man raiding, as it is such a very large instance, and it feels even larger when there aren’t as many people. The size of the instance and rooms were not changed from the original 40-man raid, so that probably has a bit to do with it.

There were four wings, each with a boss at the end that needed to be defeated before moving on to Sapphiron and Kel’Thuzad (originally – later through Wrath it was possible to skip the wings and go directly to them). The four quarters were: Military (or Death Knight), Plague, Spider, and Construct. Each wing was themed with similar trash mobs and bosses, with each having their own little special thing.

Back in Vanilla, Patchwerk was the DPS check for the instance. If the raid DPS was high enough to kill Patchwerk before he enrages, the group is probably ready to do the rest of the instance. Fortunately with Naxx being the first raid of the expansion, it was a little more forgiving.

I never had the chance to do it in Vanilla, but I have heard that the entire instance retains much of the original feel. Fights like Loatheb are still very difficult due to the very big mechanic of not being able to heal except for a few brief seconds every minute. Heigan still requires the entire raid to dance between the flames. Kel’Thuzad is still a royal pain if you’re melee-heavy with the ice blocks.

Altogether it wasn’t a bad instance, and I certainly enjoyed the time we had through it. There were certainly things that could have been improved, however. Standing out to me was the Instructor Razuvious fight in 25-man mode. It was a requirement for there to be two priests in the raid, as there are two adds that need to be mind controlled for the fight to tank the boss. In 10-man mode, there were crystals that were used for this reason so anyone could do it. Even though there are 25 people in a raid, there were a few times our guild couldn’t do that quarter because we didn’t have enough priests.

There were a LOT of bosses. 16 altogether (I’m counting the Four Horsemen as one boss), and while that allowed a lot of loot to be given out, it also made for a lot of time in one zone looking at the same stuff over and over again. I’m all for a lot of content, but sometimes there’s a bit too much.

Class tier item sets dropped were re-skinned Tier 3, updated for Wrath. Some of my favourite tier sets are in tiers 3 and 7, so I was quite happy when I got my sets. Along with it were some very interesting looking weapons, including Journey’s End and Origin of Nightmares (guess what spec I was during that time). Unfortunately, as much as feral Druids loved these two items we suffered the usual pains of not being able to see them while in combat.

This instance was a very good raid to start off the expansion with. It was perfect for Wrath’s lore, and had a variety of fights that people had to adapt to very quickly. Thaddius and the positive/negative gimmick was always a lot of fun and very frustrating at the same time.

If you ask me, that’s what raiding is supposed to be like – have fun while ripping your hair out. Good times.

Screenshot of the (mid) Week – July 13

I am having a complete mental and creative block. I’ve been trying to think of a topic to write about, but I’ve had no inspiration lately.  Therefore, we get a mid-week screenshot!

Click for full size

My very first night of working on Al’Akir – as expected, we wiped a lot.  This was before 4.2, so there were no nerfs and we were trying to get him down properly.  Unfortunately it never worked out, but at least I got a neat perspective of the area while flying back indefinitely.

Memorable Quests

The Cataclysm wrought huge changes to the face of Azeroth, as well as what the inhabitants are doing. For the first time in six years, the story progressed forward and we see new things that are happening across the whole world. Mankrik isn’t just wallowing in Crossroads anymore, he’s plotting his revenge at the Grol’dom Farm (and other places later on). Along with him, there’s plenty of new things to experience.

Right now I’m leveling up a new hunter, and have just recently gone through part of Badlands and got to experience one of the best quests in the game so far. It made me think of some of the best quests and quest lines through the game so far, and why I’ve enjoyed them.

Welcome To The Machine

This is a quest at the border of Silverpine Forest and Hillsbrad Foothills, where you get to do something never thought of before: become a quest giver. Rather than just moving through the quest hubs, collecting the quests and moving on, you get to see the story from the other side.

Three characters come by, and you get to see the different stereotypes of questers that are out there. It also sets the stage for part of the zone, as you get to meet up with two of the characters later on, who play a major part of questing areas.

I enjoyed this quest as it’s almost breaking the fourth wall, and gives the character an idea of what it’s like to sit around all day and hand out quests. Very entertaining, and makes you think a bit.

The Day Deathwing Came

If you’ve ever seen the TV show “How I Met Your Mother”, this is similar to it. In the show the main character is telling his kids a long story about how he eventually met their mother, and at times he tries to censor himself or what they were doing, so the story is embellished or changed. For example, in college they loved “sandwiches”, and not something else which isn’t completely legal.

This quest line is made up of three quests from three NPCs sitting around in the Badlands and saying what “happened” the day that Deathwing came through and messed things up. You get to live out each of the stories, ranging from punching Deathwing in the face to having a flying motorcycle.

Once again, it’s just very entertaining and funny seeing Blizzard’s imagination at work. I can totally see three people hanging out saying how things happened, and that it was THEIR version that was the truth.

Waptor Twapping

Looney Tunes meets World of Warcraft. Elmer Fudd has been reincarnated in the NPC Kala’ma in Northern Barrens, just north of Ratchet. He is upset that the “waptors” have stolen all his stuff, and wants you to “twap” them. All of his dialogue is along this style of Elmer Fudd or the priest from The Princess Bride.

Blizzard puts thought into even these small quests, as the action that you take is “twapping waptor”. It’s things like this that show the amount work that goes into quest design, and I sure appreciate it.

These are but three quests out of many thousand that are in the game, and were just off the top of my head.  There are many memorable ones out there, but these were ones that I thought were fun and entertaining.  Feel free to add your favourite quests in the comments.

Screenshot of the Week – July 2

Happy Canada Day!

Click for full size

While many people are exploring the new areas that have been opened up with patch 4.2, I thought it would be nice to take a look at the old world again.  I was flying to Hillsbrad Foothills to help my wife with some quests, when I saw this angle of the Dalaran Crater.  Seeing this dome where there once was a city is a really neat spectacle.

Protagonist Development

I don’t envy Blizzard’s creative development department. Not one bit. I do, however, have a huge amount of respect for Chris Metzen and his crew of awesomeness, as they have an extremely hard job – keeping things straight, and making the lore of the game make sense.

To begin with, creating anything new and original is really difficult. While the human/elf/dwarf/etc universe was not created by Blizzard, they took something that people could recognize and put their own spin on it. A few examples of their original thinking: dragons being the protectors of the world and having dominion over a certain part of it; the Emerald Dream concept, having a complete copy of the unadultered world exist in dream form; the Titans, Sargeras, and the Burning Legion.

Along with this is taking the characters that are created and making them believable. Nobody likes the perfect character who has absolutely no faults (/cough Rhonin and his raptor army), because there’s not a human in real life who is perfect. Take any good novel or movie and see the characters that people relate to the most, and look at who wrote their stories. It’s those people who you want to thank.

When a protagonist is established, it must be incredibly hard to balance the good and bad. They may have some great things about them, but there can’t be any downsides – once again, that are believable. Something simple such as being clumsy isn’t a character flaw, it’s a fact of life. Not trusting anyone because you were sold into slavery as a child is a character flaw, as it’s a huge obstacle that that person must overcome.

There will be spoilers for the Elemental Bonds questline of 4.2 following.

There are a number of major characters in World of Warcraft, built up over the years by the games or novels. Currently in Cataclysm, and particularly in a certain quest line in 4.2, Thrall is undoubtedly at the middle of everything. The leader of the Earthen Ring and the most powerful Shaman on Azeroth is a big thing to balance out as a believable character.

The quest line that I mentioned starts just outside of Nordrassil (after breadcrumbs from either capital) with a convocation of the four remaining Dragon Aspects, the Archdruids, and the leaders of the Earthen Ring (including Thrall and Aggra). Mending the World Tree in Hyjal was the plan, but unfortunately a certain fallen Archdruid had other plans from his “master”. Fandral explains that his master has sensed that Thrall is the single biggest threat to his master’s plans, and he needs to be taken care of.

Rather than simply killing Thrall, Fandral splits the shaman’s spirit into the four elements and sends them to the four elemental planes of the Skywall, Abyssal Maw, Deepholm, and Firelands. The Aspects seem unable to help him, so Aggra decides to take matters into her own hands and task the player to go with her and help restore him to one piece.

This is when we see the different sides of Thrall, and the emotions that he has been trying to keep together for years. Doubt, desire, patience, and fury are all expressed during the different parts. There have been times where he has shown certain parts of this through the game, but never have they been out of control. The elemental planes have enhanced these senses, so you and Aggra have to restore him to as close to normal as possible.

There have been some good conversations on Twitter that I’ve seen, mainly between WoW Insider staffers, arguing about what this quest line does. Does it establish Thrall as more of a fleshed out character, or does it make Aggra a major character with Thrall as the sidekick?

Personally, my thought is that it’s a bit of both. Thrall is given more depth as a character, but the problem that I see is the fact that he’s being set up as an uber-character, and very close to the Mary Sue problem of Rhonin. He’s going through this whole ordeal to basically “cure” his major character flaws – the fact that he has had the problem of controlling his emotions. After this, what else is there to make him realistic?

I have really enjoyed the progression of Aggra’s character. She was annoying at first in The Shattering novel by Christie Golden, but by the end of the book I had grown to like her. After having a small role in the Lost Isles part of the Goblin starting experience, we don’t see her again until she ferries the character into Deepholm. This quest line makes her much more believable and has more of a personality, especially during the Deepholm parts where she gets mad at Thrall for being so stubborn.

Nothing will be perfectly written. In all of the stories written, people can nitpick parts of a character for parts that they don’t like. However, getting as realistic as possible is the ideal dream of an author. With these characters being in a persistent world that is constantly being written, there’s more of a chance for them to have more development in the future.

My concluding thoughts is that the characters are written well, but I believe that Aggra shines more than Thrall in this part. I really like both characters, and having most of my history being a Horde player I’ve had a man-crush on Thrall at times for being awesome. It will be interesting to see how Mr. Metzen and the creative development team takes the story forward.

Out of the Frying Pan (Patch 4.2)

It’s not just any Tuesday today. Maestro, please begin the ominous music.

Today is when patch 4.2 hits North American/Oceanic realms for World of Warcraft. It’s been just over six months since Cataclysm was released, and our first major content patch with new and exciting things to do. We technically have had a content patch already, but redoing two existing instances takes a lot less work than a whole new raid and daily quest hub.

To say that there are a lot of changes is quite the understatement. I will be referencing links from WoW Insider throughout, and the best place to get a run down of the major changes is their guide to patch 4.2.

The major points of the patch are the inclusion of the Firelands raid and the Molten Front daily quest hub. Ultimately defeating Ragnaros once and for all, the raid also includes the chance to get a new DPS caster legendary staff. Similar to the Isle of Quel’Danas, the Molten Front area is a daily quest area that advances along with personal progression (I touched on this on a previous article).

For the first time with a patch, we actually have explanations for the class balance changes that came along with it. Ghostcrawler took every single change and said why they made them in point form. Rather than just saying “here you go, deal with it”, we at least have an idea of the philosophy the developers use when making their decisions. There are a great number of changes, best to take a look at which ones apply to your own class(es).

Another great change is the Dungeon Journal, which includes a version of AtlasLoot. Once again we see Blizzard taking addons that they like and feel should be part of the default UI and incorporating them. The Journal has information all the fights of Cataclysm content (will be expanded for the rest of the game eventually, I’m sure), along with abilities that the bosses use and gear that can drop. Currently there is the gear information on the Battle.net website, but this is a great way so people don’t have to use a third-party addon or alt-tab to find out what drops from a certain boss.

Lastly, one of my favourite things about 4.2 is the inclusion of a great cosmetic change. Since I’m back to being feral DPS, I can be a flaming kitty! I believe that it only requires the person to have the staff that drops from Fandral, and whenever you’re in cat form you become a cat… on fire. Dragonwrath turns the caster into a dragon with a proc, but it looks like this is a passive cosmetic change.

I hope that this opens the door for more cosmetic changes down the road, as we really need them – especially for druids. We have great gear, but in combat we’re in the shapeshift forms and are unable to see the great looks. The community has been asking for changes such as this for years, so hopefully we’ll see more down the road.

New content is awesome. I know I’ve been getting impatient, as this six month period since Cataclysm released seems to have gone by very slowly. Hopefully I’ll be able to raid the new place, for the main reason of becoming a flaming kitty. Otherwise, at least I’ll have the new daily quest area to keep me busy for a while.

Premium Dungeon Finder

Today there was some news released about something Blizzard is working on that will be quite game changing.  No, it’s not the dance studio.  A “premium” service which will allow someone to use the Random Dungeon Finder (LFD) tool to group with friends on Real ID.

At first glance, I think this is an excellent idea.  With WoW being so big across so many servers, there are people who want to group together but don’t want to take the time or money to level an alt on another realm or transfer a character over.  By being able to bypass the tedius or expensive effort that these entail, it will allow friends to do dungeons together and have fun much easier.

The biggest thing that will cause most people to call foul is the fact that it’s a premium service, which is an extra fee on top of the monthly fee we already pay.  To be honest, that was the first thing that caught my attention as well, but I’m going to wait for all the information.  We don’t know any pricing or how exactly it is going to work, apart from the fact that only one person needs to have the service – that being the person initiating the group.

If this feature will be included in the current premium package which allows remote auction house and remote guild chat and keeping the price the same, I can see a fair amout of people using this.  I could even see myself possibly signing up for this feature.

One big question I know a lot of people will have is whether this will support cross-faction groups along with cross-realm.  Many of my friends are not only scattered across different servers, but between the Horde and Alliance.  As much as the Alliance are scum (as far as my characters think), I’d like to group up with the people behind them.  To me, I think this will be the selling point: if I’m able to do cross-faction groups, I’ll pretty much be sold.

Since this is still very early in the cycle of the feature, we’ll definitely be given more information later on.  I’ll be very curious to see what the final version of this product will be.

Personal Accomplishments

In a persistent world like a MMO, sometimes it’s hard for an individual to see what kind of difference they make in the grand scheme of things. Sure, through the years you have done a bunch of neat things like behead Nefarian a number of times (yet he’s still back, head intact), kill Illidan the Betrayer, and Arthas the Lich King – the grand poobah of evil. But, what did your character exactly accomplish?

Canonically, Tirion killed Arthas with help from a group of adventurers. Maiev and Akama killed Illidan with help from a group of adventurers. Nefarian is somehow alive and ready to be killed again. While your character does help these people out, so does everyone else who has completed these raid encounters. It almost gives a feeling of apathy, since people do like to see their accomplishments and feel proud about them.

I believe that this is one reason why the Achievement system was implemented. I’m sure that Blizzard saw the success of the idea on Xbox Live and Steam, and thought that it would be a great way for people to become more personally invested in the game. Whereas before it was there, why would anyone want to do something out of the ordinary like kill 20 turkeys in under a minute?

With achievements, people know what your character has accomplished. My druid can say he’s killed Arthas, plus he has the achievement to back up that claim. Along with the claims of demise of various raid bosses, it also allows rewards for doing things out of the ordinary – the basis of every tier of raiding having a mount reward. Why in the world would you try to defeat Yogg-Saron with only one of the watchers helping unless there was something in it for you?

From MMO-Champion

In 4.2, there will be a new personal progress in the new Firelands daily quest area. Similar to the Isle of Quel’danas, by doing a number of daily quests and completing goals set out for you, the player will see personalized progress of the area being healed from Ragnaros’ invasion. This is the epitome of making the work your character does over a long period of time actually count towards something. You may be the only one able to see it, but that’s not a bad thing.

This is truly personal progression. With Quel’Danas (and to an extent, the preparations for the opening of Ahn’Qiraj), it was server-based and once again your personal contributions could be seen as not being too much. One person who is just starting will see a seed being planted for a tree, someone who has completed everything will see a massive tree and the area starting to be healed.

Along with this, there is a tremendous amount of single-player content that will keep people busy for a long time. Over 60 daily quests will be available in a random pool, I’m assuming similar to Tol Barad, which will give certain quests per day. At the completion of the area, a new flying mount will be available – the Flameward Hippogryph. Basically, this is like the Argent Tournament but a whole lot better and giving better rewards.

Apart from the nerfs to Boomkins, I’m quite looking forward to 4.2. I’m very happy that Blizzard is giving us so much information so shortly after the release of 4.1.

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