The past couple of weeks have seen a tsunami of new Beta information flooding the front pages of sites like World of Raids and MMO-Champion. 31-point talents, Twitter chat, multiple beta builds, specializations, guild leveling perks, and blue posts have been flooding the interwebs, and I must admit, I’ve been eating it up. But aside from the class and spec changes that have taken center stage in the Beta news stream, I have a couple more observations and musings to offer you on the Beta experience to be had while leveling, doing dungeons, and healing (as well as some thoughts about how a Resto Shaman CD might be able to live on).
It’s with a red face that I’ll admit … I haven’t been as diligent with leveling as I imagined I would be when I first managed to wrangle an Alpha invite. With the distractions offered through Goblins, Worgen, my priest, flying in Old World (yes, I flew around almost every zone, I was so entranced with the new landscape), new instances (which sadly don’t award XP proportional to the number of times that you wipe) and my efforts on Live servers with 3 different raiding toons, poor Beta-Vixsin is only level 82, and slowly trudging her way onward to the new level cap. But, through all my involvement in Beta, both in the starting zones and post-80, I’ve had some surprising revelations about the Cataclysm leveling experience:
- Linear progression – Although this could change in the next patch or so, I’ve been surprised to discover that the new questlines implemented (both in new starting areas and 80+ zones) are surprisingly and refreshingly linear in nature, quickly moving you from one quest hub to the next. Quests, thus far at least, have been in direct proximity to their quest-giver, and gone are the days when a new hub had 15 quests for you to pick up all at once. In terms of a leveling experience, I can definitely say it’s an improvement; though on release night, I’m sure it will be a different story entirely!
- Clear Directives – Despite the fact that I’ve leveled a small army of characters to 80, there are still quests in the game that I have to read, re-read and tap into my rusty old memory to complete. Where was that item again? What special thing do I have to remember about this mob? Etc. But, through all my quest feedback in Beta, the one response that I’ve been giving quite often is that the quests are very easy to understand. Gone are the vague directions that oftentimes had me wandering around zones for upwards of 30 minutes, wondering who dropped the Chalice of Wonderful Stuffz that Joe Bob in Tanaris wanted. As an added bonus, quest hubs are nicely lumped together, with not much of the back and forth to the ends of the earth missions that we saw in the old world.
- Ima chargin my fireball – Shocking, mob health in the starting zones isn’t such that you’re left beating on them for hours in order to get a kill. As a n00b elemental shaman in a patchwork of ICC gear and tier, mobs are actually dying quite quickly, as in 2-3 hits, and named mobs fall over shortly after that. Although I’m not the masochist that Lodur is, (leveling as Resto …. the insanity!) having a second elemental spec and the gear to support it, is going a long way to getting me through the plethora of kill quests that populate various zones. And although Blizzard recently stated that mob health would be increased ~200%, I wouldn’t expect many of the starting zone mobs to pose any threat to your mana or HP.
Currently, there are 3 dungeons available to players to test—Throne of Tides (lvls 78 -83), Blackrock Caverns (lvls 78 – 83), and The Stonecore (lvls 81-85). All are available to players through the LFD tool, although upon my first wipe in Blackrock Caverns, I discovered why it might be a good idea for Blizzard to insist you visit the dungeon before being able to be ported there—if you wipe in an instance you’re never been to, it’s a little hard to find your body. There are also some additional things to keep in mind in these new instances:
- They aren’t designed to be LOL-AOE: My groups in all of these instances wiped repeatedly, horribly, and stupidly to a variety of effects which could have been avoided through CC, kill orders, interrupts, etc. While some groups took it in stride–this is the beta remember? things aren’t as fine-tuned as they would be on live–other groups stomped and fussed and name-called before dropping. And although I think there’s some tuning to be done before these dungeons go live, the point here is clear–don’t expect to breeze through them like you do ICC with a 30% buff.
- Brace yourself for a change: Although some tuning may be in order, it’s worth preparing yourself for it early–your uber levels of most stats will not be as inflated as they are today. While mana and health pools are larger, chances are you’ll see a shift in your stats and their respective values simply on the basis of normalization for level 85.
- Segmented boss fights: Of the dungeons that I’ve tested (and the bosses that have been available and unbuggy), I don’t think I’ve come across one straight tank-and-spank encounter. And while we’re not talking a mirror of the level of complexity that’s found in the LK fight, each boss requires a bit more participation than spamming “2″.
An amazing, astounding, and generally wonderful change went into Beta with the last patch—a fabulous new party UI. Although it seems a bit disjointed from the raw UI we all love to hate, with its sleek party layout a la Grid or Vudho, I’m delighted to have something significantly more informative and visual to work with. As with most raid frame mods, names are displayed within party frames, along with a “power” bar at the bottom, displaying the characters’ rage, runic power, mana, energy or focus. Buff and debuffs appear on a middle row, although it quickly becomes overwhelmed. (And much like the Doodad door in Naxx, I’m hoping Blizzard chooses to leave in the very appropriate tag they’ve assigned to these “New Frames”. Heh)
Save the Resto Shaman CD!
I wouldn’t be a Resto Shaman if I didn’t bring it up—the recent Twitter mention about our beloved Spirit Link has been the subject of more than one mini-rant for me over the past couple of days. For those of you hiding under a rock:
Q. Will Spirit Link make a return after all? Ghostcrawler mentioned he’d like to bring it back, but no sighting of it yet.
A. Anything’s possible, but at this point it isn’t looking good for our beloved talent…. If we changed it to be an absorb or a different sort of mechanic, then it wouldn’t be the iconic Spirit Link that we all remember from Warcraft III. But that core damage-sharing mechanic poses major design and balance challenges (e.g. does a rogue really want to start taking damage suddenly because the shaman in his group decided to link him to the tank?).
So while I’m very disappointed that I’ve once again fallen for the old Spirit Link bait-and-switch, I don’t think that Blizzard needs to scrap the idea entirely. As everyone agreed during the Shaman Roundtable, a CD would be a godsend for Restos, filling a gaping hole in our repertoire and giving us value (beyond mana tide) in hardmodes and progression encounters. Thinking about it on a recent drive into work, I came up with a couple alternates that might just fit the bill:
- Force of Nature – You call upon the elements to empower your Earth Shield with the forces of nature. While empowered, your ES increases the target’s armor by X% and resistances by #Y. 15sec duration, 5 min CD. When the forces of nature fade, the Shaman’s ES is consumed.
- Infusion of the Eternals – You call upon the ancestral spirits to infuse your target, increasing the target’s health by XX% and increasing healing taken by XX%. 15sec, 3 min CD.
- Ancient Protector’s Bond – You summon an ancient stone protector to aid the target. Damage incurred by the target over the next 15sec is split between the target and the protector. As his last act, after 10sec, 40% of the stone guardian’s remaining HP is transferred to the target. (The stone guardian would have ~60k HP, and take maybe 150% direct damage so he wouldn’t be incredibly hard to kill in PVP.)
To End with an Anecdote …
One of the things that I enjoyed doing while I was growing up, and still enjoy doing to this very day, is standing in a new home or building, where only the framing is in place, breathing in the smells of construction (wood, steel, earth, concrete), and imagining all of the potential of the space before it gets filled in with people and stuff. There’s a sort of zen feeling you get, combined with excitement and anticipation, like the feeling that comes with being a child with a box of crayons at your side and a line drawing in front of you. Sappy as it may seem, I can think of no better way to describe the feeling I get when I log onto WoW’s beta realm. Cataclysm, as it exists on those servers, is a world in flux (both lore-wise and quite literally). It is a world where the framework exists, but all of the nooks and crannies haven’t quite been filled in. And as stunning as it may be when it’s completed (and believe you me, the environments are breathtaking), I can’t say I won’t be slightly disappointed to lose that space where I can close my eyes and dream.