Sooner than I had ever anticipated, the first few notes about Patch 4.1 trickled into the Community recently, giving us all a sneak preview of the work going on behind the curtain as we toil away in battlegrounds, instances, and worgen starting zones (not that I … uh … would ever go Alliance … *cough*). And regardless of your perspective on “re-used” content—which I would argue is “re-used” only in the way that your favorite sports team “re-uses” an arena every time they play in it—I’ll venture to say that most players had their interest slightly piqued by the information released. For me personally, it wasn’t so much a case of setting my wheels ‘a turnin, but rather giving my imagination the go-ahead to start dreaming about things to come. So today, I invite you to dream a bit with me (or maybe argue a bit with me, depending on your perspective), about what the near future of WoW might hold.
Tier 12 set bonuses with a little more flair
With the normalization of stats between offset pieces and tier items, gone are the days when a greater Int or Spirit allocation would keep you choosing a tier piece over a non-tier alternate. But with secondary stats now being the sole mark of distinction between tier and non-tier items, the motivation to take a tier piece with “bad” secondary stats has decreased. Combine this with lackluster bonuses, and the reward for a complete set of Flaming Mongoose Regalia doesn’t really hold the sway it once did.
More so, while I appreciate the even treatment that Tier 11 bonuses received, what I think was missing was a deeper exploration of the actual benefits afforded through those bonuses. For example: 5% crit to Lifebloom (something that I shoot for 100% uptime on) is not equitable to 5% crit to Healing Wave (a spell which I use very rarely in raids, if at all). Likewise, 540 Spirit to a Shaman (who has a 50% conversion factor to mp5) is much different than 540 Spirit to a Holy Priest (who has a 80% conversion factor to mp5).
So, when it comes to Tier 12, I’m hoping that designers, developers, and everyone else on their team take a page out of the Tier 10 handbook and look at set bonuses that actually integrate with and/or encourage a distinct class playstyle. For Resto Shaman in particular, how about something tied to Unleash Elements, which would highlight that shamans *should* be casting it on CD? Adding a small hot component to Earth Shield, so that ES uptime matters even more? Or maybe incorporating a splash effect on GHW, so that those Resto Shaman tank healers get in a little bit of AOE? With T12, I want my tier bonuses to matter, to be something I look forward to, and to be valuable to both the 10 and 25-man playstyles.
Resto Shaman CDs
Yes, I’ve been pining for them since the days of BC, but the blood in the water last month and then again last week, has had resto shaman and druids in an absolute feeding frenzy. I’ve actually not talked about my position on the whole “CD debate” very much, aside from notes here and there, so I thought I’d lay out some of my rationale. I’m of the opinion that Resto Shaman should be in line for the addition of two CDs to our arsenal:
- Burst CD – Think Tidal Force with better design, a burst cooldown would help give shamans some of the modulation that we need to balance out our very steady and predictable rotations. Although I would imagine that at some point, developers might have thought that the mini-CD nature of shaman healing (RT, UE, and HR are all limited by spell CDs) negated the need for higher-level tuning CDs, I think encounter design in Tier 11 has demonstrated that the interweaving of spells is more a baseline shaman practice than an effort of self-modulation. In fact, I think one of the biggest reasons that resto shaman complain about mobility isn’t because we secretly want to be druids and leap about while spamming instants, but rather because movement of any kind hits us doubly hard. Not only are our cast times much longer than other healers, but the last of a burst CD means that after we reach a stasis, we take all that much longer to catch up on the healing we couldn’t do while moving. (Yes, I actually put together a mini excel simulation to demonstrate the effects of movement on a typical resto shaman rotation.)
- Raid OR tank CD – Now I might be one of those rare healers who doesn’t believe that we need to implement the holy trinity of cooldowns to match healers’ holy trinity of single-target spells. And I’m certainly not going to climb onboard the “mitigation rules” bandwagon and argue that each class should be able to mitigate incoming damage, because quite frankly, it’s a moot argument in an environment where raid AOE will not kill players. (Not to mention that mitigation techniques like PW: Barrier are dependant on placement and subject to reduction through players’ resistances, meaning, shockingly, that PW:B oftentimes absorbs less than can be output through a single hymn or tranquility.) But what I will argue, and have been for quite some time, is that each healer does need a way of responding to “oh shyte” moments; a sort of last ditch effort to save the raid from faceplanting because, hey, that’s what our job is all about. Now, Spirit Link Totem is an attempt to bridge the gap that currently exists in the Resto Shaman arsenal, but in its current iteration, I’m not sure it’s the CD that shamans are looking for. (I’m wrapping up a post dedicated just to Spirit Link Totem, so expect to read more about this topic soon enough!)
A distinction between blues and epics, again
I’ve a feeling that this dream might be a little controversial, but in thinking about what Cataclysm paradigm shifts really had an impact on my raiding outlook (not my healing outlook, mind you) there was one that really stood out—the fact that when I started raiding I had 0 (ZERO!) epics on. The fun/chore of gearing up through heroics really made me think of the normal tier of raiding as progression, a stage of preparedness before our raid team high hard modes. Transitioning into a full set of epics was kind of … (for lack of a better word) … epic.
So, instead of Blizzard continuing to associate colors with blocks of ilvls, what I’d like to encourage them to do is to associate their color-coding with the difficulty level of obtaining the gear. Blues for items you obtain through dungeons, heroic dungeons, pure honor points, and mid-level crafting recipes—these items should be the ones that you pick up while you’re preparing to tackle the entry-level raids no matter the tier. Purple gear—Epics—would follow as a result of your progression into the first tier of your preferred content, be that PVE or PVP. Thus, each player would see a progression from their blue pre-raiding gear, to a set which is distinguished from their previous tier. And lastly, to compliment heroics and the higher levels of rated BGs and Arenas, introduce a new color of gear (yellow maybe?) to distinguish those players who are progressing into the hardest tier of content available. With armor sets already offering slight color variations for normal versus hard modes, associating a separate and distinct type of gear (how about “Elite”? “Peerless”?) would seem to be a logical step to make.
Personally, I think this would go a long way to carrying the original message of Cataclysm into the further tiers—high level tier gear isn’t free and it isn’t something that everyone can earn simply by farming valor points ad nausuem.
Variable difficulties for raid encounters
Although I’m not in agreement with Klepsacovic, who argues that raids need literal difficulty sliders, I don’t think that WoW can continue to exist in a world where encounters have such a black-or-white nature. The great thing about encounters like Sartharion, Freya, Iron Council, and Yogg is that the varying level of difficulties provided additional challenges for players willing to take them on. Not only that, but work previously invested in conquering an “easier” version of the encounter was incorporated into the subsequent “more difficult” modes. This incorporation of a previous learning curve afforded players the benefit of their time investment in learning the normal mode, while offering more difficult mechanics with less room for error.
So, for encounter design past 4.1, I’d like to see Blizzard explore and entice more of their player base with encounters with increasing levels of difficulty. The influx of players into raiding content has been good thus far, but my one concern is that guilds aren’t progressing into the harder content because of the significant increase in difficulty experienced going from, say, Heroic Halfus to Heroic Tron Council. Extending the variable difficulty model to these encounters, both Halfus and Tron could have been expanded to have “easier” variants which were more welcoming to players just coming off of a NM Nefarian kill.
As FH enters into the home stretch of progression, and as our raiding schedule lightens up, I can’t help but wonder what sort of precedent the beginning of Cataclysm has set, what type of an indicator it is for things to come. Tier 11 has been demanding unlike any tier before it, testing raiders to collaborate and endure through a variety of challenges. The stresses it has introduced have taken their toll on a number of guilds and players, contributing in part to the untimely demise of raiding giants Deus Vox and Cuties Only (*sigh*), among others. 3 months into content, and I can say one thing with certainty—this is looking to be one of the most protracted progression paths yet; this is the hard content the community was asking for. (Whether or not they knew what they were getting themselves into is a topic for another day).
And as Blizzard sets about their plan for smaller, bite-sized content patches, I will continue dreaming about all the goodies to come. SoonTM, as they say, can’t come soon enough.