This year marked my second visit to Blizzard Entertainment’s hat tip to its fans and community, and as seems to be the case for most attendees, it was an experience not to be forgotten. Unlike last year’s more low-key version, 2011’s Blizzcon (at least Day 1) was absolutely packed with announcements and news, from the preview of the upcoming expansion, to class changes, balancing discussions, and some of the most epic SC2 gameplay I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. The parties were a delight (even though I didn’t spend all that long at any of them), and Vixsin-rage was even put on display to the poor lads who decided to park themselves in the hallway outside of my suite at around 3am on Sunday morning. In all, it was a good time and well worth the trip out to CA.
But, there was more to Blizzcon than simply a good time—there was an absolute mass of information that I’m looking forward to weighing in on. So here goes!
New talent trees
I’m planning on discussing each of the new proposed (key word there folks—“proposed”) shaman talents in a separate post, but from a strictly off-the-cuff standpoint, I really do like the concept of defining talents as a function of class instead of spec. I think it will put greater weight on the designers to make sure that the spec doesn’t feel too bulky as a result and that spec-buffed spells (like Healing Rain for example) retain the same balance they had before. That being said, the thought of getting a few more personal CD’s added to my arsenal made me positively giddy.
Dungeon challenge modes
I’m a little torn on this one; while the elitist in me cheers, the healer and partial hermit in me cringe at the idea of timed dungeon runs because I know it means one thing above all else—a crapton of stress on the healer. With the proposed gear level normalization that will accompany dungeon challenge modes, I know that healers will be bearing the brunt of a chain pull AOE mentality. Yes, a portion of your success will be based on the skill of the players in the run, but I also remember what it was like to heal at the start of each expansion, when gear levels were normalized by virtue of the fact that everyone had just hit level cap, and I remember that certain healing classes (like those with cheap heals) had it much easier than others. Given that Resto Shaman are one of the classes plagued by regen issues, especially at lower gear levels where Resurgence procs suffer for lack of Crit, I’m skeptical that all classes will be able to achieve the same level of performance.
But, that’s not to say that I don’t like the idea motivating the implementation of challenge modes—I think it would be a great addition to end game to have something other than raiding and PVP. But, I think that the hook should be something other than simply speed. I’d much prefer challenge modes that functioned like some of the achievements gone by, where the group was asked to do something that demonstrated skill and coordination versus the ability to chain pull and AOE. Yes, it would require that developers create custom challenges for each dungeon, but I think that would be far more engaging than a race to the finish.
The SO and I were able to get our 15 minutes of frantic playtime in, and overall I can say two things. The first of which is that not having auto attack is something I had to get used to. A creature of habit, when melee attacking mobs my first move is always to right-click on them. And with the Monk, that right-click meant … I watched the mob walk right on past me as I stood there bouncing at it. Further, as was mentioned in one of the Q&A panels, it does feel slightly awkward if you have to wait for an ability to come off CD or to have enough energy to kill a mob with 1 HP left.
The second thing that I think it worth mentioning about the Monk is that the class is going to be (at least in its current iteration) insanely mobile. The Roll ability (which does cost Chi) is an incarnation of Mage’s Blink, without any CD. So, if you have enough energy/Chi, you can effectively Blink 3 times in a row, at maybe 10-15 yards per roll.
Now, because playtime and testing were limited at Blizzcon, I wasn’t able to check out the healing functionality of Monks, but from what I understood from listening to the discussion, Monks are intended to be a melee healing class that passively heals based on the attacks that they do. Instead of operating like other healers and targeting specific players, Monk healing will be based on proximity effects (either the Monk himself or his statues around the raid).
As a concept it seems interesting, and no doubt I’ll be one of the many rolling a Monk when MoP is launched, but I remain heavily concerned about the balance implications of adding another potential healing type to a raid role that already has 5 options for healing roster that ranges from 5-7 per fight. Playing a healer shouldn’t feel like a crap shot, where you hope you’ll be the flavor of the month with each patch that comes along, but with the Monk and the 6th healer it adds, on 4-healer fights I know the feeling will be exactly that.
Upcoming raid content
Although it’s been quite a while since we had a set of raid instances not motivated by a big baddie (think Vanilla, folks!), I do think that the approach to Mists of Pandaria will be a nice change of pace from being taunted by one not-as-big-as-I-expected antagonist for a period of two years. With Mists slated to be released with 3 raid instances to start, it looks like we’ll see an intro to raiding that is much like the start of Cataclysm. And with potentially 8 heroic dungeons (6 Mists dungeons + HM-only Scholo and Scarlet Monastery) also on the menu for launch, I think we’ll have lots to do after we make the journey to level 90.
But what I wonder about when I was thinking about the raid content to come, and what was asked about by several people during the Q&A panels, is—what happens after that point? Cataclysm, and presumably Mists, start out with an explosion of content, offering so many choices to those players interested in PVE content. But what I think has disappointed raiders in Cataclysm is that same level of selection wasn’t maintained through the course of the expansion. In Cataclysm, we had: 3 instances, with 13 hard mode bosses, was followed by 1 instance with 7 hard mode bosses, and closing with another single instance containing 7 bosses. And despite the fact that new zone content was released in between those major PVE patches, I think most players were left with a feeling of ennui after the big Tier 11 push.
The other thing that I’m hoping for with the upcoming raid content in both Cataclysm and Mists, is that with the introduction of Looking for Raid, Blizzard will be encouraged to maintain more strict distinctions between the 3 raiding difficulty levels. As I said back during Rawrcast, I think with WoW’s incredibly diverse player base, multiple tiers of raiding makes sense. And as evidenced by some of the responses during the Raid Q&A, Blizzard’s developers are motivated to enable everyone to see the content that they’ve created. A LFR raiding level satisfies this basic need, but I do hope it also means that the heroic mode content can remain as such, because I think the exclusivity it offers, and yes, the elitistism it perpetuates, are things that actually benefit the raiding community and keep us engaged in participating in the raiding “dance”.
I admit, I was definitely one of those people in the Blizzcon audience who got all atwitter when Ghoscrawler himself mentioned that Warlocks, Druids, and *Shamans* (GASP) had some very definite changes in store in 5.0. And when he went on to explain that the devs wanted Shaman totems to matter again, all I could think of was … they did read the feedback threads! In fact, at almost every point when shamans were discussed over the 2-day conference, I found myself thinking that very same thought.
Although I do think that the devs have a ways to go to bring shaman up to snuff in 5.0, sitting there listening to GC talk was actually the first time in a long while that I felt like the shaman community had, at least, been heard. I personally managed to make it 60 pages into the Shaman feedback thread (yes, I read through almost the entire bloody thing), and by and large the same issues seemed to crop up from every spec—in short: totems, survivability, CDs, rotations. And though they’ve yet to address the last item on that list, I can’t underscore enough how heartening it was to see some demonstration that our feedback was actually valuable (or at least aligned with what Blizzard had already identified as issues with the class).
The assorted miscellany
There were also a ton of other mini-announcements and news snippets that were released over those two very short days, which I also wanted to touch on briefly.
- Druids will finally have 4 specs. Yay!
- Non-combat pets go Pokemon. I sincerely hope this goes the way of Path of the Titans. I can tell you at least that the reaction from the Blizzcon crowd to this announcement was tepid at best, and mocking at worst. There were actually people laughing and jeering during the entire “Pet Combat System” discussion.
- No melee weapons for hunters? About time.
- Casters can finally MH wield wands. Sweet!
- Enhance shaman are like frost mages? Uhh … really? Simply because they play a hybrid with a ranged and melee option? (The only other class to have this option are druids).
- World raid bosses. Ugh, the potential for ganking and harassment is so high with world bosses, they oftentimes quickly become more pain than they’re worth.
- Account-wide achievements. I think this change will encourage players to think of their characters as a stable of toons, so instead of having a “main” and an “alt”, players will have a team to choose from. Personally, I’m torn if this is a good or a bad thing, because although I appreciate the fact that my scrub toons might now be able to attest to having killed HM Rag, I do think there’s value in making the distinction that I killed or did something on a particular toon or in a particular capacity.
Next year’s panels?
With all the big news and release information let loose on Day 1, I found the Day 2 events to be a little bit underwhelming (except for, of course, the amazing SC2 play!) So while we were sitting in the Main Hall listening to the umpteenth hunter question during open Q&A, the SO and I chatted about panels that we’d like to see at next year’s Blizzcon:
- The Cutting-Room floor: ideas and concepts that didn’t quite make it. I’d love to hear more about some of the things that Blizzard vetted for the game and ultimately decided to scrap, firstly because I think it would be humorous, and secondly because I think it would subtly demonstrate just how much work it takes to find the one gem concept that makes it into the game.
- Designing a Dungeon/Raid: we see some of this every year with the dungeon previews, but I think it would be amazing to see just what the raid design is like. Walk us through the iterative process of making a dungeon, show us concept art, MSPaint diagrams, all the way through to the final product.
- Design Philosophy: bits and snipets of this oftentimes come through in other panels (eg: “Blizzard is about making hardcore games for everyone”) but I’d like to hear more about how Blizzard has evolved over the years. What is it that these guys and gals prioritize? Or for example, why was the oft-discussed “Hybrid Tax” important at the start of WoW but has been phased out since?
- Balancing: The SC2 panel that discussed game balance was amazing (and it had histograms!) so I’d love to see something similar done for classes in WoW
- Class Design: take us through how Class X has evolved since its creation. I personally wouldn’t care what class was selected, but I’d love to hear about why changes were made over time and what was the logic behind them. I think players tend to forget just how far this game has come.
As has been the case for the last two years, I always walk into Blizzcon wondering if maybe I shouldn’t have taken a vacation across the pond instead, and I walk out wishing that I could move into Blizzard headquarters simply to be a part of the action. Even if you were to take away all the news, and reveals, and previews crammed into 2 days’ time, you’d still be left with 30,000 + fans, under one roof, talking about a single shared passion. And that is an amazing thing indeed.
So although Blizzcon is oftentimes billed as a fan event, I have to think that the Blizzard employees and developers might actually get more from it than those of us who pack into the Anaheim Convention Center to watch PowerPoint presentations and check out Ghostcrawler’s swanky duds. Because as much as I walk away with a feeling of excitement about upcoming content, those Blizzard employees and developers must walk away absolutely invigorated for the push ahead.
I know that for me personally, 5.0 can’t come soon™ enough.