Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Wrapping up

We've recently got our first couple of guild heroic Archimonde kills and are not considering mythic, so raiding feels like it is starting to wrap up. Our numbers were already a bit low and while others are starting to raid with alts, I figured I would get more enjoyment playing other games in the meantime.

In terms of raiding, I'd still love to grab the heroic class trinket from Archimonde, do some achievement runs, and take another look at mythic highmaul if there is enough interest.

Outside of that, looks like I'm entering boring, grinding territory. I'm currently trying to reach 100 arena wins for the mount before the end of the season, availability being a factor, but if we've got more than a week we should make it. There's archaeology, fishing and pet battling to be done, in small doses. And continuing to hunt down old mounts and pets. It doesn't take long before that feels completely unproductive though, especially when considering mounts like the camel spawn in Uldum.

A couple of guildies are taking advantage of a quick levelling method that involves near completion of bonus areas in WoD, using the Elixir of the Rapid Mind, and then quickly finishing them all off. I've got at least 7 of the things, unfortunately the only characters I want to level are on another server, and they are not BoA. They sell for a couple of thousand gold now, but I wonder how that will change in the future.

Blizzcon in 10 days, expecting the Legion beta, and hopefully with it some information on what is in store for shaman.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

LFR, fun and rambling

LFR is getting a bit of attention since the normal HFC nerfs. I've read opinions from various sides of the argument and few seem to be happy with it. Today I read Casually Odd's contribution which got me thinking and a comment turned into a bit of a ramble so I decided to rework it into a post here instead.

Despite being a heroic raider, I can appreciate the point of view of a non-raider. That is, you are happy LFR exists as a means to see the raid zones and to finalise storylines, you are focused on enjoyment and not improvement, playing what you want to play, how you want to play it.

But it comes as no surprise to me that you wouldn't find LFR fun. When mechanics are removed or nullified to the point they can be ignored, fights devolve to the point where the only thing that's different about them are the boss models and the yell emotes. The whole instance just blurs into a bland experience.

Image courtesy wowhead

As an example, Iskar, the fight with a hot potato (Eye of Anzu) where mistakes can see your poor raid members slowly, amusingly blown off the edge, becomes just another tank and spank on LFR, where it is practically impossible to get blown off the edge as the wind is so slow. (I suggested in guild they should have kept it at the same speed, but have players blown off being a temporary effect, like Ji-Kun in ToT. Same mechanics, less punishing).

So the fights become a simple exercise in using your abilities, but the difficulty level means there is no requirement to execute them well - so you are not motivated to improve over multiple runs. You don't care about spec or rotation. You just want to get in there, see the content, collect your rewards and get out. Once.

That leads us to legendaries - all tied into the expansion story. To experience it, you have to get the legendary, and therefore you have to raid. There is no 'legendary grind' for normal+ raiders (ignoring the shipyard, but I won't go there), it just comes eventually, in the process of gearing up and boss progression. But it becomes a grind for you, because you don't really want to be there. You want to do LFR once, maybe twice per character, not every week for 6+ weeks. But it has to be a grind, because otherwise all raiders can also do it once and instantly get their legendaries.

In doing this, you are lumped into the same basket as people with varying levels of skill and motivation. The ex-raiders who are skilled and think performance matters, but are low on time to commit to higher raiding difficulties. The main raiders playing catchup, or playing their alts. This is part of the problem - the audience for LFR is not cohesive. The other part is the reward for participation, so to speak, but I'll get to that.

This is where I start drifting away from the non-raiders problems with LFR and more towards mine.

For normal to heroic raiders like me, the fun of raiding is at its peak when you are presented with a challenge, and with some effort, you overcome it. Not when bosses are so hard that you are just getting stomped on, wipe after wipe, but also not when you outgear the boss and it becomes trivial. LFR starts at this level, a level that sets expectations that you can succeed without putting in effort, without coordinating and communicating with the other people in the raid, without understanding mechanics or rotations. So people don't - and some even AFK their way to victory.

The fact most people consider two wipes on an LFR boss to be completely unacceptable, and one barely tolerable, means they expect not to wipe (read 'fail'), they expect to succeed, regardless.

This isn't to say that Blizzard always gets the balance right, that they don't overtune bosses for LFR. But we know that is where the bar is set because they have said so.

On the one hand I see people rejoicing LFR as this 'tourist mode', that they get to see things they wouldn't otherwise, but on the other hand they will equally talk about rewards. I've seen all the remarks, from not being able to upgrade your legendary ring from an LFR Archimonde kill, to the LFR tier sets, and even as far as complaining that you don't get the achievement and the garrison monument. Imagine the shitstorm if LFR were only to give Baleful level gear (650) - and yet, that is probably the level of reward that the effort warrants.

If LFR is meant to be so easy anyone can participate and succeed, make it so, but don't reward people for participating. Unfortunately, I think if you reduce or even take away the reward, no-one will actually want to do it, despite what people say otherwise. This is why I don't hold much hope for LFR, and have leant in the direction of 'remove it'.

Someone, somewhere, is going to have to draw a line and say, yes, there is a success state in this game, this is it, and no you are not good enough/not dedicated enough/don't have enough time to reach it, yet. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I'm not trying to push an anti-casual agenda, just that few people are happy with the current situation and there are better solutions. I maintain the problem is one of lack of content, not lack of access or excessive difficulty. Bellular made some good points in his video on WotLK Casual Content Done Right? - including differentiating between time and skill, and championing a return of mid expansion dungeons and the old weekly raid quests. Currently, casuals are simply railroaded into LFR. There are a lot of ideas to improve the end game experience for non-raiders (explicitly, non current tier raiders), and with more of that, there would not be a need for LFR.

I hinted at the idea in my previous post, but I think yesterday's raid should be today's LFR. There is no reason to make older content so irrelevant. There just needs to be a shift in mindset from the players, and Blizzard could do some things to assist this. For example, enable the ability to queue for last expansions raids as a dungeon group (5 man for a 10 man raid, in wings), instead of removing all mention of it from the queue interface - heck do the opposite and shove the idea in their face via the adventure guide. And implement level downscaling, like all the other MMOs are doing, to keep even older content interesting. I'll probably expand on this in another post, but it is not 'fun' to be able to clear entire instances with one button press (eg barrage, starfall).

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Ele timewalking set

I wasn't planning on timewalking more than once, then they chucked a whole lot of worthwhile rewards behind them. With some egging on from one of our tanks who was also interested, I put together a timewalking set to make the grinding as quick and painless as possible.

There's a great guide I recommend reading if you want to know the hows and whys, but it comes down to maximising the number of sockets, preferably red for primary stats, using all available enchants and taking advantage of legendaries and set bonuses where applicable. There's a bit of research involved but not many optimal options in the end, so this might save someone some work?

One thing to note for elemental is that we want multistrike as our first secondary, but multistrike is not available on anything before WoD, and sockets are harder to come by on WoD gear. Sockets definitely take priority so the main multistrike source will be enchants. Haste is the best secondary, but with how much I used earthquake, a bit of mastery didn't hurt.

I read a recommendation for the Tier 15 (ToT) set bonuses so I started with 4 pieces of that. The 2-set did 2-3% damage overall but the 4-set bonus I didn't find that useful, as Ascendance usually felt wasted on anything but bosses with how quick everything died, and the cooldown is only 2 minutes now anyway. Tier 16 has more red sockets, but again the 4-set is not very useful. So I'm changing to 2-set from each tier, and the best option to maximise red sockets and socket bonuses seems to be Shoulders and Legs from Tier 15.

As always, if you are missing an item, eg the legendaries, not a massive deal, make do with what options are available to you.

Headpiece of Celestial Harmony Tier 16 (SoO) with Sinister Primal Diamond.
The legendary metagem requires a helm with base ilvl 502+ so for helms with a meta and red socket, it's that or Cowl of Smoking Dreams from Garrosh Hellscream.

Flowform Choker with Gift of Multistrike.
There's also Necklace of the Terra-Cotta Invoker but that is BoP zone drop so much harder to come by.

Shoulderwraps of the Witch Doctor Tier 15 (ToT) with Greater Crane Wing Inscription.

Xing-ho, Legendary cloak with Gift of Multistrike.

Hauberk of Celestial Harmony Tier 16 (SoO) with Glorious Stats.

Thundering Deathscale Wristguards (crafted) with Super Intellect.
These bracers have spirit, and took some effort to craft, but they are the only option with two sockets, red ones at that. The other options generally also have spirit, or 1 yellow socket.

Gloves of Celestial Harmony Tier 16 (SoO) with Superior Haste.

Girdle of Shattered Stone (DS) with Ebonsteel Belt Buckle.
The other option here is Krasari Prowler Belt (crafted) with Living Steel Belt Buckle.

Kilt of the Witch Doctor Tier 15 (ToT) with Greater Cerulean Spellthread.

Cloud Serpent Sabatons (crafted) with Greater Haste.

Legendary ring.
Ashen Band of Endless Destruction (ICC rep) with Gift of Multistrike. There are other options with red sockets, but the proc from this ring is a bonus worth seeking.

Dragonwrath with Mark of the Frostwolf.

Touch of the Void (garrison mission) is supposed to be really strong on bosses.
There are many options for trinkets, just check Wowhead for how they scale down. Some trinkets become next to useless. I went with Will of Unbinding (DS) - easy to keep the buff up.

For me, that adds up to 23 sockets (excluding meta), 19 of which are red. The best option to fill these are WotLK and BC epic gems, as they have the highest stats and do not have gear ilvl requirements. The red varieties are pretty rare at this point and can go for as much as 500g on the AH. If you wish to farm some yourself, you can run Battle for Mount Hyjal with a miner to mine the gem veins, and kill Onyxia and Magtheridon for their gem bags. The gem cuts you want are:

So after all that, is it worth the bag space? I believe so, output increased substantially and we will be running 5 timewalks every time they come up for the foreseeable future. It is an effort to out dps my equally geared paladin tank, as melee can kill things before you can even rampup, but we were both eclipsing the pugs in our groups.

Friday, 2 October 2015

HFC normal nerfs

I found the the normal difficulty Hellfire Citadel nerfs that went out yesterday - removal of mechanics - confusing at best. Someone in raid referred to Archimonde normal without Wrought Chaos and Living Shadows as baby's first raid boss, which was an amusing take even if exaggerating. I wanted to see the other side of the argument, so I sat back and waited for the inevitable reaction and blue response.
Image credit: wowhead

Watcher stated that normal difficulty should be suited to Friends and Family groups, where people won't be dropped/punished for performance reasons. So it should cater for those that can not (or will not) get out of the fire or provide sufficient output. I thought that was what LFR was for, but the distinction is obviously solo queuing via the UI versus premade/pug groups.

I continue to believe 4 difficulties of raiding are too many - they make up too much of end game content, and force people who otherwise don't want to raid, into raiding. The solution would be to consolidate LFR and normal into the one difficulty, harder than current LFR and easier than current normal, and provide the means to run it both as a closed group and an open queue. If this is the direction they are headed for Legion, then I can buy into it, and will accept the nerfs for what they are. Not aimed at me, for starters.

There was also the declaration that if they are nerfing mechanics to the point where they can be effectively ignored, then they might as well remove them. A symbolism for LFR as it stands, if you will...

Difficulty in raiding can involve compounding mechanics. A good example is on Socrethar, where Gift of the Man'ari by itself, you can deal with - have the player stand out of the group and heal them. But throw in a Shadow Word Agony and an Apocalypse, and death will occur if mishandled.

So whilst these removed mechanics might have otherwise been reduced to insignificant damage, it could have still caused lethal damage in combination with other abilities. With it removed, that is simply not possible.

Removal of mechanics is a pure difficulty reduction, as opposed to number reductions that allow a greater margin for error.

They also seem intent on reducing personal responsibility, targeting abilities where one player's mistake can wipe the raid.

If this is all aimed at difficulty consolidation, like I said above I can accept that. But I have not seen any indication that this is the case, just community (and my own) speculation. In isolation, I don't like the idea of dumbing down for the sake of access. I don't think LFR provides an accurate representation of the raiding experience, and therefore I'm not in favour of moving normal difficulty towards LFR.

I've always preferred the idea of access/progression through a combination of gear and zone buffs. If normal Hellfire Assault is too hard for a particular guild on release, give them options to obtain better gear over the coming weeks through other end game content, and it will get easier. Then, half way through the raid tier, introduce an increasing HP/damage/healing zone buff, as was done in Icecrown Citadel.

But why should casual players have to wait, we pay the same subscription, we deserve to have access to the same content. But we shouldn't have to work for it, so provide it in tourist mode, now, thanks.

If HFC is initially too hard for a group, they can do BRF or Highmaul. Right now, they don't want to, because they did it all in LFR the week it was released. There's nothing new for them to experience.

The problem is not lack of access to raids, but lack of other end game content.

Put the effort currently put into LFR into non-raid content, that provides trickled gear upgrades that will in turn increase access to raid content.

This will give everyone more things to do, reduce the hardline distinction between raiders and casuals, and raid content won't become (as) redundant the moment the next tier comes out.

Original image credit: hyperbole and a half

I'll leave it there for now. But I do think there is a problem with this new paradigm of 3 tier difficulty via additional mechanics, where normal + more mechanics = heroic, and heroic + more mechanics = mythic. That is difficulty via complexity, which is fine for some bosses, but it can feel like a clusterfuck when every boss throws a bazillion mechanics at at you. Half the battle is then reading about abilities and relying on addons.