Monday, December 13, 2010

The Titleist Report

How is everyone fairing so far in the mighty Cataclysm?

I know how I'm feeling. Generally speaking when an expansion drops I begin feeling extremely lost and confused. This expansion is no different, and I find myself logging on to stare at a screen with a blank look on my face. Even the most basic of raiding technique escape me as I stand in bad void zones and strafe away from Efflorescence / Healing Rain. Personally this is just how I roll. I tend to begin the expansion very much in the dark and without solid guidance. However once I settle down and begin to do some research, I find I do much better. I've always been a planner....thanks mom.

Today I wanted to touch on just some of the topics that are important to me at the end of week one.

Leveling was quite enjoyable. This is of course after Blizzard decided to get the servers working. For the most part it went off without a hitch, however there was a point where many people were unable to log in. Now I remember when Wrath dropped and it went as smooth as silk. This was because it was available at 12:00 AM local time. Basically this enabled Blizzard to stagger the amount of people that were logging in over each time zone. Now to me this makes a whole hell of a lot more sense than having ALL of North America log in at 12:00 AM PST. I was down for about an hour, which at 3 AM EST put my first steps into Hyjal at about 4 AM. I leveled that first night until about 7 AM then had to crash.

Blizzard seems to have adopted an odd quest hub pattern. It seems they are moving away from few hubs with many quests to many hubs with few quests design. I will admit, it's not a bad idea. I have to LOL because it's just so predictable; get breadcrumb, go to a hub. Turn in breadcrumb, get 2 more from that person and grab one more from the dude next to him. Rinse repeat to level 85. That is seriously every hub from start to finish. It did a nice job of spreading people out over the zone while the massive leveling push occurred. I also found that the 3 or so quests you would pick up all seemed to be in the general vicinity of each other, also that those areas were rather larger. This also helped accommodate many people leveling.

The quests themselves were nothing special. I remember the difference between BC questing and Wrath questing was like night and day. For Cata they seem to put more stock in the zones themselves vs. the types of quests. It was basically A] collect X of item Y, B] kill X of Y mob, and C] Use item X on mob Y over and over and over. Of course there were a few quests of awesomeness (that deserve their own post....and may just get one) but for the most part it was cut and dry. This format did however enable one thing, teamwork. I leveled almost exclusively with Gordrin (save for gathering and the occasional dungeon) and we both found that working in a pair cut your leveling time down significantly. I also found fast that being a druid was the absolute most cheaty thing one can do for leveling. I was able to finishing collection quests in bird form without fighting a single mob. Often times, if we could share the collections Gordrin would work on the kill quest and I'd gather from above. I venture a guess that leveling time was reduced by about 40% working as a team. It also helped that we both had 310% flying and Crusader Aura.

I hit 85 on Thursday, after turning the in quest Gnomeliteration, surrounded by Gordrin and Goreblades. I could not have been more pleased.

Because this is the first expansion since the inception of the Dungeon Finder, Blizzard had to find some way of tackling the integration issue. The basic idea was that we had to actually discover the door to the 5-man before we could queue for it. My theory was that Blizzard was hoping people would be partway down the un-phasing quest lines for each zone, and THEN get a breadcrumb quest to discover the entrance. I like that on paper but in a fluid world like Azeroth that just isn't happening. And I was right. I understand they don't want us to be able to pop into them without doing anything. Unfortunately the method they used didn't force us to quest some or enjoy any of the new zones - it did nothing except create massive summoning raids.

What they should have done was gate the whole process. By gate I mean open up one or two of the dungeons for the dungeon finder right away. Encourage people to seek out the entrance by installing some well rewarding quest giver outside the portal door. That would have been enough for me to seek it out. Then they could have opened up the next dungeon once you reached the pinnacle of that particular zone. For example;
  • Begin with Blackrock Caverns on LFD
  • Once you completely unphase Vashj'ir / Hyjal
    • Open Vortex Pinnacle on LFD
    • Open Thrown of Tides on LFD
    • Open Stonecore on LFD
  • Once you complete Deepholm
    • Open Lost City of Tol'Vir on LFD
  • Once you complete Twlight Highlands / Uldum
    • Open up Grim Batol on LFD
    • Open up Halls of Origination on LFD
By complete, I don't mean obtain the achievement for each zone, I simply mean unphase spent some considerable amount of time on various cut scenes and cinematics that are both enjoyable and entertaining.

They are hard. There are many people out there that are already waving the "heroics are too ez" flag. To them I say STFU and sit down lol. Of course if you have an amazing group and know the mechanics it's easy! The same goes for raiding. Heroics today do offer a challenge for the most part. It's impossible to run in and tank it all up, burn it down. Heroics of today require planning, crowd control, and mechanics knowledge. I've been playing on my druid the most so far and I will say I've used Hibernate and Roots more in the last week than all the other times combined. It's fun! I especially love Grim Batol as feral dps, I feel like my Hibernate is almost essential for clearing the place and I make sure to keep my focus target locked down. With talenting into Predatory Strikes my CC spells are instant and free so keeping my target under control and still contributing to overall damage is no problem.

The question remains, has Blizzard done the right thing with heroics? Well, I have thought long and carefully on this. I'm going to sway from popular opinion (as well as what I enjoy) and say NO they have not. There are a couple of reasons why.

First, Blizzard has spent hours and probably millions of dollars to increase the accessibility of this game to it's consumers. Let's face it, they are a business and we are the customers. Blizzard has learned a bit from the first two expansion on what not to do in order to increase accessibility of content.
  • Vanilla
    • 40 man raids
    • pre-raid gear in huge 10 man dungeons
  • Burning Crusade
    • heroics required rep grinding from all participants
    • Sunwell Plateau
Then in Wrath came the introduction of several ideas that revolutionized the game and made content more accessible for all players.
  • Wrath
    • LFD tool
    • 10/25 man raid size option
    • Hard / Heroic modes
    • Scaling of raid currency
Now let us not confuse accessible with easy. That is common thing more hardcore gamers do in order to preserve some sense of superiority. Those world first guilds are still doing things faster and better than run of the mill guilds, but that doesn't mean that can't still kill the Lich King on regular mode 10 man after weeks of working on it. That is the beauty of accessibility. I personally think Blizzard did a fabulous job on it in Wrath.

How does this relate to Cata heroics? It's simple really, they took a step away from that model of accessibility. They were trying to change too many variables at one time (reducing AOE tanking, remodeling healer paradigms, reintroducing CC) and they ended up inadvertently making the heroics insanely hard for the everyday player. It reminded me of the great BM nerf of Wrath, same basic principles. BM was doing too much damage so they modified 4 of our 5 abilities (instead of isolating a variable and testing it) thus resulting in a sub quality spec that remains even today.

Heroics are suppose to be somewhat easy. In Wrath the gear that dropped was the same quality as the entry level raid. The idea was you learn how to raid in those heroics. Well that isn't the idea anymore, you learn how to raid while raiding. In the meantime heroics offer a slight challenge and reward inferior drops / currency as a penalized reward. Once you run enough of these you can step into raiding if you so choose. That should be the model but it's not.

Blizzard has identified two "intermediary" group of players, who I estimate are roughly 45-50% of their total subscription base. These intermediaries are those who are causal raiders and those who are casual groupers. These are the players who don't have the time or desire to dedicate to a guild who can form groups that can easily tackle the heroics of today. These two groups are people who use the LFD tool almost exclusively and who have no desire to work toward guild based achievements.These two groups suffer immensely by the changes to heroics. Where as someone like myself could log on and bang out a daily heroic in a hour flat, it's now taking me 3 hours with a group of Kingslayers and we are using vent for full communication. I'm sure some (if not all) of our readers are essentially that; hardcore to "casual-with-hardcore-tendencies" in nature. Just imagine for a moment, what it must be like to be one of those intermediaries in a heroic with only /p for communication and a wing/prayer. I can only imagine it's enough to make one never queue for a random heroic again. If that is the case, Blizzard has failed. There are raids for the people like you and I to test our skills and be challenged. There are 25 hard mode achievements for those people like Ensidia or Vodka to test their world first skills. Considering at level 85 normal dungeons are FACEROLL for even the greenest of group, where do the intermediaries find a comfortable norm?

Will Blizzard nerf heroics? Undoubtedly, yes. That's just the facts of running this game. Sometimes all the testing and all the beta groups in the world are not enough to be able to understand how the mechanics of the game will play out on live. Lucky for the intermediaries (who were never represented on Beta anyway) they have patches and hotfixes just for that sort of thing. The problem comes from the other player base, the group that just doesn't think of the big picture or from the business side of things. There will be cries of "Blizzard is bending to the will of the casuals" and other various QQ but in all reality we have them to thank. It's the inclusion of those intermediaries that expands the business side and allows for further expansions, content, and continued success for Blizzard Entertainment.

Try and remember that next time you reach for vote kick, reason: noob.

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