A preview of Cataclysm fashion statements

I try to avoid most Cataclysm spoilers, but I don't mind hearing about mechanical changes or seeing the occasional screenshot. So I clicked on a link to MMO-champion, advertised on WoW.com as showing some Cataclysm caster armour sets, and found... that little guy from He-Man? What was his name? Orko!

You have to admit, the resemblance is absolutely uncanny. Makes me wonder if we can make any deductions about Cataclysm fashion in general from that. Are we going to move away from the dull Northrend browns and greys towards slightly more colourful and silly outfits again, if not quite as bad as the Outland clown suits? I think I'd like that, even if I'm not particularly keen on my own Orko outfit. After all, the elemental planes as a whole are probably pretty colourful places too. Gotta adjust to the environment!

Or maybe we'll all just end up looking like eighties cartoon characters.



Events in my guild have taken an interesting turn since my last post about how it was dying. Basically I immediately felt a lot better after getting the frustration off my chest. (People seriously underestimate the value of a good cry or whine sometimes.) Yes, my guild was in an atrocious state, but who said that I had to lie down and take it? I'd be better than all those other people, those... traitors, who left the guild because they were tired of nothing happening. I'd make things happen myself!

I made a post on the guild forums asking for the cooperation of everyone who still cared about the guild. A fair number of people came out of the woodwork, often sounding a little sheepish as they talked about how so many of their friends had left but they still felt that their home was here. I found their words very touching, as they closely mirrored my own experiences - I originally joined the guild to play with two of my friends, but after a few months one of them left for a more hardcore raiding guild and the other stopped playing. For all intents and purposes I should have felt abandoned and out of place then too, but I didn't. I stuck around and it felt right.

Anyway, people agreed that we should get back into raiding as a guild, even if it was "only" ten-mans as opposed to the twenty-five-mans we were used to, and the sole active officer created a couple of events on the raid calendar for this purpose. I actually got pretty excited, along the lines of Brave New World: In a brave new world, with just a handful of men, we'll start all over a-gain!

I thought of what other things we should be doing to get things going again, like update the guild message of the day more regularly, update the guild website, clean up outdated forum threads... so much to do! Except... I don't actually have the powers to do so, as I'm not an officer. I asked the guild leader (who is still around, if very distracted by real life) if he'd consider making me an officer so I could make a better contribution to getting the guild back on its feet. I was told that the officers would consider it but haven't heard anything back from them since then. That was about ten days ago.

It's highly ironic that I find myself in this situation, considering that I was offered an officer position about three times over the years but always rejected it because I knew how much hassle was associated with it, and I believed that we had enough alternate candidates who were perfectly capable. Now that I'm finally willing to take on the burden because the alternative is a dead guild, I can't seem to get the leadership's support!

And I don't really understand it either. I like and respect our guild and raid leader. I understand that their real life concerns take precedence over playing WoW. But... why does this have to stop the rest of the guild from having fun together as well? I've seen a guild leader leave WoW before, and he was perfectly happy to hand the reins over to someone who was still invested in the game and let us continue on our merry way. Forcing the whole guild into inactivity with you seems kind of unfair.

On Wednesday we actually managed to get a raid together. The sole active officer couldn't make it, so I led it. We didn't do too great as we had both some raiding newbies and people who were clearly quite rusty, but we had fun and killed stuff, so as far as I'm concerned it was a success. It just feels weird to do all these things "as a guild" but with little to no backing from the leadership. I've never seen the guild's powers be so disjointed from their base before. It's very strange and I really want it to change. There is still time.


The Battle for the Undercity revisited

Last night I did the Battle for the Undercity on Alliance side for the first time, which inspired me to write about this quest in general and why I think it's overrated. On Wowhead, comments like "best quest ever" get rated up, and anyone criticising the quest seems to get downrated into oblivion quite quickly. I'm honestly not sure why that is.

Now, to clarify, I did rather enjoy the battle the first time I got to participate in it. The quest does have three major points going in its favour as far as I'm concerned:

1. Revolutionary use of phasing mechanics. In the game's current state, the Wrathgate and the following hijinks at the Undercity are the earliest points at which you can experience phasing in the game, and like most new technologies it's quite shiny and impressive at first. But if you continued questing until Icecrown, you'll have experienced many more quests along those lines by then, some of them even going as far as to create whole new outposts with associated quests and flight paths for the Argent Crusade and the Knights of the Ebon Blade. You might also have got to experience the problems that currently exist with phasing, such as being unable to help your friends if they are in a different phase or struggling with inconveniently placed summoning stones. That kind of thing definitely tarnishes your intial impression of "that's so awesome" after a while. Also, in Cataclysm phasing will probably exist all over the place, so seeing it in action won't be nearly as exciting anymore.

2. Getting to fight alongside important lore characters. This is kind of dependent on you having some kind of positive connection to the characters in the first place - for example I just rolled my eyes at Varian Wrynn the whole time - but assuming you do care, it can be quite a rewarding experience. I rather enjoyed Sylvanas' song, and seeing Thrall call for the help of the elements to clear a path for the Horde forces made me appreciate why he's the warchief so much more. Unfortunately WOTLK in general has overused the "interact with important NPCs" gimmick in a lot of respects, so this is another thing that significantly goes down in value after you've quested your way through all of Northrend once.

3. If you're a fan of seeing big numbers when you press a button, this quest caters to you. Personally it doesn't do much for me, and I got tired of spamming my AoE button after three minutes at the latest. I dread to think what this quest must be like if you do it for example on a rogue before you get fan of knives. Dreadfully slow, that's what.

Now, I already added qualifiers to those three points, saying that there are factors that will decrease their positive impact. However, there's also one big negative that is always present and which is the main reason why I'd never label the Battle for the Undercity as WoW's best quest ever: the fact, that game-play wise, you're actually not doing much of anything.

Sure, AoEing everything down while laughing at the big numbers speeds things up, but the NPCs by no means need your help. I'm pretty sure that if you wanted, you could just go AFK for half an hour once you started the quest and wait for it to complete itself. What this means is that it's in effect the most tedious escort quest ever (commenters on the Horde version clocked it at about three quarters of an hour while participating; the Alliance version is a bit shorter), as you follow your faction leader around while they do stuff they don't actually need your help with. How could anyone consider this a great idea for a quest?

I was actually grateful that the Alliance version seemed considerably shorter, including only one mini-boss before killing Putress, though the fights seemed to be tuned for maximum annoyance to make up for it. For example the mini-boss, a so-called "blight worm" grabbed and stunned me every couple of seconds, making it impossible to get anything like meaningful dps in. Similarly Putress summoned an endless supply of weeny adds that made it impossible to get an uninterrupted cast off, meaning that I even had to spend the last boss fight spamming nothing but AoE while waiting for Varian and Jaina to actually finish off the big guy. I don't remember the Horde's fights being that annoying, except for the second mini-boss having somewhat fiddly aggro.

I also came to the realisation that Alliance and Horde definitely get seperate phases for the quest, as the scene in the throne room plays out slightly differently depending on which side you're on.

All in all I'd say the Alliance version is better if you just want to get it over with quickly, while the Horde version has a bit more lore flavour to it the first time around, even if it's annoyingly long. Either way it's a quest with an interesting story, but as far as your actual contribution goes, I still find doing ten "kill some of these mobs" quests more engaging than following Thrall or Varian around for half an hour. They might as well have made it just another cut scene.


Pug peeves of the week

I've been going back to running random heroics this week, and while none of them were exactly awful, none of them were truly pleasant experiences either. In particular there were two types of behaviour that got on my nerves a lot.

Firstly, dps pulling for the tank. I know, people have been complaining about this almost since the dungeon finder's introduction, but I honestly didn't actually see anyone doing it all that often. In the past week however, nearly every pug I've been in has had a dpser doing it. Mostly it's dps warriors, but other classes have been guilty of doing it as well. Only today I ended up healing a heroic Halls of Stone run where the mage started blizzarding the first group of trash mobs almost as soon as we had zoned in. The tank and I just took a step backwards and out of the instance until the fighting was over and then came back to res the culprit and those he had taken with him. What was he thinking?

I refuse to believe that so many people get off on pissing off tanks and reducing their numbers even further; are they just all that ignorant? Here's a hint: if you're running headlong into groups of mobs without being the tank or truly being able to finish them all off on your own, you're being stupid. You're effectively trying to kill yourself and relying on the tank or the healer to bail you out. I usually don't intentionally let people die for being stupid, but if I see that the tank doesn't want to babysit you, I won't do so either. We're here to fulfill our roles within a normal five-man dungeon run, not to serve as your personal bodyguards while you hurl yourself from one suicidal situation into the next.

The second annoying behaviour that I had to deal with repeatedly this week is sort of a reaction to the former I suppose - tanks treating the instance like a race to the point of stupidity. I'm not talking about fast pulls here, I'm talking about cases like the tank I had in heroic Utgarde Keep who would aggro a group of mobs, hit them once, and then run off into the next room while the mobs beat on the dps who were actually trying to kill things before moving on. News flash: you're supposed to actually tank things, not just aggro them once on the way to the last boss!

I have a limited amount of understanding for how "tanking" like this might serve as a sort of defense mechanism against the first peeve mentioned in this post, but the tank playing badly instead of one of the dpsers still doesn't make the run any more enjoyable for the rest of the group.


Belated blogday to me!

So, I realised the other day that I missed my blog's one year anniversary. This is sadly typical and perfectly in line with how I treat birthdays and anniversaries in real life as well: I notice them on the calendar or otherwise remember them about three weeks in advance, at which point I go "oh right, I need to do something about that", but about three days before the actual event it will suddenly escape my mind and I won't remember again until at least a week later, by which point it will be too late to say anything without feeling at least slightly embarrassed. "I swear, I didn't forget, I just... remembered at the wrong time!"

I thought about just letting it slide in this case, as I so often do, but then I figured: hey, this is my blog, why would I be embarrassed about being late to congratulate myself? So here we go. Happy blogday to me! And I'm only two weeks late.

It's been an interesting year for sure. You see, I've been keeping a personal blog for over six years now, but it's never served any other purpose than to record stuff that happened in my life so I would remember it later, and to give my friends a way to stay in touch. It doesn't have the aim to entertain, so my writing there is often trite and I don't care.

With this blog, the moment I poured my thoughts on heroic Oculus on the web page, I knew that I meant for other people, complete strangers, to read it, so I tried to make sure to have an actual subject and a proper structure for every article. And then, once a few people actually started commenting, that created new dynamics as I began to take their opinion into account for future articles. Not to imply that I write purely for my readers - it's still about getting particularly persistent thoughts out of my head more than anything else - but I can't imagine writing something for a public audience and not caring about their reactions at all. It's a wondrous little world, that of a writer.

According to Google Analytics I seem to have an average of about a hundred page views per day. I did get linked by WoW.com once, in this article by Allison Robert, but it was a class-specific link in a class-related article, mentioned as a side note in a whole sea of links, so it didn't result in any noticeable craziness other than a traffic spike on that day, and I'm glad. I look at the kind of stuff that larger blogs often have to deal with and I'm really rather grateful that I'm not attracting that kind of attention.

Still, I'm happy with the progress I've made, trying to write more coherently while also posting at least once every couple of days. I hope I'll be able to keep it up. And thanks to my readers for reading; it's nice to know that some people get enjoyment out of looking at the things I write.


My least favourite vehicle quest

I'm kind of ambivalent about vehicle quests in general, but I think after last night's round of questing I've found at least one that I definitely don't like. The Golden Raspberry for worst vehicle quest of WOTLK goes to... The Storm King's Vengeance.

I actually liked it on my first playthrough and thought that the way your character sits on Gymer's head was cute, but I was teamed up with my boyfriend then, and with two storm giants at our disposal we could simply steamroll our opponents and bypass a lot of issues that way. Re-doing it on my own I ended up facing a lot of frustrations however.

First off, it seems buggy. It's not the buggiest quest I've seen in WOTLK (that honour goes to Changing the Wind's Course, which bugged out on me in at least four different ways), but unlike the latter, The Storm King's Vengeance is messed up in ways where I can't even tell whether they are actual bugs or simply bad design.

It immediately starts when you mount the giant and get teleported into a phased version of the zone where the mob density is about ten times higher than normal and you have an aggro radius of several miles. I'm not kidding. With my view distance set to high, all the mobs as far as I could see immediately began to make a beeline for my giant. You have an AoE attack, but it's relatively ineffective and I often found myself surrounded by enemies in such a way that they were just far enough apart that there was no way to get rid of them other than to precision-punch each of them individually.

Trying to shake them off and make them reset doesn't work so well either. According to the comments on Wowhead there's a golden spot where you can make a lot of them turn around, but if you don't know where it is, running away will just lead to a larger and larger horde of scourge minions trailing behind you, until they finally catch up and you get to enjoy the in-game equivalent of being gnawed to death by ants.

So, just to make sure this is clear, you have to spend the entirety of this quest running around with about hundred scourge chewing on your feet and whittling away at your health as you try to complete the actual quest objectives. Sure, you can try to kill them, but they'll respawn faster than you can finish them off anyway. So much fun! Except not.

Fighting the boss mobs is an exercise in tedium as well. If you're lucky you'll notice that auto-attacks stop every time you use a special attack, so you have to spam the attack command constantly or take off their health really, really slowly with nothing but specials. And all this while several dozen ghouls and banshees are gnawing on your toes at the same time, just in case you forgot.

You also get to kill Thrym. Oh yeah, that huge dude walking up and down the road! Except... during the one quest where he's actually relevant he's not there. He only spawns after you kill another one of the mini bosses (something there was no prior indication of), and even then it's possible to miss him since he's in a different place than usual. Way to be confusing, Blizzard.

Then there are the storm clouds. You're being told that they'll heal your storm giant friend, but nothing more. The problem is, it's not that easy. First off, they aren't hugely common and can be somewhat hard to spot in the sea of ghouls, which is obviously a problem. Just walking through them doesn't do anything, you have to grab them. Except, that doesn't always work either. In the Wowhead comments there's some discussion about how only a special kind of storm cloud heals you and how to recognise it... but why is that mentioned nowhere in the quest? Is this a bug or intentional? It sucks either way. Also, to get full use out of a storm cloud you apparently also have to attack something right after grabbing it to get the full effect of the HoT it gives you or something. I wonder how many times the people who found out about that had to die on this quest just to figure this out. Again, there is not even the slightest hint in-game that this is how things are supposed to work. Personally I just gave up on the storm clouds eventually and simply let Gymer die repeatedly, completing only a small portion of the quest on each new try. Hint: having to resort to zerg tactics is usually a sign that something's wrong.

I was rather surprised that so many people in the Wowhead comments actually talked about how much they loved this quest. I just can't share their enthusiasm. What about my readers? Did you find Gymer tiresome too or was there another vehicle quest that really got on your nerves?


Scary statistics

After following a link somewhere else and then browsing another blog's archives I stumbled upon this post at Bubblespec today, in which the writer talks about how she thinks that she ran way too many dungeons this expansion. To illustrate her point, she included a screenshot of an armoury statistics page that shows that two of her characters combined killed Cyanigosa an impressive sixty-nine times.

"Oh, that's neat," I thought, "I never thought of looking at all of my level eighties like that. I wonder how many instances I've run in WOTLK." So I looked at my statistics page. And, um. I almost wish I hadn't, because it was slightly scary.

Now, I know for a fact that a lot of the numbers on the statistics page are wonky at best. For example it claims that my paladin never killed the Black Knight on normal mode, even though she wore the Black Heart for a long time, or that my night elf priest has acquired less emblems of triumph than she already spent on gear. I still think that they have at least some basis in reality though; I guess at worst some of them need a little rounding up. Which is not really good thing when you have huge numbers to begin with, but there you go.

So, according to my armoury statistics page, I've entered 1456 WOTLK five-mans across my seven level eighties (yikes), but only completed 885 of them. Now, this is another number that I have a lot of trouble believing, because no way did I abandon 571 instance runs halfway through. Maybe it counts twice if you leave and re-enter an instance in progress while alive. I don't know. Still, close to nine hundred full dungeon runs is still a pretty damn impressive number. A lot of them were pugs too.

Curious as I was, I wasn't satisfied with those numbers however, and wanted to know which instances I did the most often. Somewhat to my surprise, the clear winner turned out to be Drak'tharon Keep, with a whopping 197 Prophet Tharon'ja kills (151 of them on heroic). To be fair, it does seem to come up as a random dungeon fairly often for me, and I also remember intentionally running it every day for a while early in the expansion, because it was considered one of the easiest heroics; and coming fresh from the Burning Crusade, we didn't dare to jump into something as scary as, say, heroic Utgarde Pinnacle right away.

In second place but already very far behind is Azjol-Nerub with 106 Anub'arak kills (seventy-three on heroic). Again I was slightly surprised at first, but then realised that this matched my habit of running this instance on multiple characters a day if it came up as the daily heroic pre dungeon finder.

My third most-visited dungeon of this expansion turned out to be the Violet Hold with one hundred Cyanigosa kills (eighty on heroic). I don't remember ever making a point of running this one more frequently, but it does seem to come up as my random reasonabily often.

Fourth place goes to the Culling of Stratholme and Mal'Ganis, whose butt I helped kick eighty-five times (seventy-five on heroic). I remember running this instance a lot early in the expansion while we were trying to make it to the Infinite Curroptor in time. (Yes, kids, once upon a time that was actually a difficult feat to achieve.) I never really got tired of it either, and stubbornly stuck it out even when pug members dropped group right at the start because they couldn't stand all the talking (before you could skip the dialogue, obviously).

Fifth place goes to the Black Knight, which, again, I found somewhat surprising considering that Trial of the Champion was released fairly late in the expansion. I didn't assist that many people with Black Heart farming either. I did run the instance on normal mode a lot with those of my characters that hit eighty after its release though, as it's a great way of getting geared up quickly. My paladin spent a lot of time in heroic mode as well, farming for the Peacekeeper Blade for a fairly long time.

Now, I'm not going to continue listing the numbers for every single boss. Let it just be said that the average for most of them seems to be around seventy.

The ones that I visited the least often are also interesting, however. For example I only escaped the Lich King in Halls of Reflection thirty-nine times (thirty-one on heroic). I suppose this is in part because the instance is one of the newest ones, in part because it has a high gear requirement on the dungeon finder, and in part because the few times that I went there intentionally for a gear drop, I got it almost immediately.

The other Icecrown five-mans are well within the normal average, presumably because even though they were released late, I ran them a stupid amount of times for gear drops for my alts.

My second least-visited dungeon is, not entirely unsurprisingly, the Oculus with forty-two completions (thirty-seven on heroic). I may have overcome my dislike for it now, but the fact that I avoided it like the plague for the first half of the expansion left a visible mark on the numbers.

Slightly above it with fifty-four kills is Sjonnir the Ironshaper from Halls of Stone (forty on heroic). Just goes to show that even though it feels like I get that instance all the time on some days, I really don't.

That's a crazy number of dungeon runs either way. Unlike Enlynn from Bubblespec I don't really regret them though. I mean, there is of course a vague sense of having wasted a lot of time on WoW, but as far as activities within WoW go, instance-running is still one of my favourites so there aren't many things that I'd prefer to have done instead anyway.


Addon love: Altoholic

I don't tend to talk much about addons, because I honestly don't find them that interesting. I use a couple that provide major functionality that the base game doesn't currently provide, like Healbot, but otherwise I use the default UI for everything I do. I know for some people configuring their UI is an art of its own but for me personally it's just not something that I enjoy or care about. (I believe the last time I posted a screenshot with my UI up on my guild's forums, people broke out in hives at the sheer horror of it, to their eyes at least.)

Today I'd like to talk about an addon however, my favourite of them all in fact. Funnily enough this wasn't inspired by the recent discussion about addon-less healing, but rather by a comment on a completely different subject over at the Pink Pigtail Inn. Leah from One rant at a time went off on a bit of a tangent about why she loves Altoholic and said the following about it:

I'm kinda embarrassed to say but I'm hugely dependent on it in game and I wish it existed in real life (wouldn't it be nice to be able to get a remote look into your pantry to verify if you need a articular obscure item, you forgot to add to your shopping list and then saw on huge sale in a store and cannot remember how much of it you still have left - real life experience here O_O)

It's funny because it's true! But to avoid confusing those who don't actually know the addon, basically what it does is catalogue everything there is to know about your characters (gear, professions, inventory, currencies, achievements etc.), and it makes this information accessible on any of them without forcing you to relog.

Ever been offered a recipe for an alt's profession and had to relog to check whether the character didn't already know it? With Altoholic you see that kind of information included in the item tooltip.

Ever been asked by a guildie whether you had a certain crafting material to spare and had to relog repeatedly to check on all your alts? Worse if you ended up saying no, just to realise a week later that you actually did have one stashed away in your low-level rogue's bank? With Altoholic you just enter the item name in the search box and you'll immediately know for sure.

Ever wanted to do a slightly more involved piece of crafting for one of your alts and ended up relogging a gazillion times just to get it all sorted? Well, Altoholic won't save you from relogging completely, but at least you'll know for sure which character you'll have to check for which parts.

Ever been on an alt instance run or raid, just to realise with a bit of regret later on that you probably should have taken a different character that could have used the loot and emblems more and didn't have the achievement yet? Again, with Altoholic you can see all those things for your whole stable of characters at a single glance, which allows you to make better decisions.

I could go on and on, but suffice to say that I really love this addon very, very much. It doesn't make me better at playing the game, and I wouldn't even necessarily say that its functionality should be included in the default UI (for a new player it might be a bit overwhelming and create clutter), but if you've been playing WoW for long enough to have accumulated a fair amount of alts, this addon is simply amazing and you'll never want to play without it ever again.

And no, I didn't get paid for this in any way; I just felt like gushing.


Account-wide achievements: a different perspective

Larísa made an interesting post earlier today about why she thinks that account-wide achievements (a feature that Blizzard has at least hinted at as something that they might look into in the future) are "a terrible idea". I was originally going to reply in a comment, but then I thought that it would just go on and on and that I might as well make a whole post of my own about it.

Basically, I disagree with Larísa on this.

She argues that for example seeing a level one Kingslayer running around would be very immersion-breaking, and that the whole notion of wanting account-wide achievements doesn't seem to be based on anything but a desire to show off to as many people as possible.

I have to say that I found the immersion argument more surprising than anything else, because for me achievements themselves are one of the most immersion-breaking things in the game as it is. Nothing screams "this is a game" like a big golden badge with some witty phrase popping up in the middle of your screen while you're going about your business in the world. The way achievements are recorded afterwards has no connection to the in-game world either, it's just a tab of information accessible on your action bar. Ditto for titles really... seeing "the Kingslayer" next to someone's name can only be considered immersion-breaking if you're also roleplaying that everyone has their name floating above their head, otherwise you wouldn't know anyway.

For me achievements have always been directed at the player, not at the character, because they don't even exist in-character. Sure, you could have your toon talk about that time she faced the Lich King, but that's not really dependent on actually having any record of it, is it? You might as well talk about some completely made-up adventure. Unless you treat your achievements as some kind of magical diary that you carry around in your back pocket and that records things like that one time you fell off the Scryer's Tier while completely smashed... but even so it would require you to make things up that aren't actually supported by the game. Achievements are simply not part of the world, they are something to look at for the players behind it.

With that said, I think it would only be logical if they were actually tied to the account instead of the individual character. I'm not saying we have to severe the connection to the characters altogether, since as Larísa correctly pointed out, doing a fight as a healer can be very different from doing it as melee dps for example. You could have account-wide achievements and still have a note saying something like "completed on: character X", or simply have two layers of achievements, individual character and accout-wide.

Larísa refers to an account-wide achievement system as a "fraud", yet at the same time she cheers for one of her commenters when said commenter says that she likes the way the current system allows her to impress people who think her alt is a noob because it doesn't show up as having any great achievements. Isn't that fraudulent, giving the impression that you know nothing so people won't expect as much from you? I think if anything, an account-wide achievement system would be a bit more honest, letting us know at a glance what kind of player we're dealing with: experienced, new, raider, hardcore PvPer or whatever.

As for the argument that people just want account-wide achievements to show off... erm, of course they do, what else is the point of having achievements at all? Larísa refers to them as "public record or diary", but I think public is the keyword here. They are meant to be shown off. I don't need achievements to remember my greatest moments in the game myself, they are purely there so others can easily see them as well. So what exactly is wrong with wanting them to be as easily accessible and widely visible as possible?

The only downside I see in account-wide achievements is that they would remove one of the incentives to go through old content again. Part of the fun of levelling alts is that rush of fast progression, steady improvement and feeling that you're achieving something (regardless of whether you get a golden badge for it or not). Similarly having to unlock each achievement separately for all of your alts can give you a reason to do a certain bit of content again even if you wouldn't do so on your main. But then, as I said above, having account-wide achievements wouldn't necessarily mean having to abolish character achievements altogether, so there is room for compromise.


What defines a holy priest?

So, Blizzard has released the first thirty-one point talent trees in the beta and WoW.com duly reported what they look like.

Now, I know that this is only a first draft and will still change drastically until release, so there's no point in getting too excited about any individual talents and the like but... honestly, I couldn't help but feel incredulous when I saw what Blizzard apparently considers "spec-defining" for holy priests. All talent trees now come with a little description of what they specialise in, and the one for holy priests says:

A versatile healer who can reverse damage on individuals or groups and even heal from beyond the grave.

"Reverse damage on individuals or groups"? Really? What kind of weird wording is that? All you're saying is that holy priests heal people, both with single- and multi-target spells, which is something that all other healing classes do as well.

Holy paladins "invoke the power of the Light to protect and to heal", resto druids use "heal-over-time nature spells", resto shamans "call upon ancestral spirits and the cleansing power of water", discipline priests "shield allies from taking damage"... but holy priests just "reverse damage"? Could they possibly make the spec sound any less interesting?

But wait, you say, holy priests can "even heal from beyond the grave"! I'd still argue that that's less cool than actually having a properly definable healing style, but I agree that it's something. Spirit of redemption is quite an iconic ability for holy priests, even if we have a bit of a love-hate relationship with it - see nicknames like "fail angel" or "improved death". Except... spirit of redemption is still a talent and not actually what Blizzard considers the spec's defining ability. Instead the spell that you get at level ten when you decide to be holy, at the same point when arms warriors get mortal strike and feral druids get mangle, is - hold on to your hats - desperate prayer.

I struggle to express in words how much I boggled when I saw that. Desperate prayer is about as optional as a talent can get without being completely useless. I've been a holy priest for years and have never specced into it; in fact I still remember when it used to be a racial ability for dwarves and humans only. I know a lot of priests like it, but personally I never considered it more than an overglorified health potion. However, regardless of whether you like the spell or not, I don't see how anyone could possibly consider this a spec-defining ability. Hell, I'd rather have lightwell, and I've never specced into that either, but at least it's vaguely related to reversing damage on healing others, which is what I thought being a holy priest was all about.

I know this may seem like a petty thing to get wound up about, especially when it's most likely going to change completely before release anyway, but this is something that definitely hit a sore spot for me, and it kind of hurts that Blizzard could ever consider this a good idea at this point in the game. The times of vanilla WoW where holy priests were the only viable healers and thus didn't need any definition beyond "the healer" are so long gone now it's silly. With five viable and versatile healing specs you can't just define four of them as healers with a special flavour and then call the fifth one "someone who reverses damage".

In the current game, holy priests are powerful crowd healers using the Light. Don't just throw that identity out of the window again please. I don't see why other healers should get important talents that used to be thirty, forty or even fifty points (penance) down their main tree at level ten, while holy priests still stay locked out of circle of healing until level sixty or so. I mean, I'm not even saying that CoH has to be the spell we get at level ten, but something, anything actually related to what we do best - group-healing - would be nice.

I just loathe the idea of seeing holy priests once again get kicked into the dust as the one healer that can't do anything special. I've already seen it happen more than once and I really think that this is something that Blizzard should have a better grip on by now. This isn't a question of fine-tuning and game balance, it's about identity... and the notion that the developers still don't know what they want holy priests to be beyond "generic healers" after all these years is kind of terrifying.


My guild is dying

... and I can't believe that I've been so blind to it. It started with us not being able to field twenty-five-man raids anymore. I was wary, but still tried to be optimistic. After all, we were in the pre-expansion doldrums; it was summer, the time when people traditionally go outside instead of spending time online... and I was still running ten-mans with a good bunch of people, right?

But there were all these other signs: Our guild leader pretty much disappeared, due to having to deal with some health issues in real life. Our raid leader did the same, for personal reasons that he didn't talk about on the forums, and I didn't feel that it was my place to pry. The one or two remaining officers tried to hold things together, but didn't quite seem to know how. Without me realising, the casual ten-man runs that I'd been helping to organise each week had become the only thing left that could be referred to as an official guild activity. And each week even those ten-mans became harder to fill.

Now I keep hearing that people whom I considered core members of the guild have left to join another raid force. I'm hearing this from third parties because none of them thought it worth their time to post as much as a goodbye on the forums. I feel betrayed, and at the same time I feel stupid for feeling that way.

What's a guild tag anyway? What's guild loyalty? What good is there in sticking with a guild where nothing is happening when you want to be doing things? Surely I can't be holding it against people that they want to have fun in a game?

Maybe I never should have been in a raiding guild to begin with, because I don't seem to have the right mindset for it. The thing is, when I joined the guild three years ago it was a lot more casual than it is now, and I only joined because I wanted to play with my friends. I ended up raiding with them because that's what they did, not because I wanted to raid per se. Then we grew and became more hardcore, but I had no problem with it because I had no trouble keeping up with the increased performance requirements and nothing stopped me from mentally still looking at the whole thing as "just having a laugh with my friends". People from other, more progressed guilds tried to recruit me sometimes, and while I liked raiding and seeing big bosses die enough to at least be tempted on occasion, I never accepted, because in the end it would always have come down to not playing with my friends in the guild anymore.

People say that guild tags don't matter and that you can play with whoever you want, and to an extent it's true... but there's also a big part of it that's a lie. A guild is like this virtual space, and moving to a different one is like moving to a different town. Sure, you can still call your old friends up and maybe even meet up now and then, but you'll be hanging out with a different crowd during your week nights. That kind of thing changes people and their relationships with each other. I'm still on friendly terms with a lot of people that used to be in the guild and then left, but that means exactly that and nothing more. We may wave at each other in Dalaran, or ask each other for help to fill that last raid spot, but we don't raid together week after week, joke around in guild chat or discuss strategy on the forums anymore.

I love my virtual guild space. It's like a pub you go to day after day after work, to hang out, not just to have a drink. There may not always be exactly the same people there, certain crowds come and go, but the overall feel of the place stays the same. There've been quiet periods before, but this time it's different. This time it's been abandoned so utterly and completely that the owner will probably have to shut down soon. So I guess I'm not angry at any one individual for leaving, but I resent the lot of them as an impersonal crowd for disappearing and slowly eroding the base that the whole thing was standing on.

Now they scatter into the four winds and try to take me with them with promises of other great places they know. But to me, none of them are even remotely interesting, because I'm not looking for a new place to buy beer in the evenings (to stick with the pub metaphor), I'm looking for a home away from home. And that's not something you can just apply to based on someone's recommendation or armoury profile.

I'm just disappointed that so many people that I thought were hanging out with us because they enjoyed the company were actually mostly in it for the raiding. Not because there is anything wrong with being in a guild just to raid, but because I never thought that was the kind of guild we were.

I suppose the best I can do is hope for the Cataclysm to be a new start in more than one way.


How to efficiently gear up your alt without raiding

This post is probably coming at a strange time, considering that the Cataclysm and with it the next gear reset aren't far off. Many people have stopped playing, and of those that still do, many probably play less than before, not chasing the next gear upgrade with quite as much enthusiasm and playing their alts very casually. On the other hand, maybe you need to get an alt geared up more urgently than ever to fill that vacated tank spot in your floundering raid group, so hey, why not?

Step one: Set yourself a realistic goal.

While it is possible to get even a non-raiding alt kitted out in full tier ten, it's a slow and tedious process that involves doing the daily heroic literally for months. Efficiency is really something else. Even better, should you ever get into ICC after all, a lot of the drops there and the frost emblems that you earn will be useless to you since you can't upgrade any further. Just settle for tier nine and its equivalents. It's easy to get, looks shiny and will serve you just as well for the rest of this expansion.

Step two: Formulate a plan.

I can't help but frown every time I see someone who wears for example tier ten shoulders and a blue cloak, as it's a sign of a rather inefficient approach to gearing up. Don't just use your emblems to buy whichever item you can afford first because it's cheap or looks shiny. Personally, I always approach the issue of gearing a new alt like this:

1. Which gear slots can I cover with emblem of triumph gear?

Things you can buy with nothing but emblems of triumph should be your priority because they are both easy to get and of good quality. Since you can buy a full set of tier nine that way, you've got the head, shoulder, chest, hand and leg slots covered. For most classes there's something for the ranged slot too, as well as a spec-appropriate ring and at least one trinket - buyer beware though, some of the triumph trinkets are pretty rubbish. Don't replace a possibly superior heroic drop just because it has a lower item level.

For the head and shoulder slot, you'll also have the choice between your appropriate tier piece and a non-tier item with a slightly higher item level. If the four-piece set bonus of your tier nine is very good, make sure to get exactly four pieces and fill the spare slot on either head or shoulders with the non-set piece, picking whichever one you think is the bigger upgrade compared to the tier alternative. If your tier bonus is useless, you might as well get both non-tier items.

2. Which gear slots can I fill with drops from the ICC five-man heroics?

Forge of Souls, Pit of Saron and Halls of Reflection on heroic currently offer the best non-raid gear in the game and should allow you to fill most of your remaining gear slots with something nice. Good weapons, necklaces, rings, belts, boots and trinkets can be found here. It doesn't take long to quickly glance through the loot lists for those instances on Wowhead and see if there's anything you'd want for your alt.

3. Which gear slots can I fill with drops from the ICC five-mans on normal or Trial of the Champion?

The ICC heroics offer a lot, but not everything. For example you won't find any shields there, and personally I've found the bracers on offer to be lacking as well. Most holes like that can be plugged with only slightly inferior loot from the normal modes however. Again, just check the loot lists. Trial of the Champion on heroic offers the same item quality as the ICC normal modes, and normal Trial of the Champion is a great place to go to for trinkets that are much better than their item level suggests.

4. Which gear slots can I cover with older types of emblems?

If you're still sporting a blue in a certain slot with no upgrade in sight, check out what the vendors from previous tiers have on offer. Depending on your degree of desperation it might be worth trading down some currency once you've made all your triumph purchases, to buy an Ulduar-level cloak or bracers for example.

5. Which gear slots can I cover with emblem of frost gear?

Now, even if you're not making a point of farming for emblems of frost, you'll likely accumulate at least a couple, running the daily heroic a couple of times and from completing the attunement quest for the ICC five-mans. Spend these wisely, which generally means not using them for a slot in which you can get something of ilevel 232 quality or higher anyway (i.e. no tier ten shoulders just to look cool). Cloaks and trinkets are my personal favourites for this one, but depending on how you've been doing with drops, something else might be viable as well.

Step three: Don't run your heroics randomly.

Sure, one random heroic per day to get both triumph and frost emblems is fine, but don't fall into the trap of chaining random after random just to be able to buy your tier nine faster. Emblems of triumph drop from all heroics and even the ICC normal modes. You'll be raking them in faster than you can spend them in no time, and if you start by accumulating emblems and then run specific heroics for their drops, you'll end up spending way more time on the whole process than needed and acquire a whole bunch of extra emblems that you might not even have a use for.

In other words, run one random a day at max, then queue up specifically for the normal and heroic modes that drop items you want. If you only just hit eighty, normal Trial of the Champion is a good place to start as well. You won't be getting any emblems there, but you can work on getting a good trinket right away, and the other drops - even if you don't intend to keep them for long - make for a solid heroic starter set to help you pull your weight in later instances.

Question: What about bind-on-equip gear?

I didn't really cover BoE gear here since it's either vastly inferior to anything you'll soon acquire through emblems and instance runs anyway, or about on par with raid gear and very expensive. Either way I hardly ever consider it worth the effort for an alt. For you it can vary depending on the circumstances however - if you are a crafter and have sufficient materials lying around anyway, it might be worth crafting some starter gear for yourself, even if you'll replace it soon (especially if you're a tank). Or if you have more money than you know what to do with, sure, go ahead and spend it on getting ICC-quality BoE gear for your alt.

On average, just making sure that all your gear slots are filled with either a piece of triumph gear or an equally good instance drop works pretty well however. Just don't forget about those gems and enchants!


Yeah! Slash those talent trees!

I feel a bit like a parrot at the moment, constantly talking about some new Cataclysm announcement that was already discussed elsewhere, but I guess I should be glad that interesting things are happening. Beats the lull any day.

The most recent revelation has been that Blizzard decided that they actually agreed with the feedback they got about the talent trees they released roughly a month ago, saying that they still contained too many passive and uninteresting filler talents. So they decided to start over completely and build an entirely new talent tree system based on the idea that players only get half as many talent points to begin with.

I for one am extremely pleased by this. The idea of halving the amount of available talent points was actually one that came up in the comments to the post I linked above and one that I considered a viable option myself, so... wow! It's a strange feeling to get pretty much exactly what I wanted. Plus I have to give Blizzard credit for still being willing to completely redo something if they don't think it works, even if it's already relatively late in the development cycle. I also have faith in them to get it right this time.

My only concerns about this new system are comparatively minor. The first one is simply one of balance. Judging from past experience, every expansion messes up class balance big time - that's something I'm used to - but completely revamping all talent trees from scratch has the potential to make this worse than ever. And I'm not just talking about PvP here, also about balance against the environment.

After all, our characters have become more and more powerful with every expansion as it is, and that includes the levelling experience. My newest low-level alt, a dwarf paladin, turned into a veritable killing machine the moment she learned Hand of Reckoning at level sixteen, as it can take nearly half the health off a same-level mob the very moment I pull (and that's without any heirlooms I'd like to point out). It's fun to be powerful, but there's a fine line between the fun of being powerful and the boredom of being overpowered. If they start to give out what used to be signature abilities hidden deep in the talent tree as early as level ten, I can only see this getting worse - unless they also decide to give all the outdoor mobs a healthy buff at the same time.

My other concern is about the fact that you'll be locked into a single tree until you've spent thirty-one points in it at level seventy. Mind you, I think that's a great change for new players, to guide them down the path of efficiency and correct specialisation right away instead of having them spend their points willy-nilly across all three trees as I'm sure many of us did when we were new and clueless. On the other hand it will also eliminate the option to experiment with hybrid specs that skip the top talent of their main tree. Mind you, most specs like that weren't really viable in WOTLK anyway, but there were some that had their uses. No more of that in Cataclysm.

There's also the issue of levelling talents to consider. For many classes it's currently beneficial to dip into a different talent tree than their main at least briefly early on, for example to improve mana regeneration. (Holy and discipline priests like to take spirit tap for example, and balance druids love their omen of clarity from the resto tree.) Hopefully Blizzard will make sure to compensate for this kind of thing across the board so people don't feel like they are missing out by being locked out of the other trees early on.

Other than that I'm really looking forward to this change. Hopefully it will make gaining and spending talent points more meaningful, as well as allow the different specs to come into their own much sooner than they do now. Yes, enhancement shamans, I'm cheering for you. And I'm looking forward to seeing what's in store for priests of course.


Trying to be positive

I've never seen the WoW blogosphere go as crazy as it's been going in the last couple of hours over the proposed changes to the official forums that will force you to display your real name on your forum posts. I wonder if Blizzard will actually go through with the idea in the face of so much outrage. I'm doubtful, to be honest. Either way, there's been a lot of good food for thought out there, and that's always a good thing.

I think Rohan's stance over at Blessing of Kings is the one that I agree with the most. I may feel apprehensive about the idea of posting under my real name (not that I've ever posted much on the forums anyway), but at the same time I like the idea of such a bold social experiment. If it goes live, we'll see how it works out.

Dwism has a very thoughtful post on the subject as well, talking about how attitudes about identity change with the generations. Each new generation brings about change. Maybe giving out your real name online will be perfectly normal in twenty years time? My own mother still thinks that computers are evil and that their very existence is eroding the basis of society. I just shake my head at her. Maybe this is also just one of those things where our children will shake their heads at how old and stubborn we are later on?

I have to admit that despite of my apprehension, I'm inclined to be optimistic, unlike most other bloggers apparently. Many only seem to be willing to see the worst possible outcome.

For example the issue of crazy stalkers. The case of this poor fellow certainly gave them a lot of fuel for that particular fire. On the other hand, the way I look at it, all this proves is that it's unpleasant to be the only identifiable person in a crowd of anonymice. It's like having a big sign over your head that says "if you want to harass anyone, pick me - I'm an easy target". That's not news. The system that Blizzard is proposing will force everyone to use their real name if they want to use the forums, so nobody will stand out. Who are you going to pick on then? The guy with a funny name? Everyone who disagrees with you? You'll be busy for a while and nobody will be impressed. If using your real name is the normal thing to do, it won't attract that much attention anymore.

People are worried about discrimination. Certainly a valid issue, but at the same time one we have to deal with in real life all the time. Surely learning to deal with it online as well won't ring in the end of the internet as we know it? I understand that people would mourn the loss of a safe space where they could be anonymous, but at the same time I don't think that being identified as a woman or whatever is as horrifying as some make it out to be. It all seems to boil down to what we're used to. We're used to the internet being anonymous, so we don't want it to change. The real world is not anonymous, but would it be better if it was? Would it be better if we only left the house wrapped up from head to toe to be completely unrecognisable? At least this woman doesn't think so, and that's why I'm at least willing to consider that a non-anonymous WoW community might actually be a better place.

There's also the concern about (potential) employers finding out that you play WoW and people getting stigmatised. Again, a valid concern, but again there is more than one way to look at it. After all, stereotyping works more than one way. If so many people are ashamed of admitting to their gaming hobby and try to hide it for whatever reason, of course others are going to think that something must be wrong with it. On the other hand, if a lot of reputable people were suddenly forced to make it widely known that they play WoW and that it doesn't harm them in any way, couldn't that shatter a lot of preconceptions?

The main reason that I'd personally rather not have my real name associated with the WoW forums is not really any fault of WoW's or Blizzard, but the way the internet works as a whole. Everything you say might get stored somewhere, for years, just to randomly show up on a Google search out of context, which leads to rather bizarre results at best. I mean, if I look up my own real name on Google, of the results actually related to me there's my Facebook page (okay), some article that I wrote for a young adult writing competition a couple of years ago (eh?), a medieval text that I translated while at university (random)... now add a bunch of posts on the Blizzard forums to that mix and it will give anyone who happens to look me up a very skewed picture of my online activites. Awkward.

Then again, if Blizzard's experiment is a success, more companies might go down that road, leading to more and more varied search engine hits for all of our names. I try to keep an open mind.


Why we should have more class quests

On Saturday night I finally got lucky with the dungeon finder and managed to get into heroic Sethekk Halls on my Alliance druid. The run was a lot more fun than I've had in a five-man for some time, and I was pleased as punch to finally complete Vanquish the Raven God and acquire swift flight form. Despite of the difficulties I had with getting that last step of the quest done now that the level cap is at eighty, it was still very much worth doing and I can heartily recommend putting the effort in yourself if you've got a druid of the right level. It's definitely one of the best pieces of class-related content currently in the game.

The main thing that makes this quest line stand out to me over many others is the fact that it doesn't just take you to places you might not have seen before and present you with class-related lore, but that several of the individual quests are specifically tailored towards using druid class-abilities. To Catch A Sparrowhawk for example requires you to trap, not harm, a shy bird that will fly away from you if you get within its normal aggro range. For several classes that would be pretty much impossible, but a druid can use soothe animal to get close, switch to cat form and prowl, or simply make the bird hibernate.

The three "essence" quests are even better, with each one being designed to be completed in a different form. The first boss has low health but summons a lot of adds quickly, so the sturdy bear form has the best tools to deal with him. The second boss is a squishy caster with a decent amount of health, so trying to claw him to death quickly while in cat form works great. And finally, the third boss is extremely hard to fight in melee but very vulnerable to spells, so even if you're a feral druid your best bet is to stay in caster form, root and moonfire him. Oh, and did I mention that you have to dispel poisons and curses from yourself too? It's not nearly as hard as it used to be, but provided you do those quests at roughly at the right level you'll still have to engage your brain and learn how to play your class. And that's a good thing!

If anything it's a shame that druid players aren't presented with a quest like this much earlier. If people were already confronted with challenges like this at level twenty or thirty, it would really help those that are new to the class to get a better understanding of what the different specialisations are about and which style of play they enjoy the most. Nothing like valuable guidance for those truly new to the game, who might not even know that they are supposed to do research on different talent specs online. Not to mention that it's just plain fun!

Blizzard has said in the past that they don't want to make any more class quests because they don't like spending too much time on content that only a small portion of the player base will ever see. I understand that reasoning but at the same time I think that it's faulty. People used to complain about raiding not being accessible enough, which led Blizzard to change their raiding philosphy in this expansion and make sure that everyone could see everything, which I assume is what is influencing their stance on class quests as well. But nothing is stopping anyone from rolling an alt of another class! Providing some content that is unique to one class doesn't mean locking players out of that content, it means giving them an incentive to roll an alt of that class and see for themselves!

For comparison purposes, I mentioned playing Dragon Age: Origins recently. One of the things that I found most fascinating about the game the longer I played it were the many different choices you get to make on the way. The very basic core of the story about you becoming a hero and fighting the big bad remains the same, but a lot of other things are entirely up to you and how you decide to advance the story, who lives or dies, who becomes friend or foe, who gets to rule the kingdom in the end. However, this also means that you only see a limited portion of the game in a single playthrough - if you choose to kill an important character, you obviously can't see the ending that involves him being alive. Bioware didn't say, "oh well, we need to make a game where everyone can see everything in a single playthrough or else people won't like it" and were still successful. In fact, as soon as I completed the game I started up a new session with the intent of seeing how I could make events play out differently. Variety is the spice of (virtual) life!

I think Blizzard is really missing out on some great opportunities by neglecting class quests these days, both to teach players a little about how to play their class in-game and to give everyone more of an incentive to reroll and try out different classes.


Does this ever happen to anyone else?

I generally tend to avoid participating in seasonal or new activities on the very first day of their release, because a lot of people seem to be hell-bent on doing exactly the opposite, which often leads to lag and crowds and general unpleasantness. After a few days I'll finally get over myself and start to get involved, but in the case of events that are only available for a limited amount of time I usually won't remember until the very last day of the holiday that there's still something that I wanted to do, and eventually I end up panicking and acting like a numpty.

Latest case in point, midsummer. Having got the Flame Keeper title on my main last year I didn't feel particularly inspired to work on it again on any of my alts, but I did participate by killing Ahune a few times for cloaks and paying tribute to/extinguishing the occasional bonfire, regardless of which character I was on at the time. Today, on the last day of the event, I found myself casually exploring Outland on my night elf druid, and as I did so I also picked up a couple of burning blossoms from the Outland bonfires. I didn't really have any particular plans for them, but at the end of my exploration I realised that my count had gone up to over a hundred, which meant that I could still buy something with them before they expired.

Then I got distracted by levelling up, learning new skills, spending my talent points and so on, and absent-mindedly queued up to heal a random dungeon. Only when the Old Kingdom loading screen popped up I suddenly realised that with the time zone difference, I had less than thirty minutes left until the end of the fire festival. Crap! I contemplated immediately dropping from the group to go and spend my blossoms instead but decided that I would feel stupid and selfish if I did so. I simply should have thought of it before queuing up. Besides, we could probably finish the instance in twenty minutes or so anyway, right?

We actually did pretty well, but on the trash shortly before Jedoga we had a wipe. As I watched at least one guy not even bothering to release, I looked at the clock, said "brb" and quickly teleported to Stormwind to still hand in my blossoms. But as I mounted up after hurling myself off the mage's tower, I heard the church clock strike midnight. Uh-oh, that's just cosmetic right? Doesn't mean anything, does it? I reached the spot where all the midsummer NPCs used to hang out and still saw a couple of people mill about in what seemed like slight confusion, but nothing else. The blossoms in my bag disappeared shortly afterwards. Bugger, what a waste.

I went back to complete the instance run, but the group insisted on skipping Jedoga so I didn't even get the achievement for completing Old Kingdom. I guess this is what happens when you try to have your cake and eat it too - you end up with sticky fingers and feeling no less hungry, or in my case, wasting your burning blossoms because of an instance run that wasn't even all that great. /sigh


Halion impressions

Yesterday and today I went on raids to clear the Ruby Sanctum on ten-man. They were two different raid IDs, but both consisted of guildies and friends, not always on their mains or in their main spec, but nonetheless solid groups. Neither raid got him down, though we got close several times. Still, I felt pretty bad about our failure, especially yesterday as I also happened to be raid leader on that run.

In hindsight I think that I had nobody but myself to blame for that disappointment though, seeing how I made the mistake of reading the European official raids and dungeons forums before the raid, where a thread had already popped up claiming that Ruby Sanctum was oh so easy, people were supposedly one-shotting the boss in pugs etc., which influenced my expectations accordingly. Don't make the mistake of believing everything on the forums!

I'm not claiming that the fight is the hardest thing since heroic Lich King, but it's not nearly the pushover some people make it out to be either. Basically it's not terribly complex, there aren't a lot of different things to watch out for, but situational awareness is key and if you mess up, you're dead.

As a healer, I can never decide whether I love or hate fights with insta-gib mechanics. On the one hand it's nice to not be expected to heal people through their mistakes; they have to learn how to get it right on their own or die. On the other hand... I can't heal people through their mistakes, and if they don't get it right on their own we wipe. Wah! Or at least that's the way it felt on ten-man, maybe twenty-five man is a bit more forgiving about individual player deaths in this particular case (I wouldn't know as I haven't had a chance to try it yet), but on ten even losing one person can quickly mess up the delicate balance between the two realms in phase three and then things tend to spiral out of control.

I also found it noteworthy that Halion seems to be another one of those encounters that are a lot harder on the healers than on anyone else. In tonight's raid I was tanking the boss in the physical realm and it was a pretty damn dull job really. Pull him into position at the start, go through your maximum threat rotation until he goes into phase two, twiddle your thumbs until he returns for phase three, then rinse and repeat what you did at the start. I suppose tanking him in the twilight realm would be a bit more challenging as you have to watch out for the orbs like everyone else, but since you don't have to worry about anything aside from that I reckon that it can't be that much harder.

On Thursday on the other hand I was playing my priest, and healing in the shadow realm was complete madness. Considerable AoE damage going around at all times, constant range issues with some dps, then someone gets the debuff and you have to check whether they are far enough out yet so it's safe to dispel - all this while still keeping an eye on the shadow orbs, and in the meantime the tank gets gibbed by a breath-and-melee-hit combo if he wasn't topped off while the boss got a little stronger in the shadow realm... it's not exactly on the same level as the Lich King fight, but there's still quite a lot to take in at once and I can't blame people for repeatedly messing up on that part in one way or another (including myself). I'm sure it's something that will come to everyone easily enough with some practice, but certainly not after one or two tries, at least not for me and my guildies. Maybe next week.

Oh, and I definitely can't see this boss being very popular with pugs. This isn't a Sartharion, where it doesn't matter if half your raid gets hit by a flame wall. But then I think we've got a bit spoiled in this expansion, expecting a newly released raid boss to go down after a few attempts or even to be puggable in the first week.


Feral forms for troll and worgen druids

Apparently the Cataclysm beta has started and the news sites are absolutely flooded with info. Argh, too much! I don't actually want to know all of that! But... a guildie pointed a piece of information out to me that I had indeed been very curious about and that has now been released on MMO-Champion as well: the planned bear and cat form models for trolls and worgen! Here are links to the images on MMO-Champion:

Troll bears
Troll cats
Worgen bears
Worgen cats

I have to admit that my first reaction to the troll bears was simply to laugh. They look crazy. Garish colours, ginormous tusks, big hair... but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, it goes well with the overall image of the troll race. Though I wouldn't mind if they toned it down at least a little bit; some of the colour combinations clash a bit too hard for my taste and the tusks don't really have to be quite that large in my opinion. Then again, maybe it will all look a little less crazy when seen in the actual game world anyway, as opposed to being modelled in front of a high-contrast black background. Overall I approve.

I approve even more of the cat form. The tiger stripes are just perfect for a race that comes from the jungle. The colours and tusks also seem a little less batshit insane on the kitties, though they have even more hair to make up for it. Again, I think this could do with being toned down a little.

I'm not entirely sure what to think of the worgen feral forms. The artists seem to have done... something to the faces to make them look more canine somehow, which seems to have worked well. I don't find it particularly appealing to look at right now, but it works. I don't understand the manes, especially on the bears, but I don't remember seeing any finalised worgen npc models that I could use as a point of reference. Are they just that hairy? And what's up with those spiky glove things on the bear form? They look like they are more likely to hurt the bear itself than an opponent, unless it tries to step on the bear's toes. Ah well, still not too bad.

I don't know why I get so excited about feral forms, seeing how my druids are nothing but alts. I just remember how much I loved my tauren suddenly turning into a pretty cat instead of some windrider look-alike abomination and how much this improved my overall gaming experience on that character. Never underestimate the power of druid forms!