A belated update in which I talk about a large variety of things

Man, forgetting to update for almost five months really makes me feel like shit.  This past semester was a very busy one, and that coupled with a bit of apathy towards WoW in general made me neglect this blog for much longer than was acceptable.

So I guess I get to start with some apologizing.

First off, really sorry to everyone who’s been through here, especially those looking for soloing advice.  The guides for both the Classic and BC soloing are out of date, the Wrath guide is still a heavy work in progress, and everything beyond that is coming Soon™.  I’ll do my best to get everything updated, but I’ve learned not to make promises there.  Rest assured that, like new player models, updates ARE coming, but I can’t be specific as to when.

Second, I’m sorry to enhancement shaman for not providing a continued guide to the best shaman spec ever.  I started this blog somewhat in response to the apparent disappearance of the enhancement section of WoW Insider’s Totem Talk column, which has not seen an update since September of last year, with a guide on how to level in Pandaria as both elemental and enhance.  I wanted to provide enhancement shaman with a resource they could keep coming back to, and hopefully to foster a bit of an enhance community.  Obviously, that’s hard to do if you can’t update reliably, so I’m sorry I haven’t been able to.

Finally, I’m gonna have to apologize to myself here as well.  To be honest, I did have time to write, but I didn’t much feel like it.  I was being disingenuous with myself, and was spending my free time playing vidya or just lazily browsing the web, and not really doing something that was a little more productive (even if said productive thing was just writing about a video game).  Clearly I need to learn how to manage my time better, and also try and make it so I don’t just resort to doing something unproductive first.

So, apologies out of the way, what’s first to talk about?

It happened again

So remember how in my About Me page I put that I’d joined a new guild and I was raiding happily and everything was peachy?

Haaaaaaa.

Well that didn’t really last.  A more complicated raid tier combined with a GM who seemed to be pushing for more progression when most of us joined the guild under the guise of its being more relaxed made a lot of us start to grow displeased with Displaced (har).  Attendance became an issue, new raiders were cycled in and out, but before the end of the tier, the decision was made to stop raiding.  The guild, for all intents and purposes, was done.

I don’t really know what happened to the GM.  After draining the guild bank of funds and turning off guild repairs, he hasn’t signed on in over two months now.  Perhaps he gave up on MMOs entirely, or maybe he decided to play a different one.  Apart from myself, there’s only one other person I’ve seen log on semi-regularly, and one who signed in for the first time in a couple months just last week.

Why haven’t I left for greener pastures?  Same reason as last time:  I really like those guild perks.  Also, I suppose I’m hanging around to see if I can get the GM role reassigned to me, though there’s going to have to be some finagling there; he put three ranks in between GM and regular members (hence I’m at rank 4) and automatic GM transfer is only allowed to ranks 3 and up.  Truth be told, I’m not sure what I’d do with the guild if I ended up in ownership of it, but it would be nice to own one.

So what am I doing now?  Mostly what I did the last time I was in this position.  I run LFR for the hopes of upgrades, down world bosses when I see a group getting together, run older raids for fun and transmog, and dick around with whatever else I feel like working on.  At least this time I have a couple friends who also play, so I still get the social aspect I need to keep me happy.  I’m also working more diligently at the legendary questline in an effort to get more caught up before 5.4 drops, and am firmly in the 5.2 section with 8 out of 20 Secrets of the Empire looted.  If droprates work in my favor, I’m thinking I’ll probably be caught up with the 5.3 stuff soon after 5.4 drops (which I’m expecting will happen in the next two months or so, give or take).  Fingers crossed!

Enhancing in 5.3

How is the spec holding up?  Still pretty well, I’d say.  My favorite, previously non-optimal talents have been buffed over the past few patches, so naturally I’m happy about that.  And we’ve gotten a few buffs along the way to keep us up to speed with other classes, even when it felt like we were doing pretty well overall anyway.

I believe the last time I wrote about the current state of enhance was 5.1, so let’s go over the changes since then.

5.2

In the category of all-spec changes, one of the big ones was a change to how Chain Lightning worked.  Before 5.2, Chain Lightning would deal less damage per jump, such that the third (or fifth, with glyph) target would take considerably less damage than the first.  So while you would deal overall more damage with CL if you had multiple targets to hit, some targets would not be hit nearly as much, which made it somewhat of a weak AOE spell overall.  Considering that shaman have been historically weak for AOE, naturally this wasn’t much of a help.

5.2 removed the damage decrease, improving its damage in AOE situations considerably.  Elemental shaman using Ascendance would find that their Lava Beam (that replaces CL) would deal extra damage per jump, to compensate for that aspect becoming baseline.  A win-win for everybody!  CL is now much more useful to use in AOE, and should be used in any sort of add situation when you have your Maelstrom charges built up.

Another interesting change was giving Shamanistic Rage, historically an enhance talent and then ability, to elemental shaman as well.  I presume that this was to make ele shaman feel like they didn’t NEED to take Astral Shift in order to get a damage reduction cooldown, and even if I’m a little sad that an iconic enhance ability is no longer solely ours, I’m happy ele get a bit of love there.

The other major change was to Flame Shock.  Previously, Glyph of Flame Shock was seen as a mandatory glyph for both enhance and ele shaman, as its increased duration allowed for two Earth Shocks to be cast before it needed to be refreshed, which was a slight DPS boost.  Since Blizzard did not want players to see a glyph as mandatory, the duration increase from the glyph was made baseline.  This changes the enhance rotation a bit if you want to be optimal (UE + FS, ES, UE, ES, repeat is the general shock rotation, I believe), but can be ignored without too much of a DPS loss.  The glyph was redesigned so that you’d heal for 30% of your FS ticks, which is a nice extra passive heal, but I personally don’t take it.

A boatload of talent changes went out this patch, in order to make less-taken talents more attractive or rebalance others.  By tier:

  • Tier 1:  Nature’s Guardian preserves health percentage when its effect expires.  Stone Bulwark Totem absorbs 25% more damage, and has 10% of the summoning shaman’s health.
  • Tier 2:  None!
  • Tier 3:  Totemic Restoration behaves as though a totem has been active for at least one second when it has been recalled.  This basically means that you can’t instantly recall a totem after you drop it and get its cooldown reduced by half.
  • Tier 4:  Elemental Mastery has a 90-second cooldown, reduced from 2 minutes.  Ancestral Swiftness’s passive now increases melee haste by 10% instead of 5% (spell haste remains 5%).
  • Tier 5:  Ancestral Guidance copies 60% of healing done over its duration instead of 40%; damage copied as healing remains 40%.  Conductivity no longer requires party/raid members to be standing within a Healing Rain, and copies 30% of direct heals (still copies 50% of damage).
  • Tier 6:  Lotta changes.  For Unleashed Fury, Unleashed Flametongue increases the damage done by Lightning Bolts by 20% (down from 30%) and increases Lava Burst damage by 10%.  For Primal Elementalist, Primal Earth and Fire Elementals deal 20% more damage.  Finally, Elemental Blast has a chance to increase enhancement shamans’ agility.

So, are there any mandatory talents to take?  If there were, then the system wouldn’t be doing its job, but I think that the rebalancing helped.  I might suggest taking Ancestral Swiftness in tier 4 for the extra melee haste, but it’d be something you’d have to sim and figure out for yourself.  I think the community is still debating which is the better stat, and a lot of it comes down to what talents you take.  If you’re not worried about min/maxing, then pick either haste or mastery and do most of your reforging towards that (after you hit your hit/exp caps, of course!)

Finally, for enhance-only changes, Mental Quickness was changed to lower the mana cost of Shocks by 90%, as opposed to 75% for all our other spells.  I’m not entirely sure why; it might be a PVP adjustment.  Still, less mana required is always good.

But the big thing?  The absolute biggest thing in 5.2?  The thing that had me cheering ever since I read the first set of patch notes for it?

Spirit Walk got its cooldown reduced to 1 minute.

HALLE-FUCKING-LUJAH.

Now, I’ve been playing since the tail end of Wrath, back when our Feral Spirits were still pets that lasted 45 seconds on a 3 minute cooldown.   Back then, if you wanted a mobility increase indoors, you had to blow one of your only DPS cooldowns, but at least got two boosts almost one after the other, as the cooldown on Spirit Walk was 32 seconds (15 seconds of boost, 17 seconds of wait, another 15 seconds of boost).  Remember that this was also when you could only use Ghost Wolf outside, so it was all you had indoors.  But at least it was semi-decent!

Then in Cata, the duration of wolves was reduced to 30 seconds on a 2 minute cooldown, but the cooldown on Spirit Walk went unchanged.  Effectively, you got only one boost every 2 minutes, and you still had to blow your (now only) DPS cooldown to use it.  On the plus side, they made Ghost Wolf usable indoors, and with the mandatory talent your movement speed got increased 15% at all times, but it was still a punch in the gut.

Then in Mists, they changed Feral Spirits to guardians and removed their pet bar, but split Spirit Walk into its own ability.  Unfortunately, they kept its cooldown equivalent to how it had been before, 2 minutes.  It was nice not to have to blow a cooldown just to run faster, but annoying that we could still only sprint every couple of minutes.

And now we can run all the goddamn time and I love it.

5.3

So what’s new this patch, now that we’ve been in it for about a month?  Well, not quite as much as 5.2, since it’s a smaller patch and all.  Mostly just more balance tweaks and what have you.

The biggest change for shaman in general was the removal of the Glyph of Unleashed Lightning, with its effect baked into the spell, just as the Glyph of Flame Shock had been in 5.2.  Now, all shaman have the ability to cast Lightning Bolt while moving, making this glyph no longer mandatory for elemental shaman (and also becoming a little bit of a headache for enhancement shaman who accidentally cast when they don’t want to).  In its place, the new Glyph of Lightning Shield provides a 10% damage reduction for 6 seconds after Lightning Shield is triggered.  A decent passive damage reduction if you want it.

The other major all-shaman change was part of a major rework across multiple classes’ pets/guardians that have casting abilities, including death knights’ Gargoyles, mages’ Mirror Images, druids’ Forces of Nature, shamans’ Searing Totems and several warlock pets.  All of these will now chain-cast their spells with no delay, much like basically any player who knows what they’re doing will do.  This means more frequent casting which means more damage for everybody!

Enhance got most (and by most I mean all) of the tweaking this patch, mostly damage boosts to keep us in line with other classes.  Stormstrike deals 450% weapon damage rather than 375%, and Lava Lash deals 300%, up from 250%.  We also gained a bit more spell power this patch through Mental Quickness, with 65% of our attack power being converted to spell power, up from 55%.  Finally, our Feral Spirits are now immune to snares and roots, which should help in PVP situations.

A couple of hotfixes have targeted shaman since then, but they’re fairly minor bugfixes.  Healing Rain now caps at 6 targets, Conductivity now shares its healing properly, Healing Tide Totem no longer requires line-of-sight, and there’s an elemental hotfix that if I played elemental more than once in a blue moon, I could more properly comment on it and how it fixes some mechanic with Lava Burst or what have you.

So apparently enhance had fallen behind a bit (though our sims had put us pretty firmly in the upper middle, but sims can be wrong I suppose), but I’m not going to complain about a buff.  Having a bit more spell power and buffing our two major melee attacks should help keep us in line with the other classes and specs.

Onward to Orgrimmar

As of this writing, patch 5.4 is already on the PTR, and hoo boy it’s a doozy.  Not just in terms of the lore and the final raid of the expansion, but also in terms of the other major highlights of the patch.  Let’s go through them!

/flex

Continuing the (apparent) trend of introducing a new raid difficulty/tier of loot every patch, Blizzard has introduced the Flexible raiding system with 5.4.  In line with its name, flexible raiding allows for a group of any size from 10 to 25 players to tackle a raid that is easier than normal, but more challenging than LFR, with the difficulty scaling the more players are there.  The system will also support cross-realm players through your BattleTag or RealID friends lists.  Loot will be awarded per-player, just like LFR, with support for bonus rolls and spec choices.  What’s more, flexible raiding allows you to earn achievements just like in normal and heroic, and has a separate lockout from LFR and normal/heroic raids.

While Ghostcrawler tried to tone down everyone’s expectations of the big unannounced feature by saying “there’s a lot of features in 5.4!  pick your favorite, and that’s the big one!”, I still believe that this is the one he was talking about way back a few months ago on Twitter.  Because it is a big one, and could change the face of the casual endgame.

One of the criticisms I’d level against Blizzard for Mists is that normal raiding has just gotten out of hand.  Now, I’m not saying I couldn’t handle it (perhaps if I had a little more free time, or if college weren’t hanging over my head), but for the average player, normal raiding is much more complex than it ever was years ago.  Back in Classic or BC or Wrath, the difficulty in raiding was mostly the numbers.  In Classic, it was usually resistances and did you have enough tanks; in BC and Wrath, it was mostly just bringing enough DPS to finish the boss off or having enough heals to survive the encounter.  Encounters weren’t very mechanically complex (look at the abilities for MC Rag and giggle at how this was considered hardcore back in ye olden days), but they were often numerically punishing.  A boss might have a gigantic health pool, or might do a large amount of damage to your raid that you’d have to heal through and you hoped your healers didn’t run out of mana.

But then starting in Cata, normal modes started to get more mechanically complex.  There was no room for a Patchwerk fight anymore (the closest I can think of are Magmaw and Morchok), because almost every fight had numerous mechanics to remember and work around, strats to devise, phases to plan for.  And this is leaving out heroics, which had increased health and damage and even more mechanics to keep track of.  This continued into Mists, where normal modes are by far some of the most challenging raid content WoW’s ever seen, and heroics are on a whole other level.  As of this writing, not even 40% of all guilds who have started ToT have managed to down normal Lei Shen, and almost 1.5% have gotten through heroic.

This has basically assured the continued absence of the normal pug, something that was very popular during Wrath and was all but eliminated with the combination of the 10 and 25 lockouts.  Before, you could run 25-man raids with your guild, and then you could kick back with a 10-man pug for fun or offspec gear.  Since players had easy access to epics through Emblems of Triumph/Frost, a new player could gear up quick through running a lot of heroics and then join up with pugs for 10-man ICC (or better yet, a 25-man alt run from one of the major guilds on the server) to further upgrade their gear.  The weekly raid quests helped cement pugging as a server-wide institution; players would form groups for the weekly almost every single day, and even if it was just grouping for one boss, it was still more social than you get in today’s game.  I wonder whether players complaining about welfare epics realized that such easy access to gear made getting to the end of the game (y’know, the stuff you’re paying to play) a non-issue, and increased the player pool for all manner of endgame content.

Flexible raiding’s goals seem to be twofold:  to encourage players to start pugging again, and to continue Blizzard’s stated/unstated goal of letting players play how they want to play, something they didn’t really deliver on earlier this expansion (cough cough Golden Lotus cough I’ll get back to them later cough).  Both goals are noble, and the first is long overdue.  Apart from the odd Mogu’shan Vaults run, I barely see anyone running pugs for raids on my server, and it’s a fairly populated one at that.  Usually people are just looking for one or two players to fill out a gap in their roster for the night.  I haven’t pugged a raid since…well, not since Wrath, pretty much.  As such, apart from LFR, I have no endgame, and LFR is a weak substitute at best.

Also of note is that achievements will be attainable in flexible raiding as well as normal and heroic.  This goes along with a blue post from everyone’s favorite Old God eyeball, Watcher, in which the details of the Glory of the Orgrimmar Raider meta achievement are laid out.  Specifically, the meta will no longer require heroic boss kills, meaning that a larger percentage of players will have access to them; whether all the achievements for the meta will be available in flexible is unknown at this time, but it stands to reason that they will be.

The reasoning for this, as Watcher says, is that the Glory metas have not worked out well ever since the introduction of heroic raiding with ToC (though the first meta that required them was ICC).  Achievements for the meta were basically the hard-modes of their day (many of the Ulduar hard modes were required to complete for the meta), and allowed guilds to keep farm content interesting weeks later.  Heroic raiding made an official hard mode for raiding, and as such achievements were seen as something of an optional side-mode, if you will, offering nothing more than a shiny mount for completing every heroic kill (sometimes minus the final boss) and a few random extra things.  As only heroic raiders could complete the meta while it was current, only a fraction of a fraction of the playerbase would ever have access to the mount rewards at that time, and most frequently guilds wouldn’t even bother getting them until a tier or two later (and then do them on normal instead) rather than take a week off of farming/progression just to go do achievements on the less-optimal-for-loot normal mode.  Thus, the meta will be open to all raiders flexible and above (hopefully) and should hopefully reinvigorate players’ drive for optional challenge.

Side anecdote, but I remember back in Wrath when players wanted to go for Glory of the Hero achievements all the time.  During Cata, nobody wanted to do Hero achievements, and now in Mists I rarely see anyone even suggest the option.  Hence why I never finished my Cata Hero meta until a couple months ago when I finished off my last few achievements with a couple friends, and why I still have barely any achievements in my Pandaria Hero meta.  Don’t get me started on Cata/Mists raiding metas.

I also want to see how long it takes before players work out the optimal raid composition for flexible raiding and start to game the system.  I know it’ll happen (it always happens), but I’ll probably write more about that general mindset later.  For now, I’m crossing my fingers that flexible raiding will turn out to be an improvement for the game.

Virtual reality

Then there’s another big unannounced feature that is proving to be a little bit harder to rationalize.  Virtual realms are on the slate for 5.4, and seem to be Blizzard’s attempt to avoid realm coalescing by virtually coalescing realms instead.  While it’s unclear just how many realms are supposed to be in one virtual realm, the PTR notes say that virtual realms “behave exactly as if they were one cohesive realm.  Players on the same Virtual Realm will be able to join guilds, access a single Auction House, join arena teams and raids, as well as[sic] run dungeons or group up to complete quests.”

So in short, it’s merging realms without really merging them.  Yay?

I’m going to admit, I’m still not entirely happy with CRZ in general.  It’s an idea with good intentions, but for a solo player like myself, seeing others out in the world is an aggravation more often than it is a blessing.  When I’m flying around on my druid gathering mats to level an alt’s professions, I don’t like having competitors from other realms swoop in and snag my node before I can reach it.  When I’m looking for a rare mob in Northrend, I don’t want a larger pool of competitors tagging it before I realize it’s spawned.  This was part of why I didn’t leave Crushridge for a long time, because the small population meant that I could do whatever I needed to do by myself without others serving as a hindrance.

With virtual realms, it’s only slated to get worse for players like me.  Soon, the auction house will be dominated by even more would-be robber barons, leaving me fewer chances to get in on goldmaking.  Soon, I’ll run into people wherever I go, rather than have them phase in and out through CRZ.  Soon, my preferred solo playstyle will get a lot less easy to maintain.

Now you could argue that that’s not really what an MMO is about, that it’s about the socializing and seeing others out in the field and making friends and enemies and engaging with others.  But I’d argue that an MMO is what you make it, and if you want to get away from it all and do things by yourself, you should be able to.  I know I’m probably in the minority with my particular playstyle (which comes from friends abandoning me from the get go, so I had to learn how to play by myself), but I think that I should be able to engage in it if I so choose.  I’m not saying I’m mean or I yell at others if I even see them; on the contrary, I try to be friendly to all I meet, and do my best to remain patient with them.  But I am saying that if I just want to go off to a remote corner of the world and do a little farming or something, I should be able to without having a lot of others flying about and getting in the way.

We’ll see what happens, I suppose.  I know that merging servers is the accepted sign of a dead game, but I think that virtual realms are a band-aid at best.

Step into the ring

One of the other major game systems change comes with an overhaul of the Arena system.  First introduced with the launch of Burning Crusade, Arenas were designed to create a more competitive style of PVP, something that would (in theory) pit similarly-skilled teams of two, three, or five players against each other to see who would come out on top.  Arenas also introduced the concept of PVP seasons, with progressive seasons offering better gear specifically for PVP.  Players would form teams, do arena matches for Arena Points (later Conquest Points with Cataclysm and the introduction of Rated Battlegrounds), spend these points on better gear, and go back in for more rating and glory.

Some big changes are on the way for arenas, the biggest being the removal of arena teams.  This was a fundamental core to the system; once you formed a team, your rating was tied solely to that team.  You could leave whenever you wanted, sure, but starting over would mean starting from the very bottom (as far as I’m aware; I’ve never done arenas but I’m pretty sure that’s how it works).  Under the new system, players will be able to team up with anyone and jump into a match, no manual team-making required (apart from setting up your party, of course).  Ratings will be calculated on a per-player basis, so while you’ll likely want to play with the same people over and over, a friend’s past poor performance won’t affect your good rating (unless of course you can’t carry them in matches you play with them).  This should make it easier to get into arenas, as one of the toughest things is finding one, two, or four like-minded individuals who are fine with making a team with you.  And for those who only want Conquest, joining up and jumping in will be a lot easier.

The other major change is that arenas will no longer be constrained to players on your Battlegroup.  For those who joined WoW more recently, the introduction of Arenas also brought about the creation of several Battlegroups, clusters of realms for PVP.  You would only ever encounter players from your Battlegroup if you queued up for a battleground or arena match.  For example, my realm, Thrall, is on the Stormstrike Battlegroup  This means that if I played an arena match right now, I could get players from such servers as Mal’Ganis, Turalyon, and Khadgar; but could never play a match against someone from Illidan, Moon Guard, or my two old servers, Darkspear or Crushridge.  Battlegrounds and LFD previously were constrained to Battlegroups as well, but these restrictions were removed quite a while ago, and both of these systems draw players from all over your region (though I believe they still prioritize Battlegroups, I think because Battlegroup servers are closer to each other physically).  Arenas will do the same in 5.4, allowing you to play anyone in your region in the ring.  Naturally, US and EU players won’t be able to duke it out for global superiority, but I think we can live with that.

Prove yourself

First announced…was it back at BlizzCon 2011?  I forget exactly when.  It was before the release of Mists, at least; a search brings up a post from a couple days after Mists’ launch mourning the lack of the feature, and going further back, an article posted by Bashiok in March of 2012 mentions them.  Whatever the case, the Proving Grounds are finally coming!

The Proving Grounds are a series of challenging solo scenarios designed to let players learn how to play the roles their class lets them play, as well as offering a way for players to compete and determine who’s really the best tank, healer, or DPS on the realm.  The scenarios are available in Bronze, Silver, and Gold difficulties, as well as an Endless mode that throw more and tougher enemies at you until you can’t take it anymore!  While the specifics of what tank, healer, and DPS challenges might be are as of yet unknown (the feature isn’t open on the PTR yet), they should offer up quite the challenge.

This will also hopefully help the ever-present lack of tanks and healers in dungeon queues.  Hell, I STILL don’t heal because I don’t like the thought of getting blamed for a group’s failings; as a DPS, I know exactly what to do (punch things until they die) and don’t have to worry about the pressure of failure.  Usually, if a group fails, it’s either the tank’s fault or the healer’s, and as such most players tend to avoid these higher-stress roles.  With luck, the Proving Grounds will teach more players that being a healer or a tank isn’t as bad as they think it is, and might actually be fun to them!  Hell, I might even start a resto offspec next patch, if it proves (harhar) my fears wrong.

An isle in time

Mystery awaits us with a new landmass in 5.4, the Timeless Isle.  The PTR notes have absolutely no info on this new island to the east of the Jade Forest, so all we have to go on is datamined text/audio and what we can infer from it.

According to Wrathion’s legendary quest dialogue, the Isle appears and disappears of its own will.  Apparently, it lives up to its name; time has no meaning, and the sun won’t rise or set.  What we do know is that the Isle will likely be the new event area for 5.4, as Krasarang, the Isle of Thunder, and the Northern Barrens were for 5.1, 5.2, and 5.3 respectively.  No new dailies have been datamined (thankfully), but what would appear to be the patch’s new world boss, Ordos <Fire-God of the Yaungol>, is located there.  The dungeon journal seems to indicate that he’s the loot pinata of the patch, with attacks that deal a significant amount of damage but are not so severe that players cannot survive them.  He does have an effective five-minute enrage timer, as after this time, he will inflict 300k damage to everyone every second, which (obviously) nobody apart from tanks could survive for more than two seconds.  Should be fun to down that guy!  Mid-writing update:  apparently, Ordos is actually the Galleon/Oondasta of the patch, as access to his platform is reserved only for those who have attained their legendary cloaks, and he will offer up SoO-level normal and normal Thunderforged (or whatever they call Thunderforged gear in SoO) gear.  It’s an interesting way to design a boss, by making sure that the only players who can access him are those who have proven themselves worthy; it also practically ensures that the encounter can be designed for high-level players first and foremost, as only the best of the best will have access to the legendary cloaks at first.  By the time the playerbase at large manages to attain their cloaks, the top-tier players will have sufficient gear to more easily carry lesser players, and more players means that Ordos will be more easily zerged.  We’ll see how it turns out, I suppose!  I do wonder what the loot pinata of 5.4 will be, if Ordos is meant to be the challenging boss.  I’ll be keeping my eyes open.

What’s curious about the Isle (and the legendary quests referencing it) is that there don’t seem to be any dailies associated with it, much like 5.3’s Barrens events.  Instead, the legendary questline involves gathering Timeless Coins from “creatures and events on the Timeless Isle.”  Wrathion commands you to “Destroy the mysterious foes who lurk in this timeless place, discover hidden caches of treasure, and explore forgotten treasure hoards – whatever it takes.”  It’s possible that the Isle is primarily a treasure-seeker’s paradise, and it’ll take a keen eye (or just a datamined map in a few months) to gather the coins you need.

The Isle will also serve as yet another pet battle location, with an event known as the Tournament of Celestials rewarding you with a mini-version of each Celestial as a pet.  I gotta say, that little Xuen cub looks too cute for words.  I’d better start leveling up some pets again.

The final bit of note is the appearance of the August Celestials on the Isle, as bosses.  Thankfully, rather than another instance of “good guy is now ebil,” the four seem to be tied to the latest (and presumably last) stage of the legendary questline, in which you will have to defeat all four in a series of trials, much like the pandaren emperor Shaohao long ago.  Their appearance in the dungeon journal suggests you’ll need to get a group of like-minded individuals together in order to handle this final part of the questline, much like A Change of Command back in 5.1.

Legendary

Might as well devote a couple paragraphs to this one, huh?

So, it’s all come down to this.  You’ve plundered the Mogu’shan Vaults, delved into the Mantid hive, purged the Sha of Fear from the Terrace of Endless Spring, fought valiantly for your faction in Krasarang, toppled the Thunder King, and journeyed with Wrathion to receive a blessing of the Celestials.  Along the way, you’ve been granted a powerful legendary gem, a tool to add a socket to your weapon(s), a legendary meta-gem, and an epic cloak that far surpasses everything else available.  All of this has led up to the final stage of the questline in 5.4, with the Siege of Orgrimmar on its way.  Everyone has been waiting patiently for the conclusion, for what we all assumed would reward us with the legendary weapons we were all foaming at the mouth for.  And what do we get?

A legendary cloak.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not THAT upset (it’s not like I’ve been waiting since I started playing for a legendary that was relevant to its time, nooooo).  But it’s a little…well, I don’t want to say underwhelming, but I don’t NOT want to say underwhelming too.  I got mixed feelings about this one, so it might be a couple more paragraphs.

For starters, it’s still a legendary item, and far beyond any legendary weapon given before.  Hell, given the ilvl of the epic cloak (600), even by conservative estimates it will still far outpace everything in SoO heroic, and will likely last you into the first tier of raiding in the next expansion.  Earlier legendaries were only a few ilvls ahead of other weapons in their raid, but were more highly valued due to their procs and special mechanics.  These cloaks appear to be following in that same vein, with a proc activating for melee, ranged, healer, and tank cloaks.  Early datamined versions of each:

  • Melee, Flurry of Xuen:  Attacks have a chance to trigger a Flurry of Xuen, dealing 60% weapon damage to all targets in front of you every .5 sec for 3 sec.
  • Ranged, Essence of Yu’lon:  Attacks have a chance to empower you with Essence of Yu’lon, causing your next direct damage spell to deal 5k damage and an additional 30k damage over 6 sec, also affecting other enemies near the burning target.
  • Healers, Spirit of Chi-Ji:  Heals also grant the target the Spirit of Chi-Ji, healing them for 3% of their missing health every sec for 3 sec.
  • Tanks, Endurance of Niuzao:  Fully absorbs the damage of one attack that would normally kill you, on a 60 sec. cooldown.

Thus, you really can’t get too mad and say “these aren’t legendary!”  If those aren’t legendary procs, I don’t know what are.  I’m working doubly hard to finish the 5.2 and 5.3 stages in time for 5.4, though I’ll probably end up at least a couple weeks behind, if not a couple months.  But damn, that melee one is making me drool.  That’s also not to say that we won’t have some great proc weapons in SoO; one of the Blizzard CMs or Ghostcrawler (I forget who) hinted that proc weapons would be returning in the Siege, as they did at the end of Dragon Soul.

Second, the undertaking is still legendary, even if there have been some catchup mechanics added along the way.  You still have to grind out Wrathion’s rep to exalted, you still have to run old raids (though you won’t need to run 5.0 raids anymore with the release of 5.4, as Sigils will drop in ToT LFR; running all of them will just speed up the process), you still have to do a variety of solo things that will test your skills.  I laugh whenever someone tries to say that the legendary questline is worthless because anyone can do it.  Yes, anyone can start, but it takes a considerable effort to finish.  I can see complaints about the questline rewarding time more than skill, and understand where they’re coming from.  However, legendaries in the past were completed if your guild chose you (or more commonly, if you were the GM) and were willing to help you finish it, mostly so that you in turn could help propel them further along the tier.  There was some skill required, but with the exception of later legendaries like Dragonwrath and Fangs of the Father, the skill was mostly required of your guild as a whole, such as getting the bites right for Blood Infusion, or keeping the player alive during Frost Infusion, or handling the extra boss for Dragonwrath.  Legendaries were a guild undertaking with only one player rewarded with the glory, and usually resulted in some resentment of other players in the guild who weren’t picked.  And let’s not forget that legendaries have caused many guilds to lose great raiders just because they weren’t picked to get theirs first.

As to the cloak thing, one of the reasons I think Blizzard went with a cloak instead of a weapon (or set of weapons, in the case of dual-wielding classes/specs) was that everyone has their own tastes of what they want their weapons to look like.  Even people who generally ignore transmog on the whole will change their weapons into a personal favorite.  Many people match their gear to look like their weapons, or create a theme for their transmog with their weapons as the centerpiece.  Legendaries are not transmogrifiable, so if the 5.4 legendaries had been weapons, players would be stuck with that look for the rest of the expansion.  And what one person thinks looks great, another would say looks horrible.  It’s impossible to please everyone, so (apart from lifting the “legendaries cannot be transmogrified” rule) the only option was not to make them.  Cloaks make more sense because, apart from helmets, cloaks are the only piece of gear that can be turned off.  Don’t like the look of your legendary cloak?  One click of a button and you never have to see it.  It’s brilliant, really.

Another reason they went with a cloak instead of a weapon was likely to avoid devaluing the weapons that will drop in the raid.  From what we’ve seen so far, it could very well be possible that players could obtain the legendary cloak the first day of the patch (provided they can grind out enough coins, then get a raid together on the Isle and best the Celestials).  Thus, for many of the more dedicated players, the first couple weeks of the patch will be all they need to obtain their legendaries.  Imagine if they had been weapons instead!  Garrosh’s epic proc weapons would probably be sharded the very first time they dropped!  Rather than devalue weapons (of which the variety has always been great), the devs decided to devalue cloaks, items that many players choose not to look at.  I wouldn’t be surprised if cloaks didn’t feature in the SoO loot tables anywhere, and could only be obtained outside of the legendary questline through a valor purchase.

I think that the Mists methodology of legendary questing is arguably the best method there can be.  It changed the nature of the questline from something that one person accomplished, but only with a whole guild behind them, to something that any player could start, but only the dedicated could finish.  Anyone, upon hitting level 90, can start the chain and delve into some interesting lore that previously only a privileged few would ever get to see.  Anyone can, with some effort, get some of the earlier rewards for the chain, such as the +500 stat gems or the Eye of the Black Prince.  Anyone can, with a lot of time and some grinding, get up to speed with the latest rewards.  And anyone can, if they complete the chain, get rewarded with a legendary cloak for their efforts.  That is a pretty sweet deal, I’d say.

I am a little bummed it’s not a weapon, mostly because I was so sure that with the introduction of another slow dual-wielding class, I’d finally have a shot at a legendary weapon set of my own (I’m still bitter over rogues getting the Fangs in T13).  But SoO will probably have a lot of proc-based weapons off of Garrosh himself, so that’s something to look forward to!

Speaking of…

The need for siege

It’s funny that, for an expansion billed as one with no main villain, we’ve not only had one this whole time, but we knew we were going to face him since the expansion’s first reveal back in the fall of 2011.  Yep, 5.4 is the patch in which we’ll finally take down Garrosh and (hopefully) restore some peace to a currently divided Horde.

While we don’t know all the specifics just yet, what we do know is that SoO will be a 14-boss raid, which puts it as the largest raid of the expansion, in terms of bosses, and in fact tied with Ulduar for the sec0nd-largest raid of all time, second only to Naxxramas, which has 15 bosses.  In terms of overall bosses for a raid tier, SoO ranks at number 3, tied with tiers 6, 8, and 14, and below only tiers 4 (15 bosses) and 7 (17 bosses).  Suffice it to say that it looks like Blizzard is going all-out for the final raid of this expansion.

The raid actually starts in a ruined Vale of Eternal Blossoms; this section of the raid is titled Vale of Eternal Sorrows.  The unearthing of the dead Old God Y’shaarj’s heart (as seen in the Dark Heart of Pandaria scenario) has caused a violent eruption of Sha energies in the Vale, destroying or scarring much of the landscape.  The twin mogu statues that have served as your login screen for almost the last year are both shattered, as is basically every Golden Lotus questing area.  Did the Sha hate Golden Lotus dailies as much as we do?  But the destruction has also unveiled a tunnel below Mogu’shan Palace, which leads to the first four bosses of the raid, including the final Sha, the Sha of Pride.

Afterwards, we make our way (somehow; raid testing hasn’t given us a clue yet) to the shores in front of Orgrimmar, where we launch our first assault against Garrosh’s forces at the Gates of Retribution.  This four-boss section of the raid sadly ends with the killing of General Nazgrim, whose only fault was being too loyal to his warchief.  It’s a shame, but good storytelling on Blizzard’s part.

Once we’ve secured Orgrimmar proper, we next descend into the Underhold for the third, three-boss section of the raid.  This secret compound below Orgrimmar presumably holds some of Garrosh’s experiments into gaining more power, including an event called the Spoils of Pandaria.  I cringe to think what might be down there.

Finally, the raid ends with Downfall, the final three bosses within Garrosh’s inner sanctum, including the Klaxxi Paragons (who you worked so hard to recover, who helped you for weeks while you helped them defeat their empress gone mad, who really grew on you with their blunt mannerisms; see how this raid is really making you hate doing what you do?), Siegecrafter Blackfuse (who has never appeared in-game, so who knows), and finally Garrosh himself.  Is there a shot at redemption in the eleventh hour?  Who knows?  Stranger things have happened.  (I’m going to guess probably not, sins too unforgivable, blah blah some sort of cutscene, lolcorruption, etc.)

I’m looking forward to this one, of course!  I’m sure many players are eager for a shot at taking down the Warchief, and there’s many reasons to do so, both lore- and loot-wise.  Anyone who beats him on normal difficulty before the next expansion hits will be rewarded with a Kor’kron War Wolf, so it’s definitely something to shoot for!  In addition, on heroic, Garrosh will drop some sort of 100% drop mount, which we have no idea what it’ll be, but presumably it’ll be suitably epic.  Maybe Garrosh’s shoulders were actually a jet pack this whole time!

5.4 for shaman

What’s on tap for the best class that nobody wants to play?  Well, since this is a major patch, that means more changes than 5.3 are scheduled, but surprisingly, not that many.  However, remember that this is very early in the PTR cycle, so any or all of these could change before the patch launches, and we might end up with a longer list of fixes and tweaks!  So, a rundown of what’s currently changing:

If you frequently use your Maelstrom stacks on Healing Rain to help out your healers but lament that it’s not large enough to cover your group (or worse, that people move out of it RIGHT when you place it because the boss conveniently put fire there), rejoice that its radius will be increased to 12 yards from 10 yards.  For some useless math, this means that its circle will be 44% larger than it is now!  This should make it easier to have the maximum amount of players targeted by its effect.

A minor improvement to enhancement shaman allows Stormstrike’s debuff to affect Elemental Blast, increasing your chance to crit with that talent.  I’m not sure how popular the talent is with enhance (I know many just stick with Unleashed Fury because we’re practically the only shaman that use Unleash Elements on a regular basis), but this coupled with the 5.2 change to make EB sometimes boost agility are presumably designed to make the talent a bit more popular with the best shaman spec (I will say that until I die, I guarantee it).

Some talents and glyphs are also slated to get some reworks.  Minor talent tweaks include a reduction in Astral Shift’s cooldown to 90 seconds from 2 minutes (which should make it more easily used), Healing Tide Totem healing for 50% more, Stone Bulwark Totem’s initial shield absorbing 33% more damage, and two tweaks to Unleashed Fury.  Unleashed Earthliving’s effect (for resto shaman, obviously) now applies to the shaman, presumably to make switching heal targets easier.  I understand this perfectly, what with Searing Flames moving from a debuff on my target to a buff on me to help with target switching.  Unleashed Flametongue also gives a bit more of a damage buff to Lightning Bolt, 30%, up from 20%.

The biggest talent change is a complete rework of Conductivity.  Previously, Conductivity required the shaman to put down a Healing Rain and have allies standing within it to gain some extra healing through the shaman’s damage or healing.  This was changed in 5.2 to allow the effect to hit allies anywhere in the raid, presumably because no shaman DPS wanted to have to blow a global cooldown or some cast time keeping a Healing Rain out.  Apparently it still wasn’t working right and had to be hotfixed this patch, but now Blizzard is changing how the talent works entirely.  Instead of copying some of the shaman’s damage or healing as heals for raid members, Conductivity now increases the duration of Healing Rain by 1 second 3 seconds with every direct heal (Healing Wave, Greater Healing Wave, Healing Surge, or Chain Heal) or some damaging attacks (Lightning Bolt, Chain Lightning, Earth Shock, or Stormstrike).  How this will work exactly is unclear; I’ll have to get on the PTR and test it out later.  What I presume it means is that a savvy player will be able to increase the length of their Healing Rain (not indefinitely, of course perhaps indefinitely, or at least a long time) and provide more steady healing over time to their raid group.  For enhancement shaman with Glyph of Healing Storm, this could mean a very potent off-heal for your group!  I’m going to assume that the rework is a more drastic measure to make Conductivity more popular, and that the current revision isn’t quite working out.  We’ll see what happens!  (Edit in the middle of writing:  Another patch went out on the PTR (it takes me a while to write these!) with another update to Conductivity, so I’ve updated my writing as needed!)

For glyphs, nothing major apart from some number changes.  Chaining increases the cooldown of Chain Heal by 2 seconds instead of 4, Fire Elemental Totem reduces duration and cooldown by 50% instead of 40% (probably to make it easier to line up with other cooldowns), and Riptide reduces the initial heal by 75% instead of 90%.  Nothing major for enhance to worry about, so no big deal.

And as I mentioned earlier, another patch brings another set of changes, none that have been implemented yet however!  Blizzard’s newest CM hire Lore (of Tankspot fame) came onto the forums to give some background on future planned resto shaman changes, one of which will affect all shaman:

We do have more changes coming for Resto Shaman in 5.4, which you should be seeing on the PTR soon (though possibly not in the next build). However, since we’ve got a long weekend coming up here at the office due to the holiday, we wanted to let you know about a couple changes we’re going to try out for Healing Tide Totem.

First, it’s no longer a talent. Healing Tide Totem is now baseline, available to all three Shaman specs. As you’re all aware, it’s an extremely useful ability, which makes it difficult for us to provide alternative options in that talent tier. Giving Healing Tide to everyone not only lets us work on making that tier more interesting, but it also makes sure no one is missing out on one of Resto’s more powerful tools by selecting the “wrong” talent.

Second, now that Healing Tide is a baseline ability, we feel it’s acceptable to give it a similar treatment to Tranquility or Divine Hymn in 25-man raids. It will now heal up to 12 targets when in a 25-player raid instance (and remains at 5 targets in other content).

There are several other changes still in discussion (such as what we’ll be replacing Healing Tide with in the talent tree, just as one example), but we wanted to at least share what we could before the weekend. We’re hoping to get at least some of them onto the PTR in one of the next builds. Please keep up the constructive feedback – it’s extremely useful!

It’s a very interesting change, one that will hopefully help our tier 5 talents become more interesting.  I’ve taken Healing Tide ever since the start of Mists; it’s a simple talent that gives me a powerful healing ability that only takes one button press.  I don’t have to worry about maximizing my DPS to maximize the healing I do with Ancestral Guidance, nor do I have to…well, I was going to say nor do I have to keep a Healing Rain up for Conductivity, but that got changed in 5.3 anyway (and it’s getting changed again in 5.4).  Whatever, I still don’t use it.  I can just drop a totem and let it help my healers out.  I suppose a lot of shaman felt the same way and picked that talent as well, something that goes against the design of the new talent system; if there’s one clear winner, there’s something wrong.  Giving it to all shaman baseline will give every shaman a big healing ability without having to choose a talent for it, as well as its power scaling up to cover half of a 25-man raid like Tranquility or Divine Hymn.  I’m curious to see how they handle all these abilities in flexible raiding.

So what will replace it?  Lore’s not at liberty to say just yet, but I imagine it will be on the PTR within a couple of patches.  Assuming I have this post up before then (no guarantees), I’ll post an update then!

Best patch?

Well that’s hard to say really.  It’s a big one, probably as big a final patch as 4.3 or 3.3 were (as of this writing, Blizzard is unsure if there will be a 5.5; depends on how long it’ll take 6.0 to get here, probably).  Blizzard seems to be going for a long shot with 5.4, as WoW’s subscription-based model is starting to show its age (even if I’d rather have that than other more popular options, but more on that in a future piece) and subscriber counts are dropping steadily.  It’s definitely going to have a long-lasting effect on the game, what with the further realm merging-but-not-exactly-merging and the flexible raiding.  The raid could end up there as one of the greatest, the Isle could be a successful experiment on repeatable non-daily quest content much like Battlefield: Barrens, and the final culmination of the legendary questline will very likely provide the most-obtained legendary yet.  I’d imagine that by the end of this expansion, players are going to be quite powerful indeed.

And then will have to trash all that gear for questing greens in 6.0.

Such is life in Azeroth.

SO HEY WHAT ABOUT THE BLOG

I’ve learned not to make promises, but I’m going to do my best.  I’m planning to spend some time writing once a week, perhaps on Saturdays, and will try and put up a post weekly on whatever I can think of.  Presumably, it’ll be WoW-related!  Usually opinion stuff, but I’ll see if I can’t keep bringing the enhance love.  Since we’re in the middle of a PTR cycle (and when are we not, with how fast these patches come out), if there’s any pressing updates on the PTR front, I’ll let y’all know.

And yes, I’m sure all three of you who read this blog are waiting with bated breath for the continuation of the Soloing for Fun and Profit series, which I will get to!  Eventually!  Maybe not before the next expansion!

Nah, but seriously, the guides do take a LOT of work.  And as old encounters get nerfed for easier completion, some of the information becomes out of date.  As a big example, Fathom-Lord Karathress can no longer two-shot you, his major attack no longer scaling with your health.  Thus, my old tips on how to solo him are no longer relevant, as the fight is no longer nearly a matter of bursting everything down before it wipes your entrails across the floor.  Not only that, the addition of pets to 10 of the BC raid bosses in 5.3 (and the promise of yet more to come in a future patch) means that there’s more reasons to go back and solo!  Thus, I’ll need to rewrite the BC guide, as well as likely the Classic guide again.  THEN, I can move on to writing up the Wrath guide, though I believe I had gotten started on that a while back.  It’ll necessarily be a big one, what with seven raids on two to four complexities, but I’ll probably write to the 10-man level first and work up from there.  25-man Wrath content will probably not be easily soloable for the most part until the next expansion, though I will say I’ve managed to down both Sapphiron and Kel’Thuzad on 25-man!  Most of it requires you to gear more for survivability than pure damage output, something that I don’t really feel like working up another set of gear to do?

I’m lazy and I’m really running out of bag space, okay

One thing that I’d like to write about, seeing as I’m now a person whose sole means of endgame progression is LFR and Valor purchases, is how best to gear up in 5.3 for enhancement shaman in my situation:  can’t or don’t want to get into normal raiding, but still want to get the best gear they can.  I’ll take some time either this week or next and do a full write-up on how to be the best you can be in 5.3.  Hee, it rhymed.  I can see that being a recurring feature with every patch.

Other than that, I’ll probably write about more video game-related stuff than just WoW (there’s other video games than WoW???) when I feel like I need to get my thoughts down about something.  Might write about a particular game I’ve been enjoying, or about industry practices, or game design, or whatever.  No guarantees (again) but it’s just an example of something I can potentially do for this blog!

Honestly, though, for the two of you still reading, I’d really like to know what you want me to talk about.  I should probably set up an email account or a Twitter or a Formspring or whatever where people can send me stuff, but for now, leave a comment and let me know how I’m doing!  If there’s anything you want me to talk about (shaman, raiding, what I had for dinner, favorite aquatic creatures, does this look like a fungus to you), post away and I’ll do my best.  Like I said, shooting for putting something together every weekend, so potentially I could have another post up on THIS VERY SATURDAY!

No promises, as always.

Still truckin’

I can’t think of anything else to put in this very, very elongated post (when are they not? he asked rhetorically with wry sarcasm).  I suppose that’s as good an indication as any to cut it off here and put it up for all one of you that keeps checking in from time to time.

So to the zero people who are still here, thank you for reading and being incredibly patient!  I will do my best not to disappoint you again.

But probably will.

Or maybe not!

Hopefully.

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