Alex the Bunnyslayer!

Last night, as my interest in Allods Online began to wane in the Imperial starter area, Alex sat down to watch me manuever my Orc around, killing Sewer Rats.

“I bet I can do that.”

Hmmm.

Thoughts of operating a gold farming mob grinding child labor sweatshop momentarily danced through my head.

“Alex, you’re still too young to begin playing an MMO. I know you want to play what mommy and I do, but you still need to improve your reading skills first. You’ll get better, sweetie.”

“But it doesn’t LOOK hard.”

“Yes dear, but see, I’m left-clicking, right-clicking, moving the mouse, using the keyboard all at the same time just to move. And then using these other hotkeys to… “

“You know what, get over here and sit on my knee. Go for it.”

“Okay!”

An hours’ impromptu course on the finer points of character movement in Allods Online follows, along with many Sewer Rats killed. Amongst the sheer craziness that is day three of an open Beta, where everyone and their brother and kid sister wants to log in and reserve “their” name, even if they never intend to play the game themselves, just so nobody else can take “their” name.

MMO people are freaking nuts, you do know that, don’t you?

Finally, it’s time for Alex to have storytime before teeth brushing and off to bed.

“Awww!”

“Tell you what, buddy, tomorrow night we’ll get on the other game, and you can make a character and run around there and have fun.”

Fast forward to tonight, at dinner, over cheese pizza.

“Can I be done?”

“You only had one piece of pizza and a breadstick, sucka. Eat up.”

“But I’m just so excited!”

“Okay… why?” (dreading the answer)

“Because I’m going to play the game!”

Uh oh… mind reading parent powers activate… “Alex, you’re still not old enough to play the game on your own. We’re going to create a character for you together, and you are going to play while I help, but this is NOT the sign that you are finally old enough to play , you DO understand that, don’t you?”

“‘kay.”

So we go downstairs, I fire up WoW, I pick a non-PvP server (first test of the dark side successfully passed), and  begin to show him races.

“I want to be a gnome!”

“Okay, no problem… now how about these other choices?” (fast scroll through hair and colors and stuff)

He picks a Gnome with high spiky black hair, a goatee with nefarious moustachios, and a face with a huge shit eating grin.

We had him go Rogue for his first class, even though he wanted a Warrior with the big big sword. Somehow, I feel he is destined to be the gankER, not the gankEE.

Pop into Coldridge Valley, and it’s time to teach him the finer points of mouse movement, and auto attack, and Sinister Strike, and ranged pulls with thrown daggers.

In an amazingly short period of time, he’s hopping all over, exploring the heights of the mountains.I’m unconcerned, because they changed Coldridge and the other level 1-5 starter zones to be pure yellow… no aggroing mobs unless you attack them first.

I then teach him how to attack. I’ve cleared off everything from his bar except Throw and Sinister Strike.

He spies a cute litte bunny hopping by.

He targets the bunny, chases the bunny around for a while, camera viewpoint swerving around crazily, until finally, he gets the bunny. He kills the bunny.

Kills that cute little bunny dead.

He then targets another bunny. He runs past Troggs and Wolves in his single-minded pursuit of rabbit… it’s what’s for dinner.

I go up and tell on him. I ratted him out to Cassie, oh hell yes I did. She, of course, is horrified by the slaughter of bunnies. Alex comes upstairs and promises not to kill anymore bunnies.

So, I help guide him through killing Wolves and Troggs, and then I show him how to get a quest, and how Questhelper puts up tracking info that changes so he can see how many more of something he still needs.

Then I leave him to decimate the Wolf population while I go feed the cats.

I come back, guide him to turn that in, get the Trogg quest, and help guide him towards Troggs.

He dings 3 and is halfway towards 4, it’s getting late, and I tell him that once he hits 4, he’s done for the night.

In the finest traditions of 6 year olds everywhere (almost 7!) he begins sandbagging it, slowing down, stops killing things, begins wandering.

Wasn’t it Bill Cosby who joked about loving small children because they’re so truthful? No deception or cunning in them? ROFLMAO!

I invoked parental clause #24… Call his bluff and raise him.

“If you’re not going to play, you can be done now.”

“Okay, I’ll play for real.”

I guided him to complete mail delivery, and then helped him take and understand the “Kill da Boars” quest, knowing that would be enough to ding 4.

AlexbunnyAs he went about hunting down and killing Boars, and using Stealth to sneak up on them a LOT (Boars are yellow in Coldridge, like everything else, BTW), he was very chatty.

I finally just grabbed a pad of paper and a pencil, and began to take that shit down. This would be the conversation from that point, verbatim.

“I’m never gonna kill a bunny again.”

“I might kill a rabbit on the way to kill a boar.”

“A rabbit or two.”

“Killing rabbits is fun.”

On noticing he is going to ding 4 soon on the XP bar, and reach GAME OVER time… “After I do this quest, can I kill a couple bunnies?”

“I want to make up my own quest.”

“And that quest is… [ominous voice] Killing Wabbits!”

“Congratulations on dinging 4, dear.”

“Thank you – Oh, and there’s a bunny!”

“How do I make my swords show?”

“Z”

“Okay.”

[clicks Z] “Dangerous Mode!”

“I killed a bunny!”

“Awwww……”

“Sorry… I won’t kill anymore bunnies…”

Yes, that’s right… my son, the Bunnyslayer.

My God, what I wouldn’t give to hear the conversation my son has with his friends recapping this, with his teacher spying and judging… I mean innocently overhearing.

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Betrayal of those you love

Hi, and welcome to a fun story about cheating on your loved one.

And I want you to know… I’m not ashamed. Not in the slightest. I’d do it again.

In fact, even now, I’m PLANNING on doing it!

For the longest time, I’ve been in a dedicated, serious relationship.

Years. YEARS of my life dedicated to my one and only.

Oh, sure, I’ve flirted before. But I never felt that same passion, y’know?

But, well… I’m cheating now. And I find that I like it.

I mean, of course, that WoW is no longer the only MMO in my life.

I started playing Allods Online last night.

….

I’ll let that sink in. I know, a lot of you are probably in shock, very nearly in tears at the idea that I could do such a thing to WoW, after all that we’ve meant to each other.

Hmmm…. okay, I think I’ve played around with silly euphemisms enough. You don’t come here for my playful messing with descriptions, you come here for…

You know, I don’t really know WHY you come here.

Maybe I should insert a song about hedgehogs.

Nah. Too derivative.

Back to the point, Cassie and I look around, check out the MMOs out there, read about ’em on websites, but never really play ’em.

Heck, I don’t even HAVE any other games on my computer except Warcraft III, because when I bought my new computer late last year, I only installed what I played; WoW and WC3, and haven’t had any others to spend time with.

Shoot, I don’t even play Guitar Hero much anymore, except when Cassie asks me what the heck we spent all that damn money on it for.

Then I play a couple “guilt songs”.

Guilt songs.

You know, the “See, I’m playing it dear, don’t veto future game purchases based on my past history of not playing the games you already bought for me” songs.

Me and WoW. We be tight, mon. Peace. (Had somebody say that to me today. “Peace out”. Sadly he was over 50, and he was serious. He wasn’t being funny. It is to weep.)

Sure, we created characters to try Free Realms, because, hey, it’s free. Let’s check it out.

Meh.

Then we made characters and tried out Earth Eternal. Free again.

Meh.

Both of them are damn cute, and a lot of fun. Don’t get me wrong, I actually think very, very highly of Earth Eternal, and Free Realms had fantastic ideas.

But… they didn’t combine the graphics, allure of the mature character class and race and faction dynamics, and the “easy to learn, lifetime to master” intricacy of mechanics that WoW offered.

To reference one of BRK’s favorite shows, Chopped, it’s easy to make a great tasting dessert for most diners out of chocolate, cream, sugar and strawberries.

It’s the complexity of adding unusual or complex ingredients that complement the dish in fascinating, unexpected or unique ways that excited the jaded palatte. Like cayenne pepper in your chocolate sauce or Miso paste in your cookie dough. (And seriously. Miso sugar cookie dough? What are you people smoking?)

After the feast that is WoW, us connoiseurs of the MMO crave something more than an apple pie a la mode.

Nothing wrong with apple pie a la mode. It’s quite satisfying, and I’m at heart not that picky. I love me some apple pie a la mode.

But I do have that jaded palatte. I’m used to that upper level of MMO. The intricate, the mature. I crave complexity, depth, challenges. There has to be a hint of mystery. Adventure. Something new and unexpected waiting around the next corner. 

Wait, I am still talking about MMOs, right? Relationships, food… I did have lunch today, right?

Get to the damn point!

Cassie had been reading about Allods Online, following it on Massively, and recently Tesh has posted about it a few times, and it went into open Beta two days ago.

Cassie told me that, not only was it going into open Beta, but they had also announced that at the end of the Beta, they weren’t doing a server wipe. The characters you created now, and their names, would endure past live launch.

The game is free to play, and will be supported by an in-game store with microtransactions.

In reading on what’s out there on it, it seemed to have interesting graphics, a deep backstory, strange sounding classes mixed in with the traditional, and a lot of stuff going on.

And it looked very, very advanced. Dare I say it? As promising of depth and complexity (and duration) as WoW.

What the heck, let’s try it!

I got the game downloaded and installed two nights ago, but work is… intense right now. We are in crisis control mode 24/7 these days, and I feel guilty only putting in 10 or 12 hour days most days. So, not much playtime.

But last night… ah, last night I gave it a shot.

It’s a fantasy setting, but very innovative, lots of cool ideas. 

What interested me right up front, was that there is a race called the Gibberlings.

The Gibberlings are a communal race. The description says there are almost always triplet Gibberlings, and they are rarely seen without their brothers and sisters with them. They are a very tight knit family.

This translates into your player character, if a Gibberling… as a group of three little furry kneebiters that somehow can be short, furry, with fanged teeth, and still seem awesome instead of like nauseating little Ewok clones.

You name each individual Gibberling in your cluster, and customize their appearance totally, different heights if you want, the whole nine yards. Only one of them is considered your “main” Gibberling, the front man so to speak, so when you send messages or chat, that’s the name others see.

I created a Gibberling, named all three, tweaked their appearances, and away we went. Character creation? Smooth.

I chose as a class the Scout, which translates into a combination Archer/Rogue. Ranged achery skills and special abilities mixed with stealth, poisons, and excellent fast speed melee combat capability.

I played through the intro, and it was a very, very well set up intro, an instanced area that allowed you to level to 4 while going through the tutorial, lots of different quest types right up front, good intro into how to play, lots of tension.

One thing that I noticed was, I had three Gibberlings.

The one up front carried a big mace… and one of the two following carried a crossbow.

Sure as hell, when I started ranged attacks, the Gibberling with the bow stepped forward and started shooting. When an enemy got into melee range, my mace wielder moved to the fore to beat him down.

There is a tanking class available to Gibberlings. It makes me wonder, when using shield block style actions, does the third Gibberling move to intercept the attacks?

Really, it was very cool.

Unfortunately… I didn’t really get into it, because it had a “commander” feel to playing the character. I wasn’t playing one character, I was manuevering a party from place to place. Yes, it effectively handled like one character, but visually it looked like you were issueing orders to your squad leader. It was cool, but that wasn’t what I wanted to get into right at that moment.

So I then went back, and made a human (Kenian) Scout. Same class, just a human styled race.

The class was a lot of fun. Really, a damn nice combat system with a fun combination of abilities.

What I noticed around me was that most folks seemed to be Elves. Mages and Priests seemed extremely popular combinations for most players once past the starter instance.

All in all, I played for about 2 hours before I had to hit the sack, but I do feel I got a good idea of the basic playstyle, the graphics, the movement. Enough to get a sense of it as a game.

End result, I think it’s a game well worth getting into.

I don’t see it as something that is definitely going to replace WoW… but it is very cool.

It has a lot of potential.

Tonight, I’ve got plans in WoW, but I’ll definitely be dabbling in Allods Online this weekend a little, doing my bit to help Beta test as well as getting involved.

Honestly, the game seems amazing. I am quite happy with helping Beta test, with feedback, in the hopes that I can help contribute in my teeny, small way in getting it onto a successful and smooth launch.

I’m sure you will inevitably see screenshots from me, get a little analysis on whatever class I choose to really get into, maybe even find a tank and start trying it out and give some guidance there.

I do know that what you won’t find is me switching to only talking about Allods Online, and gushing.

I’m a Bear, and shame on Allods… there ain’t no class that let’s me be a big old bear.

World of Warcraft… you had me at “Be a bear”.

I’m interested in seeing more of the game than level 5. I already know that when you level, you can get stat points you choose where you will allocate amongst your stats. You get Talent points, and can spend them on a system of character class improvement identical to WoW’s talent tree system.

But I’ve heard from Tesh that at some point you begin earning points that can be spent to improve your character a third way… using a sphere grid system similar to Final Fantasy X/XII.

I played Final Fantasy X, and the idea of having that kind of class customization, a path through a sphere grid to follow when upgrading, on top of the talent trees and stats, causes me to think that the complexity of how to balance your class towards the role you choose will be very deep indeed.

Time will tell!

Can another MMO compete with WoW’s community?

In the comments to my last post, Klinger made a comment that really resonated with what I’ve been looking at lately.

Klinger said;

I loved EQ2’s combat system. The Heroic Finisher or Chains or whatever it was called.

I also truly adored the tradeskill system. You REALLY had to pay attention and if you did, you could make a regular cloak into something awesome. Also the fact that you had fully crafted armor sets at each 10-19, 20-29, 30-39, etc. level break was really neat.

EQ2 did a LOT of things right.

The things that killed them, though, were the HEAVY system requirements and the severe lack of community. I don’t know if it’s a SOE thing, but it doesn’t seem like the info on quests, items, or walkthroughs are as easy to get with EQ2 as it is with wow.

Think about it – what if wow didn’t have wowhead, thottbot, alakhazam, or any of the numerous blogs or class guide forums. EQ2 may have some of that stuff now, but even 2 years after it’s release, it had NOTHING on wow in terms of community.

WE made wow successful. Blizzard made a great game, I agree, but the community keeps it going and makes us want to play it for the last 6 years.

I agree with so many of his points, I just had to make a post out of it. 🙂

When deciding on playing an MMO other than WoW, there is more to consider than the game itself. There is also the community.

When you buy the World of Warcraft, you get access to the game that Blizzard designed and implemented.

On top of that, you also have available the work of thousands of WoW players, enthusiasts and fans who have researched, analyzed and in some cases gushed over the years the game has been out.

Some of the things available are clearly there because smart folks said to themselves, “11 Million players that want to know where the damn quest item is… that’s a lot of potential pagehits.”

Others exist out of pure enthusiasm and fun.

Can you imagine playing WoW without any player-created addons of any kind whatsoever? No custom UI, no Omen, no Recount, no Map mods or coordinate displays.

Heck, think about that. No coordinates addon, and no place to research where a quest item could be found with the coordinates listed for you.

No WoWhead database kept carefully maintained, and no awesome players that go to WoWhead to share their experiences with quests or items or where they were lucky enough to find something or how they managed to take down something tricky.

No writers with their own websites, just chatting away about their experiences playing different classes, and sharing tips on how to get the most out of them… or at least sharing commonly made mistakes to keep you from doing the same.

No fan driven news sites to help you know what’s going on, what to expect, what to be on the lookout for.

If it wasn’t for MMO Champion and WoWhead and Hunter bloggers and the players of the game sharing their experiences on those sites, I never would have known about the Spirit Bear pet available to Hunters to tame in the 3.2 patch, where he could be found, or had an addon that constantly scanned the area for a Unique critter Spirit Bear so I knew if he popped up.

Value added service.

Something no company can plan on providing on their own. There is simply no way a company can devote the resources, the hours, the money to come up with all the amazing things that you, the readers, provide to the community yourself. The skills that you each have on your own, researching or programming or testing or being enthusiastic and positive and sharing that energy, that you each provide on websites and in forums and blogs throughout the world.

Perhaps the MMO developer of the future, to try and capture some of the success of WoW, will have to devote serious thought on making it easy for a community to form.

Something beyond “We can haz official forums”.

Perhaps something on their official website that has a page listing instructions and resources for making your own fan blog, like a “How to get started on Blogspot or WordPress.”

Or a plan to have Blue posters like Blizzard does that really are dedicated to answering intelligently asked questions and revealing plans and taking suggestions, whether they get seriously looked at or implemented or not.

Or a posted way to contact them if you are interested in creating your own mods, addons, or database program so as to get more info on database structure or programming rules.

The transparency of Blizzards’s addon functionality was one of the most amazing things ever during the first year, and the Macro section as well, just fantastic. And the players have taken it by storm.

There is something about being able to create your own custom experience that draws people in. Take a look at any collection of player UI screenshots, and tell me that all of those players could have had the same level of long term enjoyment if they were stuck with the default UI.

In fact, having addon creators in house, who had the responsibility to make addons that could customize the UI in various ways, provide options beyond the default… that’s not a bad idea either. Of course, if you write it, someone will demand customer support for it, but still.

Can you imagine the possibilities if there were an in-house addon development team that played the game during Beta, and when faced with different things that were annoying, could say, “I wish there were a tool for that… and if I wish it, someone else might too. Let’s write one for people to have, IF they want it.”

Part of the joy of the game is having the basics there to enjoy, but also having tons of custom made tools to add… IF you want to.

I know that if I were spending millions developing an MMO, and had all that invested in it’s success, I would be doing everything I could to get buy-in from the players, encourage them to WANT to make the game their own and feel involved in it’s success.

Seriously, Blizzard has changed the nature of gaming by giving players the tools up front to be able to create macros and addons, and the players themselves took the reins further.

Any game developer owes it to themselves to take that into account. It’s not enough to be a product developer, create your MMO, have a website with a forum, and then release the game and sit back, expecting the players to do everything else.

Like it or not, expectations have changed. There will inevitably be comparisons.

I don’t think anyone will expect the community to be there overnight… but people WILL expect an MMO developer to be in partnership with the players, sharing information to some extent and actively helping people get started. The last thing any player is going to expect from an MMO developer is to be aloof and distant, isolated from player concerns, and silent.

Almost makes me wonder what crazed lunatic would willingly WANT to embark on creating an MMO as a business model.

Are you stuck on a particular class?

I’m serious with this question, this isn’t some goofy post just to have a conversation.

During the recent Paladin vs Druid tanking comparisons, I obviously spent a lot of time on both. And during the time I was playing, I spent quite a bit of time wondering about how different player personalities might be drawn towards different playstyles, playstyles that approach the same task from two different directions, but nevertheless still get the job done.

Backing away from tanking comparisons for a bit, it ought to be obvious that, with so many different character classes that each have their own unique style, folks might not like every one of ’em, but chances are good everyone will find something they like.

So, the question I pose; Have you tried to play different alts, make new characters, try things out with other specs or other styles, only to find yourself coming back to the same class or classes over and over again?

Do you have multiple characters that are all the same class?

If so, do they share a type of playstyle that appeals to you? What similarities are there amongst them? What might the class styles you love say about you?

Or, and this is the same question with a twist… Do you have a particular appearance of character that you love, a look that you keep coming back to with alts, and characters that look differently don’t see much play?

Do you love druids or hunters or paladins or priests or warlocks, and no matter how many other classes you try to roll, you keep coming back to that one special one that clicks with you?

Do you love Night Elves, or Gnomes, or Dwarves, or Tauren, or Undead, and no matter what kind of other race you try to get into, you find yourself leaving them be to go back to your favorite?

General rambling time… or, “Back in the old days”

I’m thinking about this a lot, because I’ve been thinking about MMOs in general, and how game designers could attract a person into really getting into one.

WoW clearly hit me just right, I’m still here years later. I’ve tried other MMOs sometimes, and others I’ve read about and looked at and went “Meh”, so the question in my mind is… what about them attracts me, and what is the “Meh” factor.

The start, for me, of wanting to play WoW was contrasting the announced races and classes of WoW with Everquest II. Most folks might not remember, but at the time before WoW came out, Everquest I was the big bad on the block, the undisputed groundbreaking champion, and whether you loved it or called it “Evercrack”, “Everrat”, or “Ratquest”, it defined the game genre.

Everquest II and WoW were both due to come out almost on top of each other, and many game magazines talked about them both, and did big pictorial spreads comparing and contrasting them. There was a clear favorite in the tried and tested EQ formula… but Blizzard was the gaming big dog with Starcraft, Warcraft and Diablo franchises under their belts, and the revolutionary approach of shipping “When it’s done”.

As an aside, you’ve got one hell of a marketing department when you can spin ship delays and missed deadlines into a quality feature. If I had a business, I’d hire their PR firm, they’re geniuses. Of course, making damn fine product assuredly helps.

So, why did I pick WoW as the one I wanted to try? I actually knew people that were Everquest I addicts, so why did I go with the unknown?

What initially drew me in was the innovative classes and the art style.

There were traditional classes. Warrior. Rogue. Priest. Paladin. Mage. Clearly, the AD&D basics were well represented. And the races. Elf. Dwarf. Human. Gnome. So, there was the sense of the familiar.

But WoW went outside that box as well. They innovated. They gave us the Druid, a class that let you, no shit, play a shapechanger in the game. A class where you had a normal humanoid form, but they were coding in the ability to flow into different animal forms as you played, each one actually being more than just a cosmetic change. A Cat form would actually be different stats than a Bear! Holy cow!

And then the Hunter. Yes, Everquest had pet classes as well, but in WoW, part of the Hunter that we talked about in beta that was just amazing to us was that you weren’t just a class that had a pet, but that you were able to go explore the world, and any beast that you encountered, ANY beast, had the potential to be tamed and become your pet that would fight by your side.

Are you insane? Are you kidding me? I have to be a part of that.

So the innovative class approach, going beyond the normal Warrior/Priest/Mage style intrigued and excited me.

The second thing as I said was the art. The intentional art choice of going bold and beautiful and stylised rather than super-realistic.

Why? What about the art drew me in?

It seemed warmer, if you know what I mean.

I already live in the real world, thanks. I’m not looking for a reality simulator, I’m looking for a visually pleasing game to have fun in. Making it look super-real and paying all that attention to precise chainmail link graphics is kinda wasted on me. It’s was the warmth and originality of the art that I loved.

Yes, the goofy shoulders have long been a bone of contention, but overall, the glows, the cartoon over-emphasis element to the art makes it somehow more fantastical to me.

So I chose to buy WoW based on character design and art style. That was what drew me in.

What has made me stay?

Reasons two and three are pretty obvious.

The 2nd is that there are so many different variations in playstyle amongst the classes, and multiple specs and roles within the classes, so replayability has been huge.

The 3rd was the sheer size of the world in WoW. It’s just linear enough that you know what choices you have about where to go adventure next, but not so linear that you can’t swap zones around when leveling. Yes, Cassie frequently says, “Northrend was fine the first time, but the 5th time going through Sholozar Basin, it’s not fun anymore.” But the point is, the world has been large enough, immense enough in content to keep us going for years, as long as we’ve been open to trying different aspects and zones of the game.

But what was the 1st thing that made me stay?

I think the most important part of the WoW design that I’ve enjoyed, that pulled me in and has kept me going, was how the character creation process combines personal customization with a sense that the character existed BEFORE I started.

It’s a feeling that I didn’t MAKE the character… I CHOSE the character.

In WoW, there are some options for customizing, and there could certainly be more, but when you start, you pick a race and sex, and there is a person displayed there already dressed and ready to go, as if a young man or woman has just come of age, and is leaving their farm for the first time, off to seek adventure. Or you know, whatever their background may be.

My point is, you didn’t start with a wire-frame that you fleshed out bit by bit, you start with a person.

You will want to change their appearance, but the changes available aren’t too crazy. Interestingly enough, limited options and being presented with a complete character appearance at the onset does help maintain immersion.

Everytime that “creat an alt” process begins, it feels like an exciting moment, filled with potential. Who will you journey with this time? What adventures will you share together? What class will they be?

Inevitably, you play the game long enough, and the rush of excitement fades when you realize that this brand new character full of potential is heading out into the same old, same old. But what are you gonna do? The game still rocks.

I’m still waiting to see a new MMO come out that has that big of a world of adventure, coupled with so many interesting choices for imaginative classes and playstyles, that feels warm and inviting.

In the meantime… year after year, WoW still has it. Amazing, isn’t it?

Are our expectations too high for Cataclysm?

I have quite a few friends who have shared with me thier plans for “What I’m going to do when Cataclysm comes out.”

These range from the extreme;

Teysa says, “I have 40k gold, 50 pets, complete set of Heirloom gear and a motorcycle all waiting for my Worgen Druid.”

To the casual;

Dechion says, “I’m feeling pretty bored with the game as it is, I’m just biding my time until Cataclysm comes out.”

Most of the things I hear, however, share a common theme;

“Things will be new and exciting when Cataclysm comes out.”

What I’d like to wonder about, just for a moment, are what our expectations really are for Cataclysm, and if they’re really realistic.

Much like a certain other recent vague message of “Hope and Change”, we know that Cataclysm will cause sweeping changes throughout the world of Azeroth, but the details of those changes, their ramifications and how they will affect us personally are left mostly to our imagination.

We are free to leap to the conclusion that what we think should be changed WILL be what’s changed… the assumption being that Blizzard agrees with each of our secret hopes and dreams.

The most common assumption I’ve seen is that, in the wake of such a sweeping cataclysmic event, all of the realms will be rebooted, wiped clean and populated from scratch, resulting in a completely new and different leveling/questing experience from 1 to 60.

I’ve seen mention that Outlands will be untouched, and Northrend will emerge mostly unscathed, so the playing experience there can be expected to remain the same.

But is that a realistic expectation?

They are also adding 5 new levels of content, revamping the entire Talent Tree system, converting all gear and mechanics to a new stat system, adding two new races and starting zones, and adding all new raid related content.

So, along with all that immense work, is it realistic to expect that the entire world of Azeroth will be transformed, and along with the new terrain features we will have a completely new level 1 to 60 quest structure throughout all of Azeroth? 

Or is it more realistic to think that as many quests as possible will stay the same, in style if not in who gives it or where you go or what you retrieve, and only some will be brann spankin’ new?

It’s something to think about.

In this current World of Warcraft, with the average player having at least two level 80 characters, replayability is something everyone is looking for.

I know for a fact a lot of people are pinning their hopes for the future on having the game they already know and love and are comfortable playing suddenly sprout 60 levels of brand new content and exploration opportunities.

Think about that. Basically, World of Warcraft Vanilla 2.0. That is one hell of a tall order, on top of everything else.

I just hope that when the expansion itself finally does come out, and we see what has been done, that people are generally pleased and excited and feel that there is as much meat on the bones as they wished.

I also hope that people don’t make too many assumptions on what we are going to get, and try and keep a realistic point of view.

For my own sanity.

I really don’t want to have to read any damn QQ about how “Blizzard failed to deliver this, that and the kitchen sink” just because people expected too much out of one bloody expansion.

What do you folks think?

Really, are you expecting a gutted Azeroth pimped out with all new quests and awesomeness? Do you think it’ll be an even mix, some zones revamped completely and others almost untouched? Or something else entirely?

And whatever it is, do you think that it will bring enough new shinies and freshness to revitalise the game for the year or two to come after? 

I love that last question. In what other niche of the game business does a product have to satisfy players for longer than, say, 40 hours? Not just 40 hours,but a whole year or two? Really?

But no, the expectation in MMOs is that the game has to kep you excited for years. Unbelievable.

Ah, well. What do you think? What do you expect?

Tanking Test! Druid vs Paladin III

Open Discussion!

Now that we’ve mostly gone over Druids and Paladins, in a very basic way, I wanted to throw the floor open to everyone to share their own experiences in tanking with either, or with both.

Before we do that, let’s address the single biggest point, one I saved for this post.

One of the biggest concerns people have for either of these classes, that they have shared with me at least, is “Yes, but how are they at getting aggro right off the bat?”

I did not previously nail this down, but the Paladin is fantastic at generating initial threat. With the Avenger’s Shield, Ret Aura, Consecration and Hammer of the Righteous popped in the first three seconds, it’s very hard for anyone to overcome that without serious effort or a blatant gear disparity. 

For the Druid, most tools have excellent single target threat generation, but the AoE starts slow and builds up over time. With two tools for group threat, Swipe and Maul, and Maul being more of a luck of the draw on which extra target gets hit, it’s certainly slower out of the gate.

The thing to remember, however, is that Druids have spammable threat generators, and can choose which ability to use at any given time, while Paladins have to manage their cooldowns.

It’s similar to how healing works, actually. One class has to work predictive, beginning to cast in advance of when the spell will actually be needed, while the other can pre-emptively spam HoTs and then wait to use an instant cast reactively.

What does that mean? It means that you shouldn’t think that the only difference between how you play a Paladin and how you play a Bear is the names and pictures on the buttons you click while you stand in one place.

While a Paladin can run forward, Avenger’s Shield and then drop Consecration and use that as his “King of the Mountain” spot from which to tank all comers, Druids have huge single target threat generation and no Silence.

This leads to the Bear style being more mobile, taking it to the enemy, and if the Bear wants to climb the threat charts, then choosing who to whack, and in many cases traveling to meet them on their own ground is the order of business.

One commenter, Bear Pelt, mentioned that for Forge of Souls where there is not all that much room for LOSing, they would find themselves running from mob to mob like their tail was on fire, and said that probably was not the best thing, but it had worked out allright so far as long as skull was taken down first and foremost.

In my opinion, that’s just how you SHOULD do it! Use your mobility, the rapid coldown on Feral Charge, the ranged short cooldown on Feral Faerie Fire, the ability to spam Swipe while running as fast as the GCD allows, Bash to interrupt, Maul, etc.

It does mean that you use marked targets. It does mean that you don’t group everyone up as tightly as a Paladin or a Death Knight does. And it does mean that, if the tanking standard people WANT to get used to are stationary tanks, you’re not going to be perceived of as “as good of a tank”.

The classes play out differently. They’re not the same class with different buttons. If you are having problems playing a Bear the stationary “everyone come to me” style, then why not try changing your gameplan up by running around?

In my experience, going off the numbers I’ve generated, on single targets the Bear takes over except when the Paladin is actively using taunt as part of their rotation. On groups, the Paladin is stronger. Much stronger.

Druids shouldn’t take that as a reason to complain or call for a nerf, in my opinion. Instead, I think that Bears should try to develop more opportunities to use that high single target threat output.

For example, as I said in Part 1, there is absolutely no reason for you to ride one mob down to zero hit points before you look elsewhere. If you have a marked target, then unload everything on that one target, watch your Omen threat levels, see where the DPS compares, and as soon as you judge you’ve got a big enough lead… switch to someone else to build massive threat on next.

If you use a nameplate addon such as Tidy Plates (with Threat Plates), then you can still keep your eye on the first target in case the Mage wakes up halfway in and suddenly does 9k DPS with crit bombs, but hey, that’s what Growl is for, ya know?

Swipe will still be great in overcoming most AoE and certanly healer aggro. It’s the people that unload on X instead of Skull that I have seen issues with… and your changing targets once you’ve built up enough threat will help tremendously.

If I’d played my Paladin for a lot longer, I’m sure that similar tips would have been learned by me to help overcome some of the tricky patches on that side of the pond. I’m still working on it and learning.

I have learned that Righteous Defense works easily for me by keybinding it with Vuhdo, and leaving Vuhdo up, so if Vuhdo shows me someone in the group has aggro (which does flash arrows on the Vuhdo nameplates) I can simply mouseover the nameplate and trigger it. Righteous Defense is a great tool… and I love it now that I have figured out a way for me to easily activate it when needed. (It’s the one that pulls aggro from up to three mobs off one targeted party member… and darn it, now I confused myself with the names. I think I got it right.)

Anyway, please, take the opportunity to continue to share your own experiences tanking with each class, what you’ve found that is or is not a problem in different situations, and how you learned to adapt… or what has frustrated you that you haven’t overcome yet.

Oftentimes, the problem you once had and found a solution for is the exact thing someone else is stuggling with, and would dearly love some help.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these three posts… and now, I shall return to leveling my Death Knight, who is 62 and having fun.

Take care, folks, and have a fun weekend!

Tanking Test! Druid vs Paladin II

Okay, so in Part I, I talked about a subject I know very well.. Druid tanking.

Now, let’s take a look at my experiences with the Paladin.

Introduction

The Paladin, and let me be clear on this, is NOT easier to play as a tank.

In fact, I want to go on record as saying that Paladin tanking is NOT ‘ez mode’, a claim I have seen people frequently claim, and in very disparaging tones.

What Paladins ARE, are tanks that have a huge number of abilities that deal Holy damage, and Holy damage, thanks to Righteous Fury, is a Paladin’s bread and butter threat generator.

Paladins have a lot of tools in their toolbox, and most of them have cooldowns that need to be juggled, high mana costs, or both. Many abilities are also situational.

I think this is a key component to understanding the philosophical differences between the two classes, but we can discuss that later.

The tools available, if used properly, can generate massive immediate group threat, sustained AoE threat, and thus reduce the likelihood a Paladin tank may lose aggro on mobs to pre-emptive DPS. They can also effectively cause casters to pick up and move, getting them to cluster closer together, rendering player AoE DPS to be more effective.

Again, however, just because the abilities that are available are highly effective does NOT mean that they are easy to use properly!

That’s the catch on the ‘ez mode’ remarks. Somehow, the idea that Paladin tanks can generate a lot of AoE threat is supposed to equate to being easier tanks to play. The threat generated is great, yes, but it is HOW that threat is generated that requires skill. Skill at time management and multi-tasking.

I did a brief recap of the majority of Druid tanking related abilities in the first section, and remarked on how concise, how streamlined they are. 

Time now to do the same for the Paladin. See if you note any differences.

  • Ranged Holy attack that dazes and silences up to 3 targets, based on proximity to each other.
  • Ranged taunt that does decent Holy damage (conditionally).
  • Ranged aggro redirect that tells up to three mobs to leave a poor, scared party member alone.

Key rotation of core abilities based on effective cooldown management, called the “969” rotation.
In no particular order, but always long short long or short long short, are;

  • Holy AoE DOT (9 sec)
  • Holy attack on up to 5 melee range targets (6 sec)
  • Various self buffs/enemy debuffs available for a wide range of situations (9 sec)
  • Single target melee range Holy attack (6 sec)
  • Self defense that increases block, and deals Holy damage to attackers (9 sec)

Various situational benefits;

  • Medium cooldown AoE damage/stun that is only effective against undead and demons.
  • Instant cast self shield with short duration.
  • Medium cooldown ranged Stun.

Various long coolown abilities that are each very powerful, but if one is used it locks the others out for 30 seconds;

  • Self bubble that reduces incoming damage by half.
  • Big damage boost (20%, “on the wings”)
  • Instant cast full self heal

Various situationally dependant Seals, tanks mainly choosing between single target or multiple target damage boosts. 

Oh, and did I forget to mention one of the more confusing, super-powerful party buff systems in the game?

And much, much more!

Yes, so… do you happen to notice any differences there?

To spell it out, Paladins have far more buttons to arrange on their bars, all of which do something that may just turn out to be very, very important at some point in the game.

On the lighter side

I touched briefly on the Druid naming conventions, and how they seem, at least to me, to be evocative of function. To me, a Bash means something quite different, evokes an entirely different feel than a Mangle or a Swipe.

Perhaps others feel differently… but I challenge anyone to tell me that you can easily picture what the difference would be between Shield of Righteousness, Holy Shield, Sacred Shield, Divine Shield and Avenger’s Shield, or between Hammer of Wrath, Hammer of the Righteous or Hammer of Justice, or what about Divine Shield, Divine Intervention, Divine Protection or Divine Plea, or how about Righteous Defense, Hammer of the Righteous, Righteous Fury and Shield of Righteousness, or…

Well, I think you get my point.  It’s damn silly, is what it is.

I think the new level 85 ultimate ability for Paladin tanks in Cataclysm should be called “Divine Holy Shield of Righteous Hammering“. A single Paladin protective self-bubble that casts a Judgement dealing Holy Damage on each individual target that tries to hit him. Just go with it. Give in. Do eet!

The lesson to be learned from seeing that list of powers is that Paladins have a lot of choices to make. A lot of options to work from. Many of them are situational. Almost all, if not all, cost mana. Almost all have cooldowns of varying length.

In short… before you can effectively tank as a Paladin, you have to give careful thought and devote time and effort into researching your abilities, understanding what they do, how they are meant to be used together, what situations each is effective with, and why. If you don’t, it gets ugly.

Let’s talk about the simplest of Paladin pulls.

Three mobs standing close together, one a caster.

The Paladin starts by selecting an Aura. These are weak mobs, so instead of increased armor, he chooses Retribution Aura to deal out constant Holy threat every time he is struck.

The Paladin makes sure he’s got the right buff for the encounter… let’s say Blessing of Sanctuary. It’s the most obviously “tanky” one. He makes sure he has Righteous Fury up, so that his Holy abilities deal a LOT of boosted threat. He makes sure he’s got an appropriate Seal active… we’ll say Seal of Command because it’s 3 enemies and none of them are bosses, so the multiple mob attack is more beneficial in this situation.

He triggers Divine Plea, so that his attacks will return a portion of mana, and does it now so that he doesn’t waste a precious GCD during his rotation later.

Now, he steps forward and tosses his Avenger’s Shield, applying a light daze that slows all three, and silences the caster so all of them step forward, closer together and facing the Paladin.

He drops a Consecrate, his persistant Holy AoE DOT. This triggers a 9 second cooldown.

Next he lets loose with Hammer of the Righteous, which hits all three mobs for a nice big chunk of threat and triggers a 6 second cooldown.

This is followed up with, in this case, Judgement of Wisdom. There are many Judgements he could choose from, ones that slow the enemy or get healing back, but with worthless trash like this in the way, the more mana back the better to prevent having to stop and drink. This triggers the 9 second Judgement cooldown, shared amongst all Judgement effects.

Now comes the other 6 second cooldown ability, Shield of Righteousness, that deals solid single target Holy damage and threat.

Finally, we have our third 9 second cooldown ability, Holy Shield, that increases your chance to block attacks, and deals out Holy damage to anyone that tries to attack and gets blocked. In effect, another short lived Holy AoE.

Now we have come full circle. Hammer of Righteousness has come off cooldown, and once that is popped Consecration is in the chute and ready to rock. The 969 rotation is in full play.

During the entire sequence, the Paladin has to remain aware of the situation. Is his mana level dropping too fast? Is he not taking enough damage for heals to replenish his mana? Should he drop one or two abilities from his rotation to conserve mana for later? Are the targets undead or demons, and would Holy Wrath be more useful here? Is he taking enough damage that using a Divine Protection mini-bubble is called for? Should he use Avenging Wrath instead for increased damage and faster mob kills?

Are the rest of the party suffering from excessive AoE damage of their own? Can the healer keep up, or should Divine Sacrifice followed by Divine Protection be used to slow their rate of death and give the healer a chance to keep up (such as can happen with Forgemaster Garfrost in Pit of Saron).

You get the idea. I intentionally didn’t mention many of the variables that really go into normal Paladin tanking, because I think the point is made. The act may appear simple, but Paladin tanking is a dance among the activations… and there is rarely down time to be looking around and bouncing wildly. It’s all careful planning, preparation, knowing what you CAN do, and being prepared when the moment comes.

Serious choreography.

What I found, personally, while playing my Paladin was that it felt very smooth, very tightly controlled. Having the ability to Silence your opponent is, frankly, overpowered, but then again Feral Charge is on a damn short cooldown. 

Everything else is fairly comparable, and once the proper groundwork is laid, the Bear and the Paladin are on very even terms. Drastically different styles, but equally effective.

Without a Silence or Death Grip, Bears tend to be more mobile, running all over the place. Paladins and Death Knights are more about bringing the mobs to them.

This plays out in the AoE, as well. Bears have traveling AoE, Paladins mostly stationary. Mostly.

Since we’re on the subject, let’s talk about some of the few areas Paladins have a bit of a challenge. 

First, moving threat generation.

Consecration is awesome, but it is stationary. Hammer of the Righteous is amazing, but is only effective against targets in front of you. Holy Wrath kicks butt, but it’s on a moderately long cooldown. Everything has a cooldown.

Paladins do not have a comparable, spammable, moving AoE threat generator.

Take a Bear up the tunnel in Pit of Saron, and it’s a bouncefest. Mobs get Swiped and dragged behind, no worries, no issues. It’s relaxing, in a way.

Take a Paladin up the tunnel, and it becomes a bit slower, a bit more careful, as you back up part of the way, or stand still to turn around and get threat off your party members, or use Righteous Defense on your healer. It’s manageable, but certainly a noticeable change. It’s not as easy.

At this point, someone will ignore every single other thing said in this post to object to that characterization, stating that they certainly don’t have a problem with moving threat. In anticipation, I invite you to think on this and wait unti the end; I didn’t say they can’t, I said they had more difficulty. If you haven’t yourself played a Bear tank, and have a direct means of comparison, I invite you to pretend I actually have compared this, multiple times, and also asked other Paladin tanks about their experiences for comparison. Okay? Of course they can do it, the point I’m making is, which can do it smoother.

Likewise, the mana efficiency and management issue can come into play if you are overgeared and overpowered for the content you are running, and the fight drags on a very long time. Even in a level 80 heroic like Halls of Stone, the Brann fight can go on long enough, with just enough time between waves, that your Divine Plea keeps fading and your mana starts struggling. Much lower level content and it’ can be worse. 

With a Druid, the lower the content with big waves of mobs, the better, because every time you Dodge or you Crit, you get fed lovely, lovely Rage. Rage. It’s whats for dinner.

These are, again, not insurmountable problems. Just differences in feel.

In the end, my conclusion for the Paladin tanking style is that it has it’s own strengths and weaknesses, but it is truly equally effective. Not more, not less… because each situation faced is different, and what is awesome for one may not be the best choice for another.

The biggest conclusion is the no brainer of the evening – the playstyles of each are radically different.

My conclusion on playstyles.

The thing that really stood out to me, once I began delving into Paladin tanking, was that there are certain similarities amongst those who prefer it.

Players who love Paladin tanks seem to share an interest in careful planning, dedicated research, and careful micro-management of a lot of different abilties to keep them busy all the time.

You could say that they like to have a LOT of things to keep them busy all the time. A constant stream of activity.

I’ve seen some folks make statements in fora that seem to indicate that, to them at least, having more abilities to manage means that their class requires ‘better’ players. More skillful players.

It’s an interesting point of view, but having played both, I choose to disagree. I think that, once you have seen a Bear tank bounce around annoying all the mobs and never losing aggro because moving is part of his style, just as your standing there and getting everyone to come to you is part of your style, you’ll agree that there is skill used on both sides… it’s just used in different ways.

Another interesting thing of note.

If you look at the Paladin tank bloggers out there, and the Paladin tanking community websites, look at the tone of the conversations.

These are people who like to discuss the best situational use for Divine Sacrifice. The timing involved when using Divine Plea, and whch Seal is most advantageous for different scenarios.

They get into, and are passionate about, the minutia of Paladin tanking. Adjusting and debating placement of the cogs, sprockets, wheels and gears, always seeking to fine tune the accuracy to that of the finest Swiss watch mechanism.

To be blunt, players who seek out and love Paladin tanks seem to posses certain common traits; orderliness, stubbornness,a compulsion for carefully precise planning, and a control of potential variables.

Paladin tanks are the stamp collectors and bird watchers of WoW.

Bear tanks are about movement and flow, improvisation and adaptation, and getting stuck into the face of the mobs out on the deep end.

Bear tanks are, basically, the surfers and base jumpers of WoW.

Someone, somewhere, is going to take serious offense to that. My work here is done. 🙂

Wrap up

I am struck, in hindsight, by all the questions I’ve had over the years from Paladin tanks branching out into Druid tanking for the first time.

The most common question from these people has tended to be, “Is this really all there is? I feel like there should be more. That I’m missing something. It feels… boring. Static. Easy. Oh, and by the way, how come I can’t seem to hold aggro while I stand there waiting for all the mobs to come to me?”

This is where I bring it all back to how I kicked things off in Part 1.

I find it wonderful that the programmers of Blizzard have developed two tanking classes that are each, in their own way, equally effective in the game, right up to the top… but in the way they are played, how they handle on the racecourse of WoW, they appeal to drastically different attitudes and temperaments.

Whether by careful planning or fortuitous luck, the end result is nothing short of amazing.