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Archive for August, 2010

So You Want to Be(ta) a Prot Warrior: Climbing Trees

(Did you see what I did there with the title?  Damn, I’m smooth.  Hurr hurr.)

OK, kids, it’s finally time for Uncle Panzercow to take a look at Prot warriors in the Cataclysm beta.  Both of mine are over there now.  Linedan is casually slaughtering his way through Mount Hyjal in his usual efficient, taciturn Panzercowing manner.  Latisha, on the other hand, threw on her bikini and took a little vacation…she went on a “three-hour tour” booze cruise toward an island off Stormwind, but instead of chatting up the hunky SCUBA instructor, she found herself, well, drowning.  Then she woke up at the bottom of the Great Sea in the bilge of the SS Poseidon, surrounded by dead Alliance soldiers, beautiful coral, and pissed-off naga.  She’s done the first few Kelp Forest quests in Vashj’ir; unfortunately, after taking her back to Stormwind to train Mastery, a bug has stuck her in limbo between Stormwind and Moonglade, and she may be out of action until I can either re-copy her (giving her the T9 shoulders she picked up last night) or wait for a fix.  I may just wait for a fix, I want to retain the option to copy another character over at some point.

I’ll do another post talking about the actual Prot leveling experience once I do more of it–Lin’s only 2/3 of the way through 80, and Latisha’s barely done anything at all.  What I want to look at in this post are the warrior trees, from a Prot standpoint of course.  I’m not even going to suggest specific builds, because really, I haven’t absorbed all of this stuff yet, and I’m sure I’ll be wobbling back and forth on builds constantly over the next couple months.  Instead, I’m going to look more at the talents and abilities that you’d see at level 80.

DISCLAIMERS:  This is all based on beta build 12759 as of 19 August 2010 and is subject to change anytime Ghostcrawler wants to change it.  Your mileage may vary.  Void in Middle-Earth and where prohibited.  Side effects may include dizziness, nausea, hair loss, carpal tunnel syndrome, hot warrior groupies throwing themselves at you, frequent death, high repair bills, and hearing “not enough rage” in your sleep.  Any rebroadcast of these talents without the express written consent of Major League Baseball is prohibited.

Cutting Down the Trees

So that having been said, let’s take a look at the talent trees.  The first thing you’ll notice upon hitting “N” for the first time in the beta is that there’s a new first screen where you are shown the various masteries available.  (The three Mastery abilities only seem to kick in when you train the Mastery skill.)  We’ll be looking at Prot, of course, so you see there’s one ability exclusive to us–our old friend Shield Slam, no longer baseline, sorry Arms and Fury–and three Masteries; Vitality, Vengeance, and Improved Block.

Vitality replaces the old Vitality talent; it’s just a flat 15% boost to Stamina, nothing fancy here.  Vengeance is a mechanic that I’m still trying to get my noggin around.  The tooltip says:  “Each time you take damage, you gain 5% of the damage taken as attack power, up to a maximum of 10% of your health.”  Does that mean that my 50,000 health Linedan can get up to 5000 bonus attack power?  Well, not practically.  Any bonus you get from a particular hit seems to roll off after 15 seconds.  So the AP boost seems to fluctuate up and down.  During normal questing on Lin, it seems to wobble around +100 to +200 AP, but I imagine it will be considerably more useful on instance fights, especially bosses.  Finally, Improved Block is just what it says it is, +15% to shield block chance.  Except I noticed something odd on Latisha.  When she first arrived and spec’d out, she had exactly 20.00% block chance, which I thought odd.  When I trained Mastery, that chance went down to exactly 15.00%, which is what Lin has.  I don’t know if that’s a glitch or what.  But now both their character sheets show only a 15% chance to block.  That indicates to me that either this is a bug, or warriors have a base non-Mastery block chance of zero…which should be a bug.

When you start looking at the trees themselves, you’ll see some familiar talents about where you expect them.  Last Stand, Concussion Blow, Improved Revenge, Devastate, Shockwave, Gag Order…old friends, like the crew at Cheers.  You just expect Devastate and Shockwave to stand up and yell “NORM!” when you pick talents from this tree.  But even old dogs learn a few new tricks, so we need to go through this one talent at a time.  Strap in, it’s going to be a long ride…

Protection

Incite (3 points)Increases the critical strike chance of your Heroic Strike by 5/10/15%, and your Heroic Strike critical strikes have a 33/66/100% chance to make your next Heroic Strike also a critical strike.  This effect cannot occur more than once every 6 seconds. Veneretio had a good discussion of Incite over at Tanking Tips a couple weeks ago.  I think the jury is still out on this one largely because Heroic Strike isn’t what it used to be.  Remember, it’s no longer an on-next-swing with no cooldown.  Now it’s instant and off the global cooldown, but it costs 30 rage with a three-second cooldown.  How our rage generation works out will make or break this talent.

Toughness (3 points)Increases your armor value from items by 3/6/10%. Straightforward, and necessary as always because bonus armor and armor on trinkets get removed in Cataclysm.  Lin’s down 6000 armor from live right off the bat.

Hold the Line (2 points)Increases your critical strike and critical block chance by 10% for 5/10 seconds after a successful parry. This just in:  PARRY GETS LOVE.  About damn time.  Veneretio covered this talent as well and did a thorough job of covering the good and bad of it.  Bad:  Not all that great against bosses.  Good:  Useful against multiple targets, and when your crit percentage is as horrendous as ours is, you take whatever help Blizzard throws to you.  Probably a keeper.

Shield Specialization (3 points)You generate 5/10/15 extra rage when you block an attack.  You generate 20/40/60 rage when you Spell Reflect a magic attack. Hmm.  Note that Shield Spec now doesn’t give you a better chance to block, it’s just about rage generation.  Right now, in build 12759 of the beta, prot warrior rage generation is actually very good, almost too good.  I’m getting full rage bars on Lin while only fighting mobs two at a time without anything to Spell Reflect…with his ICC-level avoidance, that’s shocking.  (It also means I’m not Heroic Striking enough.)  If rage generation is not an issue, then this isn’t necessary.  If we get as rage-starved in Cataclysm as we did in Wrath of the Lich King when grinding, then it becomes much more useful.  Time will tell.

Shield Mastery (3 points)Reduces the cooldown of Shield Block by 10/20/30 seconds, Shield Wall by 60/120/180 seconds, and Spell Reflect by 1/2/3 seconds. Why on earth would you not take this?  It’s better than the old Improved Disciplines because it affects three of our best defensive cooldowns.  You end up with being able to bump your block up for 10 out of 30 seconds, reduce all incoming damage by 40% for 12 out of 120 seconds, and reflect a spell every 7 seconds.  (Also?  Shield Block now costs 10 rage, unfortunately, but Spell Reflect only costs 15, down from 25 in live.)

Blood and Thunder (2 points)When you Thunder Clap a target affected by your Rend, you have a 50/100% chance to affect every target with Rend. OK, maybe I’m missing something here, but…do Prot warriors keep Rend on their bars?  Seriously?  I think I’ve got it shoved off in a corner somewhere bound to ctrl+shift+6+standonmyhead or something.  I haven’t used it in years. Are they expecting us to start?  I don’t think I got that memo.

Gag Order (2 points)Gives your Shield Bash and Heroic Throw abilities a 50/100% chance to silence the target for 3 seconds.  Also lowers the cooldown of your Heroic Throw by 15/30 seconds. It doesn’t have the +5/10% damage to Shield Slam that it used to, sadly, but this is still a useful talent for pulling.  I think it may have gone from “must have” to “nice to have” depending on the composition of instances.

Last Stand (1 point, cooldown 3 minutes)Temporarily grants you 30% of your maximum health for 20 seconds.  After the effect expires, the health is lost. Nothing’s changed here, this is our reliable old ass-saver from live, right down to the three-minute cooldown.

Concussion Blow (1 point, cost 15 rage, cooldown 30 seconds)Stuns the opponent for 5 seconds and deals (38/100 * AP) damage (based on attack power). Again, no functional change here, even the cooldown remains the same at 30 seconds.  It’s just been moved down to Tier 3 in the tree.

Bastion of Defense (2 points)Reduces the chance you’ll be critically hit by melee attacks by 3/6%.  In addition, when you Block, Dodge, or Parry an attack, you have a 10/20% chance to become Enraged, increasing physical damage done by 10% for 12 seconds. Exit stacking Defense, enter Bastion of Defense.  This is how warriors become uncrittable now.  It also takes the enrage from the old Improved Defensive Stance talent, although instead of the chance being 50/100%, now it’s only 10/20%.  If you don’t take 2 points in this talent, GTFO my class and roll a rogue.

Warbringer (1 point)Your Charge, Intercept, and Intervene abilities are now usable while in combat and in any stance.  In addition, your Intervene ability removes all movement-impairing effects. No change from live, this is another near-mandatory talent; it’s what gives us our legendary pinball-of-death mobility.  When I’m in Lin’s Fury spec, honestly, this talent is the biggest single thing I miss.

Improved Revenge (2 points)Increases the damage of your Revenge ability by 30/60% and causes Revenge to strike an additional target for 50/100% damage. No functional change from live on this one either, it’s a big DPS and threat boost so I think it’s mandatory.  But that’s just my opinion.

Devastate (1 point, cost 15 rage)Sunders the targets armor causing the Sunder Armor effect.  In addition, causes 120% weapon damage + 58 for each stack of Sunder Armor on the target.  The Sunder Armor effect can stack up to 3 times. Other than the overall reduction of Sunder Armor stacks from 5 to 3, there’s no change at all to Devastate.  Even the damage is exactly the same.

Impending Victory (2 points)Using Devastate on a target with 20% or less health has a 25/50% chance to allow the use of Victory Rush, but that Victory Rush only heals for 5% of your health. Now this is an interesting little talent.  On low-health mobs, this talent gives you the opportunity to trigger Victory Rush, gaining a single rage-free attack that will give you a mini-heal of 5% of your max health (instead of the 20% from a normal VR).  Even with mobs now having 30k+ health in the 80-81 areas, I can’t see this being useful during level-grinding.  But how useful might this be at the end of a tough boss fight, when he’s sub-20% for a couple minutes?  You’re hitting Devastate all the time anyway, why not have a 50% chance to give you a free attack and heal yourself for several thousand health?  It’s better than Enraged Regeneration by a long shot.

Thunderstruck (2 points)Improves the damage of your Cleave and Thunder Clap by 3/6%.  In addition, your Thunder Clap improves the damage of your next Shockwave by 5/10%.  Stacks up to 3 times. All I can think of for this one is “meh.”  The damage boost is nice, but spending two points on it in Tier 5 doesn’t seem like a very good return.  Maybe someone can prove differently to me.

Vigilance (1 point)Focus your protective gaze on a group or raid target, reducing their damage taken by 3%.  In addition, each time they are hit by an attack your Taunt cooldown is refreshed, and you gain Vengeance as if 20% of the damage was done to you.  Lasts 30 minutes.  This effect can only be on one target at a time. Sharp-eyed readers will notice something missing from that blurb…that’s right, the 10% threat transfer is gone.  Is it worth putting a point into this for a small AP boost and the taunt refresh?  I’m not sure yet.  For grinding, definitely not.  For instancing or raiding, maaayyyybe.

Heavy Repercussions (2 points)When Shield Block is active, your Shield Slams hit for an additional  50/100% damage. Pretty straightforward, although it’s a little disappointing to have to spend two points in Tier 5 for what we used to get for free with Shield Block.

Safeguard (2 points)Reduces the damage taken by the target of your Intervene ability by 15/30% for 6 seconds. Uh…yeah.  Somebody please make a case for this talent, because I’ve never seen it to be useful.  Then again, I know I don’t use Intervene nearly enough.

Sword and Board (3 points)Increases the critical strike chance of your Devastate ability by 5/10/15%.  When your Devastate or Revenge abilities deal damage, they have a 10/20/30% chance of refreshing the cooldown of your next Shield Slam ability and reducing its rage cost by 100% for 5 seconds. Good old Sword and Board, basically unchanged.  DING!

Shockwave (1 point, cost 15 rage, cooldown 20 seconds)Sends a wave of force in front of the warrior, causing (75/100 * AP) damage (based on attack power) and stunning all enemy targets within 10 yards in a frontal cone for 4 seconds. Interestingly, Shockwave, our top talent, hasn’t changed.

Fury

Blood Craze (3 points)After taking any damage, you have a 10% chance to regenerate 2.5/5/7.5% of your total health over 5 seconds. Wow.  This is big, gang.  7.5% of your total health over 5 seconds…in beta!Linedan’s case, that’s about 3500 to 4000 health.  This talent is almost like having an inattentive druid trundling along behind, occasionally pulling himself away from watching “Dancing with the Stars” and dropping a Rejuv on you.  Between this, Victory Rush, and Enraged Regeneration…kids, if you’re a well-geared Prot warrior, and this stuff stays close to the way it is now?  You will have to work to die while grinding.  If you thought we had good survivability before, it’s beyond insane now.

Battle Trance (3 points)Your Bloodthirst, Mortal Strike, and Shield Slam hits have a 5/10/15% chance to make your next special attack consume no rage. Again, the usefulness of this talent will depend on rage generation.  Right now, our rage generation is very good.  I don’t expect that to continue.  I don’t know if spending 3 points is worth it to get a 15% chance of rage reduction on an attack we only fire off every four to five seconds (averaging in S&B procs) anyway.

Cruelty (2 points)Increases the critical strike chance of your Bloodthirst, Mortal Strike, and Shield Slam hits by 5/10%. Gee, you’d almost think they don’t want our white attacks critting anymore.  A 10% crit boost on Shield Slam only for two points…not sure the math on this one works out any better than Battle Trance, to be honest.  We’ll have to see.

Rude Interruption (2 points)Successfully interrupting a spell with Shield Bash or Pummel increases your damage by 5/10% for 15 seconds. This is a Tier 2 talent that’s gotten more press for the alleged political incorrectness of its icon than its actual use.  You can make an argument, as often as we interrupt spells, that the damage boost might be worth having to put 5 points into Fury to get it.  Well, I can’t, but maybe you can.

Piercing Howl (1 point, cost 10 rage)Causes all enemies within 10 yards to be Dazed, reducing movement speed by 50% for 6 seconds. The fact that this is now a Tier 2 Fury talent puts it, potentially, within reach of Prot warriors.  I’m not sold on its usefulness for a PvE tank, but I can sure see Prot PvPers all over it.

Arms

War Academy (3 points)Increases the damage of your Heroic Strike, Cleave, Victory Rush, and Slam abilities by 5/10/15%. Hmmm.  That’s actually pretty tempting.  HS and Cleave won’t get spammed as much as they used to (well, Cleave might, HS, not so much).  But when you see other talents in this tier, it definitely becomes second fiddle.

Field Dressing (2 points)Increases your self healing abilities by 10/20% and all healing effects on you by 3/6%. It doesn’t take too many brain cells to see this being mandatory for tanks, and quite honestly, good for grinding as well.  Right now, normal level 80 trashy quest grind mobs hit a lot harder than they do on live–try three times as hard.  Any boost to the considerable self-healing we’re now provided (Blood Craze, Victory Rush, Enraged Regeneration, even bandages) is a big plus.

Blitz (2 points)Your Charge ability generates 5/10 additional rage and stuns 1/2 additional targets. I’ve always liked the old Improved Charge talent, and this is its successor.  But with only 41 points to spread around, I’m not sure we’ll have room.

Abilities

Phew!  Well, that’s the tree changes…but we’ve still got to get to the major changes to some of our abilities…

On-next-attack abilities are gone. Cleave and Heroic Strike are now instant attacks with short cooldowns.  This means the (probable) end of having to bind HS to your mouse wheel and spinning while tanking.

Shout mechanics have changed. Battle and Commanding Shout are much more like death nuggets’ Horn of Winter.  They generate rage now instead of costing it, but have long (1-minute) cooldowns.  Since our rage decays so fast out of combat, they’re actually more useful to hit in combat as a backup to Bloodrage, which breaks my old technique of hitting whichever Shout I’m using after I kill something, to keep it refreshed.

Victory Rush. As currently implemented in build 12759, Victory Rush has suddenly become your best friend ever.  It’s now usable in Defensive Stance, and as always, gives you a single rage-free attack.  Oh, and now in the beta, it heals you.  For 20% of your maximum health. You heard me right, kids.  Between this, Enraged Regeneration for emergencies, and the Fury talent Blood Craze, a well-geared Prot warrior simply never stops killing.  You need to keep killing to get that tasty multi-thousand-point heal from VR.  And since Victory Rush has no cooldown…you can pull big and hit VR after each mob in the pack dies for a big shot of health.  I will actually be surprised if this goes live the way it is now, because it’s that awesome and I’m that big a pessimist.

No more Shield Block Value. When you block, you block 30% of the incoming damage.  On a crit block, you block 60%.  The Shield Block ability still basically lets you block everything for 10 seconds, but it’s no longer the total immunity against trash that it was in Wrath.

The order in which you get abilities is scrambled. I’m not even trying to figure it out.  I haven’t leveled a Prot warrior in the beta, and probably won’t try it until after Cataclysm goes live and I have some time to work on my mains and existing alts.

Shield Wall isn’t as effective. The damage reduction in the beta is down to 40% from 60% in live…but with three points in the excellent Shield Mastery talent, the cooldown is only 2 minutes.  Basically, you can talent into what is now the glyphed version of Shield Wall.  Less absorption, more often.

OK, that’s enough for one day.  Hell, that’s more than enough for one day.  If you’ve made it to the end of this wall-o-text, congratulations!

Soon I hope to have more posts up on the Prot leveling experience in Cataclysm’s beta…both from the point of view of a highly-geared raid tank (Linedan) and a fresh 80 with relatively minimal gear (Latisha).  Stay tuned.


The Latisha Experiment, Update #4

At roughly 7:15 pm Eastern Daylight Time last night, the Latisha Experiment reached the conclusion of its first stage when Miss Latisha Morganson, twenty-year-old disowned rich daughter of a noble and unscrupulous Stormwind merchant family, hit level 80.  She did it while talking to a dead gnome (Arly, the gnome DK questgiver at Blackwatch in Icecrown).  Despite being level 80, Latisha is still squicked by dead gnomes, and still washes her hands frequently after interacting with them.  (She’d totally be carrying around a giant bottle of Purel, if the stuff had been invented by fellow dead-gnome-germophobes yet.)

Regular readers of Achtung Panzercow know that I rolled Latisha last year as an experiment to use my own So You Want to Be a Prot Warrior guides to actually level a warrior as hardcore Protection all the way from 1 to 80.  The goals were to validate my own guides; to prove that it was not only viable, but fun, to level solo as Prot; and so I had a tank Alliance-side on Feathermoon just in case I ever needed her.

Based on the results, I’d say all three goals were fully met and then some.  I used my own talent suggestions with only two minor variations (taking Improved Disarm early and not shifting out of it to pick up Vigilance until the mid-60s, and shifting the two points in Cruelty over to Shield Specialization to end up with a 15/3/53 build instead of 15/5/51).  She actually required virtually no outside money from Beltar while leveling.  I gave her some gold for bags to start with, and funded one 30-40 gold AH buying spree in her 20s, but other than that, she’s been completely self-sufficient, getting by on quest rewards, drops, and the money from mining and skinning auctions.  She arrived at level 80 with about 2600 gold to her name, and that was without really trying to stop the leveling process just to make gold.  She’s still only got a slow flying mount, and no dual-spec, but those were personal choices–I could’ve easily ground the money for either one, but I wanted to save the maximum amount to kit her out once she got her special present in the mail from Rhonin Sue.

As for leveling her, it was easy.  Yes, there were bumps, and yes, I’m still hearing the female human “not enough rage!” in my sleep, but quite honestly, I found it much easier leveling her than I did leveling my enhancement shaman Sakula last year.  I don’t know if that means I’m really good at Prot warriors or that I’m utter fail at enhancement shamaning (more likely the latter), but getting Latisha to 80 was really pretty unspectacular.  I borrowed some help from friends at times to hammer out group quests like the ones in Dragonblight (teaming with my wife’s 80 Draenei enhancement shaman to do every group quest in Dragonblight, Grizzly Hills, and Zul’Gurub in one run) and used the LFD tool extensively once she got into Northrend.  In terms of leveling, it’s still far faster to grind quests than dungeons, but the dungeons are where the loot is.

Actually, by level 79, thanks to the LFD tool and some trips to the AH, she was pretty well set for tanking normal instances.  She had several pieces of Tempered Saronite crafted armor off the AH, a Riot Shield from Violet Hold, various other blue bits from dungeons, topped off with a Crusader’s Resolution from questing in Icecrown, and the Crescent of Brooding Fury from killing Ragemane in Zul’drak.  She could get herself over 21,000 health with Commanding Shout up and had around 505 Defense.  I never had any significant issues with her tanking a Northrend regular dungeon.

Heroics, however, are quite another matter.  So as soon as she dinged 80, I immediately headed to Ironforge on a spending spree…and spend I did.  A Titansteel Shield Wall.  A Tempered Titansteel Helm.  A Tempered Saronite Belt to replace her Cobalt Belt.  Some gems (and thanks a ton, Arrens, for sending me those Enduring Eyes of Zul–a big help!) and enchants.  Then I flew around and picked up all of the faction tabards I’d need and did more shopping–grabbing the Special Issue Legplates from the Argent Crusade, and swapping that very slow (speed 2.60) axe for a nice fast (speed 1.50) Fang of Truth from the Wyrmrest Accord; even though it cost me Defense points, I’m far more used to tanking with a fast weapon and very much prefer it in instances.  (Plus, she desperately needed the +hit.)  By the time I was done, she’d gone from 2600+ gold to less than 10…and still only 527 Defense.  Not the 535 she needed to be crit-immune in heroics.

Accepting her non-heroic status, I ran a normal Utgarde Pinnacle to get some money.  Interestingly, from doing the quests in there, I picked up the Silver-Plated Battlechest.  Between that, and her raw Defense skill finally hitting 400…she had 537 Defense.  Y halo thar, magic number.

Unbuffed:  21,251 health.  22,450 armor.  537 Defense.  17.1% dodge, 15.46% parry, 14.48% block.  A Gearscore well south of 2900.

So of course, I queued to tank a heroic.

And the Wheel of Suck came up…Halls of Motherfucking Stone. Oh great.

Now I freely admit, I expected what sometimes happens when a low-geared fresh 80 tank shows up at an random instance…a chorus of “wtf??  u tank?” from DPS or healers with 6000+ Gearscores and egos to match, followed by some insults and group-dropping (or kicking).  Instead, to my utter astonishment, I found that my group was perfectly cool with me being there.  I had more health than everybody but the death nugget, and he only beat me by about 1200.  We were all roughly around the same gear level, give or take a bit.  For once, the LFD tool actually matched five people who realistically belonged in the same instance!

And thus, we ended up taking a 45-minute jaunt through Halls of Stone…but we did it.  Killed all four bosses with just one wipe (totally my fault when I screwed up a pull and got three groups) plus one extra death on Sjonnir.  No deaths on the Tribunal of Ages.  Let me tell you, I don’t work that hard when Linedan is tanking Arthas.  It was crazy, it was hard work, and it was stupidly fun to tank that place on a character that could’ve rolled need on half the loot that might drop.

So there you have it.  A tank, with no heroic or badge loot whatsoever, who bought her own gear and got herself to the point where she could tank heroic dungeons with very little outside help.  The only “gift” in all that loot are two of those Eyes of Zul from Arrens.  The rest, she’s earned via questing, drops, or bought on the AH with her own gold.

I know that life is harder for a tank at 80 than for a DPS or healer.  DPS can walk straight into heroics and get carried to an extent and gear up that way (I’ve done it, several times).  A healer needs to work a bit harder at it but can still move into the world of badge collection with not a huge amount of effort.  But a tank, at least a warrior tank, takes a lot of effort to get ready for heroic tanking.  But here’s the proof, guys, you can do it. Don’t despair if you’ve got a baby tank in the 70s and you don’t know how you’re going to get her into Badgeland.  I’ve done it.  Here’s proof.  It takes a bit of a judicious eye about loot, minimal faction grinding, and some gold (or friends willing to help you out).

At this point, life for Latisha diverges into two separate paths.  On Feathermoon, I will continue to tank with her, probably normals and heroics, and gear her up a bit.  In fact, she’s got 28 Badgers of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, so she’ll be able to get a piece of T9 very soon.  (Had I run more instances while leveling in Northrend, she’d already have at least one.)  Her “other” life will soon find her on Lost Isles, in the Cataclysm beta, just as she is right now as I write this, with no tier gear, no badge gear, and nothing over ilevel 200.  I already know how leveling is over there with a highly-geared raider…let’s see how it is with a fresh-faced 80 who’s never set foot inside a 10- or 25-man.

Maybe I can slow down and even get some roleplay in with her now.  We’ll see.  One thing’s for sure, I’ve grown attached to my six-foot-one poor little rich girl.  She may be my sixth character to level 80, but she’s definitely a keeper.


For the times, they are a-changin’

Soon I’m going to start putting up some Cataclysm beta stuff on the blog, hopefully every few days, as I get time to play.  I’ll keep the actual content spoilers in terms of plot, story, art, etc. to a minimum, and try to focus instead on the mechanics of playing a Prot warrior while leveling from 80 to 85 in the brave new sundered world we’ll all be facing.

In order to do that, I’ve re-copied Linedan over so instead of being level 82, he’s back to level 80.  I was going to level him through Vashj’ir, but a couple of nasty quest bugs blocked progression there, so he’ll be grinding along in Hyjal.  This also gives him the solid raid gear that he’s accumulated over the three months since I got in the alpha.  So he’ll be leveling along with four-piece Sanctified T10, and most everything else ilevel 251 or higher.  Nothing so far has given him any significant trouble, although not being able to run addons means that I can’t really determine if his damage is really down, or if it just feels down because everything has so much more health now.

What I’m also going to do is, as soon as she hits 80, copy Latisha, my other prot warrior, over.  Latisha is the polar opposite of Lin.  She is going to hit 80 (hopefully tonight!) in a mish-mash of blue and green quest and dungeon drops, barely scraping 20,000 health in her tank gear.  And I’m going to keep her that way.  I want to see how bad it might be for a character who hasn’t spent well over a year at level 80 accumulating raid goods…what will it be like for somebody who just hit 80 in their quest greens and didn’t stop, but immediately headed back from Northrend to EK or Kalimdor and started dealing with the new zones where mob health is 30k instead of 12.6k and stuff hits much harder.  Their builds will probably be similar, but their items are worlds apart.  It should be an interesting experiment.

I’ve got other stuff on my mind with Cataclysm, though, and it involves Linedan.  I play on Feathermoon, a roleplay server, and I frequently admit that I should be doing a lot more roleplay than I do, especially with Lin.  He’s my main, after all, my beloved Panzercow, but he doesn’t get the RP love that he should, and it’s my fault.

I had a defined idea in mind that slowly developed over Lin’s first year or two.  He’s basically a decent cow–not particularly bright but not stupid, stoic, loyal, honorable as his culture sees it, dedicated to excelling in his chosen art of combat.  When I decided I didn’t like the clan name I’d given him (“Granitehoof”), I ended up ditching it by inventing a little bit of Tauren culture and making him clanless, something of an outcast from Tauren society.  He transferred his clan loyalty to his guild instead; he refers to the other people in Noxilite, regardless of race and without irony, as his “brothers and sisters.”  Yes, even the blood elves, albeit reluctantly sometimes.

That loyalty and stoicism is layered over a lot of built-in rage…yes, he’s a Cow with Issues.  He pushed harder and harder as he trained to earn the respect of those around him, and sometimes, he’s felt like he hasn’t when he should’ve.  As a warrior, he’s constantly walked a tightrope between the protector of his people and the berserk reaver of his enemies.  In fact, when I tried him out Fury for a bit, I wrote up a whole storyline about how he’d been possessed by what he thought was one of the troll spirits around Warlord Mandokir in Zul’gurub–remember the ones that would auto-rez you?–and it taught him the ways of how the trolls fought, furious, with total abandon.

My problem is, as the years have ground on, I’ve let the stoicism take over.  I’ve painted myself into a corner with him.  He’s gone from having a quiet personality to having no personality.  He’s fossilized.  That’s due to two problems not with him, but with me, the player.  First, despite having this blog and vomiting forth too much information on a regular basis, I’m actually quite shy when it comes to real-time interactions in-game.  I can roleplay within my friends, but around strangers, I lock up for fear of any sort of mockery that I’m convinced will come my way.

The second is the amount of mental energy it takes for me to stay in-character.  The past three and a half years have been…well, let’s be polite and call them “demanding.”  Moves, job changes, deaths in the family, mental health issues, financial stress, a high-energy daughter, so many other things…they all combine to leech my focus and energy, what my wife and I jokingly call “noodle,” right out of me.  There are many who view RP as a refreshment, a rejuvenator.  I don’t deny that, I know how fun it can be.  But staying in-character for me takes a particular kind of concentration that I simply haven’t had.  Paradoxically for somebody who claims to be a roleplayer and has been called an “RP nazi” more than once…it’s easier for me to focus on mashing buttons in the right order while tanking Arthas for three hours than it is for me to work out how Linedan would interact in a simple five-minute conversation with a guildmate.

This has left me with a main that I basically don’t RP anymore.  And I don’t want that.  I want to get my Hordeside RP back, with Linedan.  The buildup to and release of Cataclysm seem like a perfect time for it.  I’m just not sure what to bloody do at this point.  I’m toying with the concept, once The Anvil finally kills Arthas (ohpleaseletitbesoon), of Lin simply deciding that he’s done with all the slaughter and death and retiring back to Mulgore, just in time for all Deathwing to break loose.  Or maybe I can come up with something else to happen that will crack his shell a bit.  Right now, though, I don’t know what’s under that shell yet.  Is he stable?  Is he unbalanced?  Is he good?  Is he bad?  Will he stay loyal to the only home he’s known for the better part of five years?  I don’t know, and that’s a bit frustrating, and I can only hope that it will come to me over time now that I’m thinking about it.  Character changes like that, I’ve found, aren’t something that can be forced.  At least for me, they tend to blindside me when I’m thinking about something else.

In the meantime, how are you planning for your characters’ roleplay to change come Cataclysm?


Unfortunate fashion accidents

I thought I was really rolling when I got Beltar into an ICC 10-man raid last week and got a Taldron’s Short-Sighted Helm, which uses the same model as the T10 helms for hunters.  For some reason (I don’t even remember why, there was number-crunching involved, I guess), I got him the helmet, gemmed it, and enchanted it.  Then, happy to ditch his old T9 helm which I never really liked the looks of, I put it on…

…that’s right.  My dwarf now has a giant saronite Mr. Happy growing out of his forehead.  I mean, yeah, he’s a dickhead sometimes, but damn, Blizzard, did you have to be that literal?

And if that wasn’t bad enough…over the weekend, my shaman Sakula finally got exalted with the Wyrmrest Accord while failing his way through heroic Oculus.  That left him just one of the “big four” Northrend factions he needed rep with, the Kirin Tor.  So I changed his tabard and finished the heroic run.  Then I took a good look at what a Kirin Tor tabard looks like on a male troll…and /facepalmed.

Clearly, Rhonin felt the need to overcompensate for something, if you know what I mean (and I think you do).


How to spice up a boring heroic run…

…have a small child (my daughter, aka Nublet, aka The World’s Cutest Four-Year-Old) watching over your shoulder as you run Azjol-Nerub on your hunter.  And then have her firing questions at you non-stop while you’re trying to work a marks hunter rotation that you’re rusty on from lack of play.

“Are those bugs?”

“Yes, honey, they’re bugs.”

“Are they mean bugs?”

“Yes, honey, they’re mean bugs and they’re trying to eat us.”

“They look like spiders.”

“They are sort of like spiders, yes.”

“Why’s that one got an arrow over his head?”

“I put it there so we know which bug to kill first.”

“Spiders eat icky bugs.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Look!  That bug has little wings!”

“Yes, yes he does.”

“Is that wolf made out of ice?”

“No, honey, he’s just a white fluffy wolf.”

“He looks like he’s made out of ice.”

He’s not, love, he’s just a big white wolf that follows my guy around.”

“Does he bite bugs?”

“Yes, sweetie, he bites bugs.”

“Hey, a bridge made of ice!”

“That’s not ice, that’s spiderweb.”

“But why aren’t you getting stuck?”

“I don’t know, love, that’s just the way the game works.”

“That’s a biiiiig spider.”

“Mm-hmm.  And now he’s a big dead spider, see?”

“Eww, you fell in an icky river!  Are you going to step on the little bugs?”

“No, sweetie, I’m just going to leave those alone.”

“Why?  Shouldn’t you step on the little bugs?”

“No, hon, not enough time.  See, there’s the big boss bug.”

“Where?”

“There.”

“Oh, yeah.  Hey, he’s gone in his hole.”

“Yeah, he does that, and he sends little bugs out to try and eat us.”

“I think he’s got a secret tunnel.”

“Mm-hmm.”  (at this point I’m frantically trying to dodge darters)

“Look, no more boss bug!”

“Yep.”

“Are you going to go back and squish the little bugs now?”

“No, sweetie, we’re done.”

“Are you flying away on your dragon now?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“OK.  I’m gonna go draw fairies now.”



New and (slightly) improved

If you are a repeat visitor to my little armor-plated corner of the Internet, you might’ve thought you landed on the wrong website when Achtung Panzercow first popped up on your browser just now.  Nope, Gentle Reader, let me assure you, this is still the home of the Panzercow, my little virtual Bunker of Love.  I just thought it needed a bit of renovation.

So during a slow time at work on Friday, and carrying over into Friday night at home, I did some tweaking on it.  There were really only two significant changes that I made:

New theme. For a very long time I had used themes from Andreas Viklund at WordPress…first Andreas04 back in the day, and then Andreas09.  Both of them were nice three-column themes that let the main text of the blog flow out wider on widescreen monitors, which I thought was pretty useful.  I’ve never much liked fixed-width blog themes that smoosh the post text into a narrow column and leave me staring at an immense expanse of wasted white space on a 22″ widescreen like I run at home.

But while eminently practical, after a while, good old workhorse Andreas09 just started to look a little, well, plain to me.  I looked at other peoples’ blogs with a rising tinge of jealousy because they had fancy headers and graphics and more flexibility compared to my simple text blog.  Of course, I could always self-host to get the ultimate level of flexibility.  But even though I do average around 500 views a day here on Panzercow, and the blog recently passed an astonishing  200,000 total views since December 2008, it’s still very much a part-time hobby.  I like being hosted on WordPress.  It makes maintenance quick and easy at any time of the day because it’s not blocked at work, so if I need to duck in to fix a spam comment or something similar, I can do it and get back to my job.  Plus, I really can’t afford any hosting option that’s costing me more than $0.00 a month right now.

So I was noodling through the available free themes yesterday looking for something that I could use to punch up the place a bit.  I thought I’d found my answer with an attractive three-column theme called Coraline, and in fact for about a half-hour Friday afternoon, that’s what we were using–I don’t have a “sandbox” blog to make my changes in, I just slam them straight into the live site, because I’m a rebel, maaaan.  But I was gchatting with Anna, as I often do, and she threw a couple more suggestions out there.  While browsing those, I found my answer.

Say hello to Modularity Lite.  It’s a fixed-width two-column theme, which normally I don’t like…but I just fell in love with the layout, the font, the dark granite-ish background, all of it.  It was love at first sight.  Add onto that the fact that it supported a custom header picture, and I was sold.  I had the site swapped over and the widgets (the stuff in the sidebar and footer) rearranged in no time.  The final tweak was the header picture, which is just part of a random screenshot of Linedan (the titular Panzercow) that I took in Dalaran a few months ago, back when he was still rocking full T9 instead of T10.  The new layout doesn’t seem to have broken anything from older posts except for picture captioning, which is pretty minor and something I can live with.

Oddly enough, I think the new look of the blog has amped me up to post more.  I hope it works.  I really need to ramp it back up.

Blogroll changes. Blogrolls are almost like living things.  Blogs disappear, go on hiatus, change names, new ones appear.  I finally got around to pruning my blogroll, and sadly, had to drop over a third of them due to inactivity.  But I compensated by adding several new ones, and am always on the prowl for more.  Getting linked here will do absolutely nothing for your traffic, but, y’know.  I taunt your target, you taunt mine, or something like that.

I hope you enjoy the new(ish) Achtung Panzercow.  As always, please comment on anything you see here, because comments make me teh happeh.


I admit it, I’m a “beta” male

The ability to stream content while playing--a mixed bag.

(NOTE:  I’m aiming to keep this post as spoiler-free as possible, so it won’t be hidden behind a cut.  If I do put something up with spoilers, I’ll make sure I hide them for folks who don’t want to see them.  I’m nice that way.)

First off–yes, I’m in the beta.  In fact, I was actually in the Friends & Family alpha quite early on, back when we were under a strict NDA that meant we couldn’t even admit that the alpha existed.  Some of those bugs you don’t see in the beta?  Yeah.  I reported those.  When they actually existed in the alpha, I mean.  Trust me, if you think some zones aren’t polished now, you should’ve seen them three months ago.

Anyway…I’m not going to dig too hugely deep into things here, partially to avoid spoilers and partially because I’ve still got to do some more digging with this latest beta build, especially in regard to class trees (which are still mutating with every patch).  I plan to have some more warrior-specific info up here soon, once I can actually get to tank something instead of just grinding to level, and once I figure out what Lin’s fury offspec build should be.  But in the meantime, here’s some general tidbits…

Launcher. With this latest beta build, Blizzard has revised how their launcher and downloader work.  The theory is that now you’ll be able to stream downloaded content while you play the game.  (This forced us in the beta to completely uninstall the beta client and download the whole bloody thing again, by the way.)  The new way it works is this:  When you go to the battle.net page to download WoW, you’ll download a small 2.5 MB launcher app.  This, when run, downloads a 660 MB WoW installer that contains the core files for the game.  Run and install that (which took me about an hour) and then, when you run WoW for the first time, you’ll get the familiar-looking downloader, which will begin pulling down a massive amount of data–15.7 GB for this build.

But here’s the trick.  There’s a yellow line and a green line on the progress bar.  In theory, once the progress bar hits that yellow line, you can play WoW.  The “Play” button lights up and lets you run the game while the downloader disappears (you can’t alt-tab to it), but continues to pull the data.  What Blizzard says is that you can run the game once the progress bar hits the yellow line (about 4% on mine), but “your game experience might not be optimum.”  You may run into some delays or missing data.  Once it hits the green line–about 60% for this beta install–again, in theory, your WoW experience should improve and be almost normal while the downloader concludes its work.

I tried it last night, and surprisingly, it does work.  I was playing without any real latency issues while my wife and I both let our respective downloaders grind.  There currently is an issue with frequent drops and “world server is down” messages, though, so it’s not all sunshine and roses.  Nevertheless, the concept seems to work quite well.  Even with the downloader at only 12-14% of the big file, the only glitches I ran into (besides getting dropped every 10 minutes) were a few missing or delayed sounds.

At first I wondered why they made this change.  The old system worked OK most of the time.  And this new system is still apparently peer-to-peer, so that didn’t change.  Why add in the capability for background streaming?  Well, one reason I can think of is, possibly, to make it easier to add in purchasable downloadable content?  Y’know, go buy yourself a sparklepony and keep playing while it’s delivered to your mailbox.  Or maybe more.  Or maybe I’m paranoid.

New zones. I’ve only seen two zones so far, the first two that were opened, Vashj’ir and Mount Hyjal.  Vashj’ir is an large underwater zone–actually, three separate ones–chock full of various sea life that thinks you’re tasty.  In addition, there’s an overarching plot revolving around the naga, but honestly, I ran through it in alpha and several pieces were still missing so I’m not quite sure what that plot is. Mount Hyjal is, well, Mount Hyjal.  It’s under siege by the Twilight’s Hammer and their various allies.  There, you’ll assist Ysera and…uh, somebody else…to reclaim the portions of the mountain that the Twilights have already ravaged.  And you’ll meet some old friends.  I mean, old friends.  Beta peeps probably can guess who I’m talking about.  In addition, Deepholm is now open.  I haven’t seen it yet except over my wife’s shoulder, but she couldn’t stop gushing about it and with good reason, it’s beautiful.  The art and atmosphere is probably the best Blizzard’s ever done…it’s very otherworldly and weird.  Considering it’s on the elemental plane of Earth, that makes sense.

As for the two new races, well, how much can I gush?  I’ve gotten both a worgen and a goblin through their respective starter areas, and both are fantastic, yet totally different from each other.  Worgens start in a Gilneas under siege, first by worgen and then by the Forsaken.  The entire experience is best described as a “fighting withdrawal” against desperate odds, as the Gilneans fall back from one place to another to the next defending themselves the whole way.  Gilneas City itself floored me the first time I saw it.  LOTRO players will get this analogy–it looks a bit like a cloudy, more urban Bree-town.  In a good way.

The goblin side is completely different.  Blizzard took “teh funneh,” cranked it to 11, and ripped the knob off.  Kezan, the goblin city, is hilarious.  The goblin quests are replete with bad puns, funny names, bad puns, amusing situations, pop culture references, and more bad puns.  And did I mention bad puns?

Old zones. This, to me, is the amazing part of Cataclysm. Not that Blizzard has created new and cool places like Vashj’ir or Hyjal or Deepholm.  It’s what they’ve done to the old world, to zones where level 80s just don’t have any reason to go anymore.  They have put an immense amount of effort into zones of all levels in Azeroth, and the result is a radically different leveling experience.  The 80-85 run in Cataclysm is going to be cool, but you won’t get the full grasp of just how much has changed until you start rolling some alts of the vanilla races.

For example, I rolled a Tauren paladin in alpha.  There were a lot of bugs, and some incomplete linking of quests between zones.  But even so, getting the holycow from 1 to 35 totally derailed me from testing Vashj’ir or Hyjal on Linedan or Beltar.  As incomplete as everything was (and Mulgore was still a work-in-progress at that point), the experience was amazingly engrossing.  Blizzard has put a hell of a lot of work into cleaning up the leveling-questing process.  There are now more quest hubs spread out in lowbie zones, with some old quests moved to the new hubs, closer to their objectives.  This means less time wasted running back and forth.  In the northern half of the Barrens, for example, there used to be Crossroads and Ratchet.  In addition to those now, there are a couple of other quest hubs.  One is a goblin post up near the Boulder Lode Mine and Sludge Pit in the northeastern part of the zone.  The old Venture Company quests involving those areas have been moved to the new hub, so you’re not running back and forth to Crossroads or Ratchet constantly.  It speeds the process up and makes it feel less tedious.

But even over and above that is the storytelling.  And nowhere did Blizzard hit a peak with that more than in Ashenvale and Stonetalon, from what I’ve seen.  The Alliance and Horde are now more in conflict than ever.  Much, maybe most, of the Kalimdor Horde leveling experience between, say, levels 18 and 34 (Ashenvale, Stonetalon, Southern Barrens) is going to be wrapped up in this war.  The quests themselves aren’t PvP, but you’ll spend a lot of time killing NPC elves and dwarves and humans and gnomes if you’re Horde.  The quests flow, logically, from one to the next, and from one place to the next.  And they tell an overarching story of the Horde side of the new war…one in which, surprisingly, Garrosh Hellscream does not necessarily come off as the king-hell douchebag we’ve known him as before.  And as a Tauren fanboy?  Southern Barrens hits me particularly hard.  You’ll see why if you fly over it.

Prot warrior mechanics. I’ll have some more details up on this later.  Right now, things are still somewhat in flux, that much is plain.  Talent trees are still getting adjusted with every patch.  But what I’m seeing, from a level/grind standpoint, is a slight walkback from the bountiful joy we got in Wrath of the Lich KingWotLK turned Prot warriors from laughingstocks at leveling into sexy grinding machines.  We had enough DPS to kill mobs at reasonable speed crossed with the survivability that we all love about the class…and when we got bored with questing, we could jump in the dungeon queue and tank ourselves silly.  It became, well, easy to level as Prot.

I don’t know if 80-85 will be quite so easy.  DPS output seems flat or down from live, and this, combined with level 80 mobs in the new zones having around thirty thousand health, makes grinding a bit slow compared to Northrend.  Couple that with some odd stat changes…right now, Linedan in his T9 prot gear (from back in May when I copied him over) has a crit chance of 0.48%.  A half a percent at level 82, Blizz, seriously?  That 145 hit rating only gets him +2.1% hit at level 82 as opposed to double that at level 80?  Please tell me this stuff will be adjusted.

I haven’t had a chance to tank yet, but the rumblings I’ve been hearing are mixed.  Tank threat in the late alpha (for all classes) was supposed to be very bad.  It may have come up a bit in the last few beta builds, but still seems to be considerably lower than live.  If I can ever get a chance to tank one of the new instances, I’ll pass on my experiences.

In closing, I’m pretty excited about Cataclysm. I haven’t been too terribly caught up in mechanics and numbers so far…I’ve let myself get lost in the beauty of the new zones, and been astonished at the level of effort Blizzard has put in to reshape the entirety of Azeroth, and the confidence with which they’re flexing their storytelling muscles.  Now that we’re further along into a solid beta, it’s time to start looking at the nuts and bolts more.  But even with the glitches and the concerns?  It’s pretty obvious that once again, Blizzard is in the process of hitting yet another home run.


My name is Panzercow…

…and I approve this message.  Not least because I can’t think of a better artist to filk for a song about tanks than the Man in Black, who was basically the Avatar of Badass wearing a guitar.

(Yes, I know it’s two years old, I just saw it.  Shut up or I’ll Shield Slam you so hard they’ll be picking your teeth out of your ass.)

Hat tip:  our raid’s Chief Cat Herder, Itanya Blade and her paladin’s Helmet Hair of the Gorilla.


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