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cataclysm

Looking For Durp

Recently I’ve had something of a yen to start playing my sorely neglected dwarf hunter Beltar.  Now Beltar has finished all the Cataclysm zone and quest content, pretty much, and is walking around with a typical mixture of quest rewards and a very few dungeon pieces, giving him an ilevel of 346.  That’s good enough to do normal heroics, but not good enough for patch 4.3 heroics or anything bigger than that.  So if I wanted to gear him up–and improve my somewhat marginal huntarding skills in the process–there was really only one place for the grizzled old gunbunny to go.

The Dungeon Finder.

So last night I decided that it would be Dungeon Finder night.  I would queue and queue and queue again in LFD.  Normally I avoid LFD like I’d avoid, say, a glass-shard lollipop drizzled in Ebola and tetanus.  But that’s as a tank on Linedan.  I figured, with gearing to the point where normal Cataclysm heroics are starting to approach faceroll status, a semi-competent knowledge of Basic Marks Huntering 101, and 340-level gear, I could hold my own, work on improving my rotations and DPS, pick up the Ramkahen rep I need to hit Exalted and get the +agi head enchant, and score at least one piece of loot.

I don’t know when I turned into such a raving optimist.  I really don’t.

So with his Harkoa-cat Longpaw by his side and his newly transmogged gun-that’s-actually-a-crossbow cocked and locked, I hit “I”, clicked “Enter Queue,” waited 10 minutes, and set off on my adventure…

First dungeon:  Blackrock Caverns.  It set the tone for how the rest of the evening would go that the poor DK tank couldn’t hold agro on anything, even with my Misdirects, from a geared and aggressive mage.  (He wasn’t trying to be a jerk, he was just putting out a lot of pain.)  We wiped on Rom’ogg Bonecrusher but got him on the second try after I stupidly ate a Skullcracker and died.  Then when we were heading down to Corla, we shortcut down the rough ground to the left instead of going down the ramp to the right.  Guess which way Longpaw went and brought some friends?  Yeah.  Stupid cat + stupid hunter = fail.  After the wipe, I dropped group to save them the trouble of votekicking me over it.

Second dungeon:  Deadmines.  I cringed when I saw this one.  I always hated tanking heroic DM.  Fortunately we had a monster of a tank, a death nugget with over 200,000 health that was simultaneously doing over 16,000 DPS.  (I’m fine.  Really.  That totally didn’t rekindle my deep-seated hatred of DK tanks who can top the DPS charts while tanking.  At all.)  We started off, of course, at “gogogogogo” pace, the tank not even waiting for the healer to be in line-of-sight to do pulls because, hey, he’s a DK with over 200k health, he can do that.  Everything was going pretty well and I was starting to get into something resembling a groove–even though the healer dropped without a word in mid-trash-pull after we killed Helix.  The DK survived because, hey, he’s a DK with over 200k health, he can do that.  Then we got to the Foe Reaper 5000.

We wiped on him the first time because nobody got into the Prototype Reaper to handle the Molten Slag adds.  The tank linked the Recount from the fight…because, hey, he’s a DK with over 200k health, he can do that.  The healer dropped without a word, as did the tank.  We got another tank, a warrior, who promptly pulled FR5000 while the mage and myself were standing around the Prototype Reaver at the top of the room.  Again, nobody got into the Reaver and we died.  The warrior asks “wtf have any of you done this before?”  As it turns out?  The mage hadn’t seen the instance before.  Everybody else but me and him instantly drop.

Third dungeon:  Deadmines again, because the RNG is laughing at me.  This time, the tank was a feral druid, and he was even healthier (207k!) and better than the previous run’s death nugget.  And he pulled even faster.  Healer around the corner?  Didn’t matter, he was a BARE STORNG 4 FITE.  And truly, it didn’t.  We demolished our way up to Foe Reaper again.  And again, on the first attempt, nobody got in the damn Prototype and we wiped.

On the second attempt, this time, I got in the Prototype.  I had never done it before and had no clue what to do, but fortunately, Rashona the Aggrokitty was at her computer next to me and talked me through it.  I did a truly shitty job of Molten Slag control, but we got FR5000 down.  Somehow.

We moved on, and got to Ripsnarl.  We dropped him and he dropped his two-handed agility axe, Rockslicer.  Now Beltar is still using the blue ilevel 318 polearm quest reward from Deepholm, so that axe would’ve been a nice upgrade, the first I’d seen in the heroic runs.  So I rolled Need.

So did the fury warrior.

He won.

Oh, and on Vanessa?  I missed the rope on the first rope phase, fell off the boat, walked through fire, swam around, and got back up top just in time for her to die, greeted by a chorus of “lol” and “wtf” from my teammates.  But at least I finally finished a heroic and got my 150 Valor Points.

Fourth dungeon:  Once more into the durp, dear friends, and this time, it was Stonecore.  Cool, I thought, I never did finish off the quest to kill the end boss in there.  Unfortunately, I realized quickly that this wasn’t going to be a full instance run, because when I blipped in, I saw myself staring at Ozruk, along with two DPS.  We picked up another healer and a high-health feral tank, and pulled.

The tank promptly faced Ozruk toward us at point-blank range with us penned into a corner.  Ozruk then Ground Slammed before we could find a clear spot and killed both me and the healer, and the rest of the group wiped shortly after.  The tank yelled at us “wtf does nobody know how to play wow anymore” and dropped group.  (Obviously, that was a rhetorical question on his part.)  So did one of the DPS.

We got a replacement DPS and another tank, a paladin this time, and even though the pally had much less health than the bear, his tank job on Ozruk was absolutely perfect.  Ozruk and Azil fell easily and for the second time I got myself 150 sweet tasty Valor Points.  We did so well, in fact, that we requeued as a group save the healer.  Things were finally starting to look up!

Fifth dungeon:  Lost City of the Tol’vir.  Excellent, another dungeon that I had a leftover quest in (Oathsworn Captains).  The run started off completely uneventful.  We killed the first boss without issue.  Then we hit the trash pack after the boss.  The tank immediately keeled over.  We wiped.  The healer dropped without a word, as did the tank, and the group fell apart.

Sixth dungeon:  Grim Batol.  Fun times.  With our DK tank in the lead, we set off and proceed to have a fairly uneventful run…until after the second boss.  Then the healer, who had been catching a bit of flak from the tank, drops and we pick up another.  We keep going and then we get to the third boss, Dragha Shadowburner.

We ended up winning, but the fight didn’t go well.  Our fury warrior died, got battle-rezzed, and died again.  The fight seemed to take absolutely forever compared to the other times I’ve done it.  And then after the fight, the tank went nuts.  He linked the Recount for the fight, showing him doing 11k dps, me doing 10k, the fury warrior doing 8k, and the lock doing 6k.  He started berating the warrior, testing the limits of the profanity filter in a way that’d make R. Lee Ermey sit up and take notice.  He screamed at the fury warrior for dying twice (the warrior said he was hung over), then screamed at the warlock for only doing about 6k dps on the fight.  The lock dropped group.  Then the tank said “votekick plz.”

And I found myself standing in a field in Western Plaguelands where I’d been doing archeology when the queue popped.

I got votekicked.

For doing more DPS on a boss fight than the other two DPS.

At which point, I said “fuck it,” went back to Stormwind, hung out in the Pig and Whistle, RP’d with a few of the Wildfire Riders, and got Beltar shitfaced.  (See picture above.)

And thus ended my evening of dungeoning.  The final totals?

Six instances.  Two completed (one partial).  300 Valor Points.  Around 600 Justice Points.  About 7,000 Ramkahen rep.  120 gold in repair bills from all the wipes.  One piece of greed loot (an agi sword) that I can use as RP gear and nothing else.  And 25 points in Archeology in between queue pops.

So what did I learn from my three hours of sheer heroic hell?

1.  I have the worst luck in the universe.  This isn’t new, I’ve known this since my D&D days, where it was a complete certainty that if I needed a good dice roll–as player or DM, didn’t matter–I wouldn’t get it.  I was the Master of the Badly-Timed Fumble.  My dice logged a lot of frequent flyer miles after being thrown through the air in frustration.  Rashona, who runs LFD almost every day on one of her immense stable of alts, was boggled at the run of bad groups I had.  She has issues in LFD, who doesn’t?  But never that many, that fast.

2.  I’m not a very good hunter.  I need to get better.  People are telling me that the 10-11k DPS range I typically do is low for Beltar’s level of gearing.  I need to go do some spec and rotation theorycrafting for marks.

3.  LFD is even worse now than it was during Wrath.  I didn’t think that was possible, but it is.  It’s not so much the skill or gear level of the players, because that’s always going to be a mixed bag.  It’s the attitudes.  I really couldn’t imagine people being less patient than they were when we were running Halls of Whatever in our sleep, but they are.  If the slightest little thing goes wrong, people will drop.  There’s no thought toward just sticking it out with a group and succeeding.  It’s all me, me, me, me, me.

4.  Please, let me apologize on behalf of the good and kindly tanks out there, of which I think a few may still exist.  I refused to believe it, but yes, we tanks really have turned into a bunch of entitled prima donna douchebags.

5.  I’m going to keep trying.  Why not?  I won’t get any better on Beltar, or won’t get him any better geared, if I don’t run instances, and Looking for Dumbassery is still the quickest and easiest way to gear him up and work on my huntering, if also the most soul-crushing occasionally.

6.  Tanks who can simultaneously tank an instance in their sleep and blow away the DPS meters still piss me off.  It’s not you guys, it’s me.  I’m just jealous.

My wife has the best attitude toward PUGs, because she (bless her heart) tanks a lot of them on her various druids.  She just says, “I don’t see it as a dungeon group.  I see it as an escort quest.”


Sic transit gloria mundi

The title of this post is a Latin phrase that means “thus passes the glory of the world.”  (Sadly, I had to use Wikipedia to get that instead of my five years of high school Latin.  Five years of memorization and translation and I can’t get past “Britannia est insula” anymore.  Durp.)  It’s generally used to mean “the things of this world are fleeting.”

It’s a phrase that immediately popped into my head, for whatever strange reason, when I read the announcement yesterday that The Anvil, the 25-man raid on Feathermoon that I’ve been a member of for the better part of five years, is shutting its doors permanently.  The end of The Anvil came out of left field as a real shock to all of us; we already knew that the raid was having issues getting spun up for Cataclysm raiding, and that we’d probably have to drop back to two 10-mans from a 25 at least for now, and that we really didn’t quite have the people even to do two 10s at least in the immediate future.  But to get the word that the officers had decided to pull the plug entirely was a stunner…and yet, looking in retrospect at the signs, it’s completely understandable.

The Anvil, you see, is something of an unusual raid.  It originally started as a cooperative effort between three smallish Feathermoon RP guilds–the Thundering Hammer Clan, Noxilite, and the Prophecy of Shadow–to form a Molten Core 40-man raid in late 2005/early 2006.  It was then, and always has been, a non-guild raid.  It’s never been a requirement to be in a particular guild to be a part of The Anvil.  The raid leadership team, originally under the baritone command of THC’s Malkavet, is a separate entity from the leadership of any of the guilds that may be involved (although most of the raid officers are also officers in their respective guilds).

From the start, The Anvil’s principles were pretty simple.  We knew we weren’t going to be a server-leading progression raid, but we were going to come prepared and do our best.  Raiding usually went two days a week, three to four hours a day.  Roleplay was not required, but was allowed and would be respected.  Real life came before raid life, since most of the raid’s members were young professionals, many with families.  Using those simple rules, The Anvil went into Molten Core again…and again…and again, and eventually downed Ragnaros many times.  (There are Anvillains that still won’t go to Molten Core even today because they’re so sick of it.)  Then there was Blackwing Lair, with Nefarian eventually falling.

In Burning Crusade, The Anvil broke into a couple of 10-mans for Karazhan, then reformed and plowed through much of the 25-man content.  Serpentshrine Cavern was eventually conquered, but not without Vashj holding us up for a month and a half.  Kael’thas, sadly, didn’t get punked until after patch 3.0 dropped and mega-nerfed the fight.  The raid also went 3/5 in Hyjal, and (after patch 3.0) 7/9 in one trip to the Black Temple.  Sunwell?  Nope.

But it was in Wrath of the Lich King where I think The Anvil really came into our own.  Yes, we needed the 30% buff to kill Arthas, and we didn’t do it until mid-September of last year.  Yes, it took us four months of hard work to get even that single LK kill.  But what was great, as a grunt in the raid, was to watch us, as a raid, improve as we moved through Wrath’s 25-man content, from Naxxramas to Ulduar to Trial of the Trashless to Icecrown Citadel.  As the fights got more difficult and technical through the years, we got better.  We became less of a brute-force group (The Anvil’s early Molten Core nickname was “The DPS Raid,” because of how much we brought in comparison to healers and tanks) and more of a “kill the boss despite a log parse that’d make other raids laugh” raid.

So how did we go from the high of an Arthas kill to disbanding the raid in less than four months?  A few reasons, I guess, plus some I’m sure I’m not privy to since I’m not an officer.  The changes in Cataclysm raiding greatly favor 10-man raids.  They’re simpler, easier to put together, much less strain on leaders, and now drop the same loot, just less of it.  We lost several people who wanted to stick with 10-mans instead of the more chaotic 25.  Another reason, one that has rankled me since it was announced, is guild achievements and perks.  The cross-guild raid is apparently quite rare in the wider world of WoW, but there’ve been many of them on Feathermoon for some reason–we don’t find them unusual.  However, with members scattered from several different guilds (or even no guild), our 25-man can’t provide any one guild the guild rep, guild XP, or guild acheesements that a straight one-guild raid can.  Combine that with the fact that several of the component guilds in the greater Anvil circle of friends are now, or soon will be, capable of putting together 8 people to form the core of a balanced guild-focused 10-man, and that’s another strike against a cross-guild 25-man.  Blizzard could have solved this with some sort of support for guild alliances, much as corporations in EVE Online can form alliances to gain benefits, but they said early on in the Cataclysm development cycle that guild alliance support was right out.

In the end, though, I guess the biggest reason is probably burnout.  Some of our officer group have been in place for three or four years.  That’s a long time to have to herd cats.  There’s always some drama with a raid, even a laid-back one like ours, and it wears after a while.  When you’ve been fighting through various 25-man dramas for a couple of years, and then you’re looking at a raid composition for Cataclysm that simply will not allow a 25-man, and then have to deal with shortages in various classes and splitting people into 10-mans and longtime raiders hanging it up due to burnout of their own and getting people geared up and ready…I don’t blame them for pulling the plug, honestly.  It took a near-superhuman effort by our officers to get us through WotLK and get us that Arthas kill.  They’re volunteers.  They just want to play the game again.  Who can begrudge them that?

Now, my personal views on the Anvil are well-documented on the post celebrating that Lich King-25 kill.  It’s not just “a raid” to me, it’s a large extended group of friends that have given me the opportunity to transform from the terrible warrior who stumbled into Molten Core in mid-2006 to the reasonably competent tank who was on point the night that Arthas Menethil finally fell.  Despite all the hard times, despite almost losing my raid spot a couple of times and having to improve to stay, despite all the wipes and struggles and late nights and mistakes, The Anvil has been a wonderful and awesome ride for me over four and a half years.  Every Thursday and Friday night for a couple of years now, I’ve known where I’d be and what I’d be doing…sitting on Ventrilo with 24 or so other people, several of them drunk, listening to a cavalcade of “your mom’s face” jokes, our Chief Cat Herder‘s shouts of “Defile, MOVE!”, arguments about whether Batman or Superman was the better superhero, and all the rest.  And now that’s gone.

It’s not all bad.  At least two 10-mans, maybe more, are going to be forming out of the dispersion of the main 25-man.  We still have our in-game chat channel and Vent, and we’re still friends and acquaintances who will heroic or raid with each other from time to time.  The people are still there.  But the big 25-man, the central focus of The Anvil, is gone, and that’s going to take some getting used to.  It felt like something permanent, something that would never go away.  But one thing that all of us need to remind ourselves about in a game like WoW…everything is transitory.  Change is the only constant.  And the things of this world (of Warcraft) are fleeting indeed.

The Anvil Raid.  January 6, 2006 – January 11, 2011.  Just write on its tombstone “never has a finer group of friends had so much fun kicking a moderate amount of ass.”


4.0.1: No, you are not going to die (much)

It’s D-Day, kids.  We’re getting patch 4.0.1 today (or tomorrow for you folks on EU servers), which means we’re getting most of the mechanical changes that come with Cataclysm.  This includes the new trees, new skills, new glyphs, reforging, the removal of armor penetration and Defense…in short, think of it as its own little Cataclysm of how we play the game.

Well, I’ve never been one to avoid rolling with the crowd on a momentous day like today.  I’m a good little lemming, so let’s throw some information and opinions out there on Prot warrioring in the new and (hopefully) wonderful world of 4.0.1…

First of all, let me give you two awesome resources as you start scrambling around.  First, as I linked previously, Naithin at Fun in Games has put together a fan-damn-tastic Prot warrior 4.0.1 guide that will give you everything you need to get started.  There’s really not all that much I can add except to give my own opinions on a few things, which is what I’ll be doing in this post.

Second, the lovely (and freshly Kingslayerish!) Kadomi over at Tank Like a Girl has a great list of 4.0.1 warrior (and other) resource links.  These will get you up to speed on setting up your spec, glyphs, and reforging.

Now with all that linked and at your fingertips, you probably don’t need me durping around giving my half-baked opinions on things.  But, I’m going to do it anyway, because (a) it’s my blog, and (b) I’m out of town for a week starting on Thursday and need a blog post up before I go.  Suck it.

What things you can expect to see when you first log in, other than an assload of LUA errors and “SERVER:  Restart in 5:00″?  Well, your health will go up a bit thanks to a flat +15% from Prot mastery, and your armor will go down a bit, especially if you’re rocking bonus armor pieces like Pillars of Might or the Cataclysmic Chestguard.  The changes are probably within about 10% in both cases.  Defense is gone, and unlamented if you ask me.  Defense gems will change into…uh…something else.  Defense rating on items will change into straight dodge and parry.  There is no more shield block value; successful blocks now block 30% of that hit’s damage, or 60% on a critical block.  Shield Slam damage now scales off attack power like everything else.  You will have a base 30% chance to block, given by your Prot mastery; the only way to raise it is by adding Mastery rating, which will require us to use Reforging to add it to our gear.  And your mastery will give you Vengeance, which takes 5% of damage that you suffer and adds it to your attack power for 10 seconds.  All tanks get this mastery; it’s designed to crank up our damage, and thus threat, while tanking.

The talent tree changes are, obviously, probably the biggest single change we face.  (Hey, at least they didn’t change us over from rage to focus.)  To do a quick recap:  Talent trees are now 31 points deep instead of 51.  At level 10 you must pick a tree, and you are locked into that tree and only that tree until you take the 31-point talent…at level 69.  Only then may you pick things from the other two trees.  Talent points now come one every two levels (one at 10, one at 11, and one every odd level thereafter).  This means that your level 80 warrior tank will have 36 talent points to spend, 31 of which have to go into the Prot tree.  The days of any sort of hybrid build are over.

Now looking at the two-month span between now and the release of Cataclysm, it’s obvious that you won’t be leveling if you’re already 80.  You probably won’t be doing much if any solo questing or grinding (again, if you’re 80), unless you’re doing something like going for Loremaster.  So by elimination, you need a build that’s focused on tanking.

This is my first shot at one.  It gives up some talents that would increase DPS–talents that I’d consider taking in a build where I was doing more simple running-around-and-killing-shit–and leans toward multiple-target threat, damage mitigation, and self-healing.  Looking through the Prot talents tier-by-tier:

Tier 1: Incite just doesn’t grab me real hard.  It looks like a bit of a damage (and threat) boost but I don’t know that we’re going to need it with Defensive Stance giving us +200% threat on everything we do.  Toughness, that’s a no-brainer, especially with “bonus armor” taking the nerf bat in a big way.  Blood and Thunder is actually a fairly effective AOE threat mechanic.  I still think the dear departed Damage Shield was better, but B&T has seemed, in the beta, to be reasonably effective at holding threat over top of healgro.  It won’t save the DPS if they focus the wrong target, but it’s not meant to.  The one disadvantage to B&T is, obviously, you can easily stick a Rend on a CC’d mob if your placement is poor.  So make sure you fight well away from sheeps and saps and such.

Tier 2: Lots and lots of points here.  3/3 Shield Mastery is a no-brainer, as is 2/2 Gag Order.  The jury is still very much out on Hold the Line; I’ve got it on Lin in the beta because his crit is basically non-existent, he’s stacked a bit of parry to help this proc, and the crit boost helps his damage while grinding.  I don’t know how much use it will be in dungeon and raid tanking, though.  As for Shield Specialization, it hasn’t proven to be a “must have” talent.  Rage has not been a huge issue for Linedan in the beta once I learned to back off constantly hitting Heroic Strike like I was tanking Arthas.  My opinion is this:  put 7 points in this tier.  Five of them go into Shield Mastery and Gag Order.  The other two can go either 0/3 Shield Spec and 2/2 Hold the Line for a bit of a damage boost, or 2/3 Shield Spec if you think you’re rage-starved.  For now, I’ll go with Hold the Line here until I get a better feel on rage.

Tier 3: Take it all.  Take ALL the talents.  Last Stand, duh.  Concussion Blow, duh.  Bastion of Defense, duh.  Warbringer, duh.  Fill this tier.

Tier 4: Again, I would take everything here.  2/2 Improved Revenge makes Revenge hit like a truck on fire driven by angry burning bears, plus lets it hit a second target–very important for multi-target tanking.  Devastate is a no-brainer, it’s our major spammable everything-else-is-on-cooldown attack.  Impending Victory doesn’t buy you much against non-elites, but it helps on bosses, and trust me, anything that will take a load off a healer right now is going to be appreciated.  Healers have a brutally tough job in 4.0.

Tier 5: I’m not completely sold on Thunderstruck.  It does synergize very nicely with Blood and Thunder, though, so I’d probably take both points in it if I took B&T.  Vigilance doesn’t transfer threat anymore, instead it gives you the refreshed taunt if the recipient gets hit and gives you a small bit of AP from the Vengeance mastery (you get 5% of 20% of the damage they took as attack power…hence, “small”).  The Taunt refresh is the main use of it now.  Heavy Repercussions doubles your Shield Slam damage whenever Shield Block is up.  I think it’s an inefficient use of points, but we’ve got to put them somewhere, and I think it’s just barely a better deal than Incite.  Granted, I have no numbers to back it up, just a gut feel and an inordinate love for giant Shield Slam crits.

Tier 6: Safeguard still doesn’t seem worth it to me.  Sword and Board is a no-brainer.

Tier 7: It’s OK.  I’ve got Shockwave.

That gives us precisely 31 points in Prot, with five points left to spend.  The last five points are spent on things that help take the load off our overworked healer brethren:  2/2 Field Dressing in Arms and 3/3 Blood Craze in Fury.

This 2/3/31 layout is probably going to be pretty cookie-cutter, but there is a tiny bit of flexibility there in the Prot tree.  If you don’t think you need as much AOE threat but need more raw damage output you can drop the points from Blood and Thunder and Thunderstruck to put them into Incite.  If you’re rage-starved, load up 3/3 Shield Specialization at the expense of Hold the Line.  The thing to remember is that you won’t be able to get any second-tier Arms or Fury talents until Cataclysm comes out, you won’t have the points…and even then, you’ll have to plan ahead.

Now, glyphing.  Glyphs come in three flavors now:  prime (things that increase your primary function, DPS, HPS, threat, etc.), major (useful and helpful things), and minor (“fun” or small semi-useful things).  Prime glyphing a Prot warrior is easy because there’s only three pertinent ones for you to pick:  Devastate, Revenge, and Shield Slam.  For major glyphs, you’ve got more choices…but one of your three must be the Glyph of Victory Rush.  It supercharges your heals from Victory Rush and Impending Victory, and again, in the 4.0 world, you’ve got to do everything you can to make your healer’s job easier.  There are several useful major glyphs to pick from, including Heroic Throw (puts a Sunder Armor stack on the target), Cleaving (Cleave hits 3 targets instead of 2), Resonating Power (-5 rage on Thunder Clap), Spell Reflection (-1 second cooldown on Spell Reflect), Shockwave (-3 second cooldown on Shockwave), or Sunder Armor (Sunder a second target).  You can make a case for any of them, so pick whatever you want.  (I’m so decisive, aren’t I?)  For your minor glyphs, a common suggestion seems to be to stack all three Shout glyphs (Battle, Commanding, and Demoralizing); but don’t ignore the Enduring Victory glyph, which increases the window for Victory Rush use from 20 to 25 seconds.

Your tanking rotation really doesn’t change very much.  You no longer frantically hammer Heroic Strike to get 100% uptime on it (mousewheels everywhere rejoice!); instead you hit it every three seconds if you’ve got rage. You will leave yourself massively rage-starved if you don’t back off that HS key and use it as the rage dump it’s intended to be instead of just mashing it every time it lights up.  I will also be curious to see what the damage relationship is between Revenge and Shield Slam.  In the beta, Revenge is consistently hitting harder than Shield Slam unless Shield Block is up with 2/2 Heavy Repercussions.  When tanking packs of trash, you’ll hit Rend once on one mob at the start of the fight, Thunder Clap to transfer it to everyone, and then make sure you Thunder Clap at least every fifteen seconds to keep Rend refreshed on all targets.


So You Want to Be(ta) a Prot Warrior: Bump and Grind

This week, Blizzard gave us a firm date for the Cataclysm to tear Azeroth asunder…December 7.  With all the new content coming at us in just two months–and with the mechanical changes to classes, talents, items, etc. possibly coming as early as next week–I’ve been putting a bit more time in on the beta servers lately.

As a result, Linedan on beta is now level 85.  (I’ve also been working a bit on Latisha…she’s 82, and I’ll chronicle her story in another update on The Latisha Experiment a bit later.)  Along the way there, I’ve picked up some information that will hopefully help anyone planning to level a Prot warrior from 80 to 85, as Prot, once Cataclysm drops for real.  (PLEASE NOTE:  I’m going to leave lore spoilers out of this post as much as I possibly can, but I will be talking about Cataclysm mechanics and zones in a general sense.  If you want to be totally surprised, stop now.)

First of all, remember that all of the changes to talent trees, class mechanics, and gear itemization will be coming with patch 4.0.1, which could happen as soon as October 12 (that’s next Tuesday as I write this).  I would highly recommend reading Naithin’s outstanding 4.0 Prot warrior guide over at Fun in Games to get a great summary of the changes that we’re going to face in the interregnum between Arthas falling and Deathwing rising.  It’s a good starting point for looking at the new zones and the level 80-85 grind.

Even Flow

The leveling flow through the new zones is pretty straightforward, and each zone is more linear than ever as to how quests are handled.  This is the basic flow you’ll see:

  • Mount Hyjal (80-82) or Vashj’ir (80-82)
  • Deepholm (82-83)
  • Uldum (83-84)
  • Twilight Highlands (84-85)

The reason that Mount Hyjal and Vashj’ir can cover two levels is not that they’re bigger than the other zones, although Vashj’ir is actually three separate maps and covers a lot of ground…uh, water.  No, it’s because of the experience required to level.  80 to 81 and 81 to 82 both require about 1.75 million xp, not too much more than the high 70s did in Northrend.  But when you hit level 82, that changes.  Each of the next three levels required somewhere around 6.5 million xp.  That’s not a typo.  Six point five million xp per level. That’s an intimidatingly large number, but it shouldn’t be.  There are a lot of quests in the 82-85 zones, and they give from 40,000 to 55,000 xp each on completion (except for simple stuff like breadcrumb or “go over here and talk to this person” quests, of course).  Mob-killing xp has been adjusted upward as well, to the point where Linedan was getting over 10,000 per kill (rested) against level 84s in Twilight Highlands.

Within each zone, the quests are organized in a pretty logical manner.  Breadcrumb quests into each of the new zones are easily available from “boards” all over Stormwind, or outside the new Grommash Hold (or, as I like to call it, “Garrosh’s Overcompensation For His Small Wee-wee”) in Orgrimmar.  Once you establish yourself in one of the new zones, portals will open up at Earthen Ring sites in Stormwind and Orgrimmar.  Also, all the zones except Deepholm can be flown into by your own flying mounts, and there are convenient flightmasters scattered around.

Spec Racer

As a Prot warrior, your abilities and rotation haven’t changed that much from Wrath of the Lich King. The changes are subtle, like Heroic Strike being an instant attack for 30 rage instead of an on-next-swing for 15; or the crit-boosting being removed from a lot of our talents (like Gag Order).  But the abilities, in general, do the same things and get used in the same order.  There really are two big changes:  the addition of Rend as a useful ability (paired with the Blood and Thunder talent), and Heroic Strike becoming less spammy and more situational.

This is the spec that Lin entered Hyjal with at level 80.  I went with 2/2 Blood and Thunder more out of curiosity than anything else.  2/2 Hold the Line’s in there because, in T10-level tank gear, his crit dropped at 80 to less than 2.5%, and with almost all of our crit-increasing talents changed, I figured he needed all the help he could get while questing.  His talent choices at each level were:

(I’m probably going to tweak the spec to ditch Incite completely and pick up 2/2 Thunderstruck.)

Grinding it Out

As Prot warriors, we had an extremely easy time of leveling in Northrend.  Yes, our single-target DPS was low.  Who cared?  We could charge into a camp and massacre it in seconds with a combination of Damage Shield, Cleave, Thunder Clap, and Shockwave, while shrugging off the feeble blows of our assailants.

Things aren’t quite as easy in Cataclysm.  The foremost reason for that isn’t the changes that were made to Prot spec.  It’s the mobs themselves.

A level 80 Northrend melee (non-casting) mob has precisely 12,600 health.  A level 80 Cataclysm melee mob has just over 30,000 health.  And it goes up radically from there.  Level 81, about 37,000.  Level 82, about 44,000.  Level 83, around 52,000.  Level 84, around 65,000.  The only level 85 mobs I’ve seen yet had 96,000 health each, but I’m not sure if those were special and if that’s normal for level 85 non-elites.

They’re not just tougher, they hit harder too.  By the time Linedan got to Uldum, the level 84 melee mobs there were hitting him for over 2000 base damage…and that’s with him having over 31,000 armor and a physical damage mitigation right at 60%.  Stuff in Cataclysm doesn’t tickle when it hits.

So when you combine all that health, high damage, and our traditional low DPS, it doesn’t bode well, right?  Well, it’s not so bad.  You’re still a spellcaster’s nightmare, you’ve got your stuns, and you’ve got two other powerful counters to keep you in the fight:  Blood Craze and Victory Rush.  Blood Craze, in my experience, is probably ticking about a third to a half of the time during any given fight.  That’s 1.5% of your max health at the time Blood Craze activated, every second, for five seconds.  Victory Rush, now usable in Defensive Stance, gives you a big heal–20% of your current max health–whether or not the attack actually lands.  And, both these abilities are boosted by Field Dressing from the Arms tree.  Plus, you can take points into Impending Victory to give yourself a “mini” Victory Rush (for 5% of your health) whenever a mob is below 20% health.  If you’re just out grinding, the talent’s usefulness is marginal, but keep an eye on it when you start raiding.  In a long fight, it could provide a useful amount of healing.

So our pull strategy really doesn’t change that much.  We need to pull (fairly) big and (fairly) fast.  Two or more mobs at a time is optimum for us.  By the time you beat down the first one, you’re probably wounded; hit Victory Rush, get 20% of your health back, and you’re good to go on the next one.  If you have to pull one at a time, you have to rush and find the next mob within 20 seconds before Victory Rush wears off.  And even if you can’t, don’t despair.  Out-of-combat health regen on the beta (as of build 13117) is insane.  Linedan is regaining well over 600 health per tick while standing up.  The new bandages also heal for useful amounts (around 20,000 to start with) so make sure you get your First Aid skill trained up pronto.

One thing you will have to watch for is rage starvation.  Our rage generation is generally good enough, due to the high incoming damage and the tuning they currently have in place.  If you take a few points into Shield Specialization, it gets better (especially if you can Spell Reflect something!).  But you must be careful about your Heroic Strike use.  HS is no longer spammable, and it costs 30 rage.  Chances are, you’re not going to be able to hit it every time it’s up, and keep up Devastate spam, Shield Slam/Revenge as available, and Rend/Thunder Clap if you’re using Blood and Thunder.  Be judicious in your use of Heroic Strike.  Cleave, you’ll probably have less trouble with; I never had much problem with rage when fighting 2+ mobs.

Top Gear

You’ll start replacing anything less than T10 gear almost immediately in Hyjal or Vashj’ir.  This new gear is the only way, other than Reforging, to get Mastery rating.  Our Mastery rating increases our block chance, and it is, in fact, the only way to increase our block chance, as there is no more separate block rating.  If you have T10 gear, it will probably hold you into Deepholm or even Uldum.  Currently at 85, Lin is still wearing his sanctified T10 helm and T10-level rings and trinkets, he’s replaced everything else in his Prot set.

One thing to think about…with Defense no longer being in the game, you can become uncrittable by placing 2 talent points in Bastion of Defense.  This frees you up to try Prot grinding with DPS armor.  I have yet to try this, but I should; in tank gear at level 85, Linedan’s crit rating is an appalling 0.75%, and he’s badly short on +hit and +expertise (both of which are still needed).  DPS armor still has a lot of stamina on it, and Mastery rating is Mastery rating regardless of what gear it comes on.  The upside of using DPS armor would be increased +hit/+crit/+expertise at the cost of a bit of health; the downside would be lower avoidance due to losing +dodge and +parry.  Does the increase in offensive stats balance the decrease in health and defensive stats?  It might be worth trying if your grinding feels too slow, but you don’t want to go to, or don’t have, a DPS offspec.  (FWIW, Linedan started at about 2000 DPS in Vashj’ir; he’s now doing about 2800 DPS in Twilight Highlands, and that number increases substantially fighting multiple mobs.)

Dungeoneering

Finally, I’ll briefly talk about instancing…briefly, because I’ve only done it once, on a normal Stonecore run along with my wife and three guys from the LFD tool.  After all, if you’re a dedicated tank, you’re going to want to instance a lot, right?

You may have heard a lot of doom and gloom about Prot warriors’ ability to tank in Cataclysm, and how it’s a fallback to the horrible days of The Burning Crusade, when paladins kicked our asses at tanking heroics.  Don’t panic.  It’s not quite that bad.  Yes, these are not Wrath of the Lich King dungeons.  They do require some amount of brains, strategy, and crowd control to succeed in.  But they aren’t quite as brutal as, say, heroic Shattered Halls.

Crowd control is back, and it’s necessary, but for normal instances, you don’t need a huge amount of it.  One competent trapping hunter or sheeping mage should be able to get the job done in most cases, provided the rest of your group doesn’t break it (this includes you).  On our Stonecore run, we were fortunate to have both a hunter and a warlock with glyphed Fear, which leaves mobs cowering in place instead of causing them to run.  Between that and his Banish, the ‘lock did a great job on CC.

Your tanking doesn’t change all that much.  The difference is largely in the incoming damage, which is a LOT higher (but so is your health).  Also, without Damage Shield to provide that little passive threat boost, this is where Blood and Thunder comes into its own.  It’s not much use just out questing, but in an instance, being able to place and keep a Rend on every mob you’re tanking helps your threat.  Just make sure you’re clear of any CC’d mob before doing this, otherwise the mages will hate you.

Your TAB key will get more of a workout on trash if your group can’t stick to a kill order.  (Kill order is VERY IMPORTANT now.  Seriously.  VERY VERY important.)  You will be shifting between mobs to drop Devastates and other damage.  Take Vigilance and use it–but remember, Vigilance doesn’t transfer threat anymore, it just reduces the damage on your chosen target and refreshes your Taunt.  Use your cooldowns like Shield Block or your emergency buttons (Last Stand/Shield Wall) to try and offload some work from your healer, because healers are really having to work much harder in 4.0.  Because of threat decay entering the equation, you can’t coast at all during a fight–you’ve got to keep pushing your threat as much as you can and stay on top of things.

On bosses, again, it is key to avoid as much avoidable stuff as possible.  Don’t stand in Bad(tm).  Use your cooldowns when something big and ugly is about to land.  Healers are stretched to their limits under these new mechanics, and anything that you can do to help keep yourself alive early in a fight may give them the mana to keep you alive at the end.

And it’s in instances, and presumably raids, where Vengeance really comes into its own.  Vengeance gives you 5% of your taken damage as attack power for 10 seconds, and it “rolls”–any number of damage that you take just stays as AP for 10 seconds and then it’s gone, so it wobbles up and down.  Once you see how much damage you’re taking in a Cataclysm instance, you’ll realize that you’re getting an absolutely insane amount of attack power from this mastery ability.  Linedan normally runs around 4500 AP now.  While tanking Stonecore, I opened his character sheet at one point and was shocked to see him–literally–OVER NINE THOOOOOUUUSAANNND attack power.  This directly translates to a big damage boost, and, therefore, a big threat boost. I didn’t think Vengeance was very useful when I first started leveling, but after doing just one instance, boy am I a believer now.


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.


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?


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.


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