Friday, October 31, 2008

What the Hell?

In the four-year history of the game, has any other class been balanced by multiple hotfixes to the Live servers? Actually, has there even been any other non-bug-related hotfixes, just for class balance?

Seriously, Blizzard, this is a breakdown of your design and development procedures of monumental proportions.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Retribution Solution

Current Retribution Rotation

Retribution is in a bit of a mess at the moment. It is very close to being good, but there are two intertwined problems, one with PvP, and one with PvE. I think it might be worthwhile to take a step back, and look at the issues again.

For reference, here is a graph of what the first 20s of a Retribution rotation looks like:


The PvP Problem

To see the PvP problem, look at the area marked "PvP Burst". See how tightly compacted the abilities are. In the space of 4.5s, a Ret paladin gets two auto-swings, all three special attacks, and any assorted seal procs. This is a large amount of burst, and always occurs at the beginning of the rotation.

If you look at the rest of the rotation, you can see how spread out the abilities become. There's lots of empty Global Cooldowns or wasted space. This part of the rotation is much less bursty than those first few seconds. A lot of Ret's problems with burst in PvP would go away if those first 5 seconds looked more like the remaining 15s.

The PvE Problem

The PvE problem is a little more subtle. See the Empty GCDs in the rotation? Retribution is balanced around those GCDs remaining empty, and not contributing any damage. If those Empty GCDs contributed extra damage, the damage of the main abilities has to be lowered in order to keep the total DPS the same.

Taken too far, you end up where Death Knights are. Death Knights get a Strike every GCD, but each Strike only hits for 50% weapon damage. Which is a bit odd for a 2H weapon class, in my opinion. 2H Weapons should hit hard, but hit slowly, which is the model for Retribution Paladins.

Those Empty GCDs are also useful for tossing paladin utility spells, like re-Sealing, Flash of Light, Cleanse, or the various Hand spells. As well, against Undead, Exorcism can be used, emphasizing the Paladin's prowess against the Undead. Finally at the end of the fight, those GCDs are needed for burning down the enemy with Hammer of Wrath .

The main problem here is Consecration. If a Ret paladin can use an Empty GCD for Consecration, they've increased their DPS. Blizzard wants to avoid having to water down the main abilities, so they are trying to prevent Consecration from being used. The current tactic is to try and restrict the Ret paladin's mana, so that the paladin cannot cast Consecration without worrying about running dry.

The problem here is that there is not a lot of room to maneuver. If Retribution doesn't have enough mana for Consecration, they also have trouble being able to cast the non-damage spells, and it's very easy to lose mana from a mistake. That's hurts the flexibility of Retribution, which makes a paladin a paladin. If they have too much mana, they start casting Consecration regularly, and end up with higher DPS than they should.

A Solution

So can we kill two birds with one stone? I think we can. Here is my suggestion:

  1. Have Judgement, Crusader Strike, Divine Storm, and Consecration share a 3 second cooldown (in addition to their normal individual cooldown).

  2. Change Judgement as follows:
    1. Increase cooldown to 12s.
    2. Increase damage by 20%.
    3. Change Improved Judgements to increase damage by 10/20%.
    4. Increase the duration of the debuff to 30s.

  3. Change Divine Storm as follows:
    1. Increase cooldown to 12s.
    2. Make it do Holy damage once again.

  4. Remove Seal procs from specials, and tune abilities upwards as appropriate. (Not really necessary, but I may as well throw it in.)

The new Retribution rotation would look like:



Note how the problem with PvP burst goes away. Each individual ability hits like a truck, but you can't string a whole bunch of abilities together in a row. The Retribution Paladin hits bone-crushingly hard, but hits slowly, as is appropriate for a 2H class.

For PvE, there's no room to cast Consecration in the basic rotation because of the shared 3s cooldown. You'd have to kick out a Crusader Strike. That means Consecration becomes more appropriate for AoE situations, as it is meant to be. Overall dps remains roughly the same, once abilities are tuned to match the new cooldowns. However, there are still tons of Empty GCDs for the paladin to cast utility spells, Exorcism, or Hammer of Wrath. Judgements of the Wise can be tuned a little higher, giving a Retribution paladin room to breathe, without the danger of contributing additional damage.

Essentially, what we are doing here is creating a Retribution Global Cooldown. The normal Global Cooldown is the limit on how much damage can be dealt in the shortest amount of time. By basically doubling that cooldown for Ret paladin special attacks, we space out the damage, allowing the individual damage abilities to remain powerful, while still leaving room for the utility spells that make a paladin a paladin.

Finally, I don't think this would be very hard to implement. There's no new major mechanics. It's just fiddling with cooldowns and damage. This makes it far more feasible to be implemented before or just after Wrath of the Lich King.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Speaking of Plagues...

I came home tonight to find fire trucks and people milling around outside my apartment building. Now this isn't an uncommon experience. For some reason, we often have false alarms. The building gets evacuated, the fire trucks come, they leave after half an hour, and we go back in. But this time was different.

I notice people still in their apartments, and ask a neighbour what is going on. It turns out that there was some sort of gas in the common areas that was causing people's throats to hurt! Something like mace or pepper spray, or something worse. The poor owner of the building was running around praying it wasn't a meth lab.

Ambulances start arriving, and they segregate the people who were inside the building, and put them in a quarantined area. Then the HAZMAT teams and police show up!

The rest of the story is pretty boring, and mostly involves me standing around watching what's going on. After several hours, they let people back in. I'm still not sure what exactly happened.

At least there were no zombies.

Update: The police are saying that it was pepper spray.

Zombies

So the Zombie Plague is now over. It was an interesting experience, both on the servers and watching the reaction to it. First off, you have to admire an event where the healers can grief people with Cleanse or Cure Disease.

I think the people who are expecting their daily routine to be untouched are demanding too much. Do you really expect auctioneers, battlemasters, etc. to continue business as usual in the face of an invasion? I remember the first time the Naxx event was done, many people complained because it did not have an impact on the world.

However, I wonder how much of the outcry was because the zombies were other players? We roll on PvE servers specifically to get away from being affected by other players. If the zombie plague had been entirely NPC-driven, would people have complained as loudly?

It's sort of similar to Sons of Arugal or Mor'Ladim. They definitely affect your questing routine. But it's just part of the game, and not another player deliberately making life difficult for you. I wonder if that has an impact on the psychology of the event. Would PvE players be more understanding of the disruption in their routine if it wasn't driven by other players?

But then again, if the event was pure-NPC, we wouldn't have been able to turn into zombies, which was pretty cool. Maybe if player zombies couldn't attack unflagged people, that would have gone over better.

Other than that, the event seemed well done. About the only thing I would change is to remove repair costs if you are transformed into a zombie.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Some Questions for Ghostcrawler

This was originally posted on the paladin forums. It was deleted. Ghostcrawler's original post can be found here.

1) Judgements of the Wise: Mana gained reduced from 33% to 15% of base mana. We spent many hours arriving at this number. For example, we did a lot of Patchwerk fights, watching the mana bar to see when and if it ever went down. In BGs, we were seeing paladins able to go from target to target without pausing even when unleashing all of their attacks. While we don't want you to go OOM in a few seconds, we don't want you to ignore the mana bar either. Mana is not rage -- warriors can't typically start a battle with a full bar.

Unlike seemingly everyone else, I'm fine with this. The numbers work out very nicely for PvE DPS. The basic rotation is sustainable indefinitely, there's room for a few minor utility spells, and the Burn mode with Hammer of Wrath lasts for about 1 minute, which is solid.
2) Judgement of Wisdom: mana gained reduced to 1% of maximum mana and proc frequency cut by 50%. This ability was flat out better than Vampiric Touch when the mana provided between the two really needs to be close in order for the decision between Shadow priest and Retribution paladin to be a real one.

Could you tell us what the actual mechanics of Judgement of Wisdom are meant to be? So far on Beta we've seen:

- 2% gain, 100% proc, 4s cooldown per person
- 2% gain, 100% proc, 4s cooldown per raid
- 2% gain, 100% proc, no cooldown (I think Wis/Light are like this on Live)
- 1% gain, 50% proc, no cooldown?
3) Judgement and Seals: Damage reduced by 20%. This is the major damage adjustment -- a lot of damage was coming from these. We do realize this hurts Holy and Protection as well, and that is something for which we are prepared to offer compensation (particularly if it hurts Protection's threat generation).

Why are you so insistent on having Seals proc off special attacks?

Almost every nerf you've made to Ret has had this change at the heart. We were perfectly happy in TBC with Crusader Strike and Judgement not proccing Seals. So far, this change has led to:

- significant nerfs to Seals/Judgments
- hurt Holy soloing and levelling, as Holy doesn't get extra Seal procs
- an increase in the magnitude of burst damage
- random chance of complete silliness with Seal of Command
- lackluster Retribution abilities, because they have to pay an invisible "Seal Tax"
-- Crusader Strike is now worse than Mortal Strike, and MS is easier to get
-- Divine Storm is now Whirlwind with a small heal, only Whirlwind is baseline, and DS is 51-points

Seriously, if you removed Seal procs off specials, that would give you some room to tune Ret without affecting Holy/Prot, and maybe even make our special abilities more exciting and paladin-like, rather than being poor copies of Warrior abilities.
Nerfing a spec or class is never fun. It means that our initial estimates of numbers were off and we know that the community is going to react negatively (to put it mildly). But we have to try and keep the game in a relatively balanced state and that is going to mean making decisions that are unpopular sometimes. If you need to blame someone for the nerfs, blame me.

Here's the thing. Why do you have so much trouble with Retribution paladins? We went through this exact same thing in TBC, when you nuked Crusader Strike, and we didn't recover until that change was reverted (and we got threat reduction in 2.3). That's where all the forum angst is coming from. We've been through this scenario before, and it didn't end happily for us. Why do you think it will be different this time around?

We're a relatively simple class. Almost all of our talents are straight damage increasing talents (which is another issue entirely). Vengeance has full uptime very quickly. We don't have feedback loops like Rage, or complex mechanics to model like Combo-point generation. The most complicated part of our class is the internal cooldown on Seal of Command. Other-wise it's pretty much wait for the cooldown to finish, hit ability, and wait for the next ability to come off cooldown.

I'm rather worried that you can't seem to model our damage properly. Of all the classes in the game, I would imagine you would be able to predict Retribution damage with extreme precision. Yet it seems to be the class who's damage you have the most trouble predicting.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Retribution Mana Constraints

The JotW nerf makes the Ret numbers pretty interesting. Let's start by defining some terms for PvE:

  • Basic Rotation: Seal, Judgement, Crusader Strike, Divine Storm, Divine Plea (use all when cooldowns are up)

  • Burn Rotation: Basic Rotation + Hammer of Wrath

  • Minor Spells: Flash of Light, Hand spells, Avenging Wrath, Hammer of Justice, Exorcism, Repentance

  • Major Spells: Consecration, Holy Light

Unbuffed, a Ret paladin can sustain the Basic Rotation forever. However, any other spells cast come out of her mana bar.

(This assumes that the paladin takes Benediction and the Crusader Strike glyph. The Crusader Strike glyph is pretty much the second-best glyph now.)

Raid-buffed, a Ret paladin can sustain the Basic Rotation plus about 1 Minor Spell every 20 seconds.

The Burn Rotation, on the other hand, can only be sustained for one minute. After that, the paladin will be out of mana. Any Major spells cast, or extra Minor spells, further reduce the amount of time the paladin can stay in Burn mode.

Essentially, a ret paladin will stick to the Basic Rotation all the time--maybe tossing one or two Minor spells every so often--while maintaining 100% mana, until the boss drops to 20% health. Then the Ret paladin switches to Burn mode, and has one minute to kill the boss or run dry.

The largest effect of the JotW nerf is to ensure that the Ret paladin will almost never cast Major spells like Consecration or Holy Light.

Honestly, I don't think it's that bad a scheme (for PvE, anyways). I've never really liked Consecrate being part of the regular rotation. It's an AoE spell, and should be reserved for AoE situations.

Something I Did Not Know

Every 20% drunk you are, creatures appear one level lower than they actually are.

Hilarious! An elegant way to model poor judgement.

Friday, October 24, 2008

To The Ground!

So when Ghostcrawler said Ret paladins were being nerfed "TO THE GROUND", apparently he wasn't joking:

- 20% damage cut to Seals and Judgements across the board. (Honestly, this is the second time, what is wrong with the Blizzard paladin spreadsheets?)
- Judgements of the Wise has been cut by 55% (33% of base mana returned to 15% of base mana)
- Seal of Light's healing has been cut by 45% (Not really sure why this happened.)
- Judgement of Wisdom has been dropped from 2% mana return to 1%
- Judgement of Light's healing has been cut by 45%
- Divine Storm doesn't deal holy damage anymore

We did get some buffs:

- Righteous Vengeance gives 40% extra damage as a dot on a Crit Judgement or Divine Storm instead of increasing the Crit damage bonus
- Art of War increases CS/DS/Judge damage by 5/10% (up from 4/8)
- Blessing of Might (Rank 8 ) and Greater Blessing of Might (Rank 3) now increase AP by 306. (Up from 305. This sounds funny, but is actually useful to prevent Battleshout from overriding the Might buff.)

Kind of honestly, you have to wonder what went wrong with the initial Ret design that they overshot the mark so badly. Heh, I think the original model probably assumed that Seals only procced on auto-attacks. (Note to Blizzard: Seals proccing on specials is still a bad idea. Look at how badly you've had to neuter our abilities to keep it in check.) I feel bad for Holy or new paladins who have to solo.

Still, it's a tradition that Blizzard screws up Retribution 2 weeks before launch, and WotLK appears to be adhering to that policy.

Non-Combat Pet Macro

From Free Candy For Everyone, a nice macro to pull out a random non-combat pet:

/script CallCompanion("CRITTER", random(1, GetNumCompanions("CRITTER")))

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Paladin Glyphs: Major Retribution and Minor

Retribution

1. Glyph of Judgement - 10% more damage for your best ability? Yes, please.

2. Glyph of Seal of Command - This increases SoC from 7 ppm to 8.4 ppm. If you have a 3.6 speed weapon, it will bring it up to a 50% chance to proc. Math-wise, this puts it just under Seal of Blood. So it's a very good choice if you can't afford the self-damage from Blood. On the other hand, if you never actually use Command, this is a bit of a waste.

3. Glyph of Avenging Wrath - This will significantly increase your damage during the last bit of a fight. Pop wings, get a Bloodlust, and go to town with Hammer of Wrath.

Glyph of Consecration - A lot of paladins like using Consecration in the dead space in the paladin rotation. This gives you a couple more ticks of Consecration damage.

Glyph of Crusader Strike - This is being changed to mana reduction. Pretty pointless with the current state of Judgements of the Wise.

Glyph of Exorcism - Situationally useful, depending on the specific upcoming encounters.

Glyph of Flash of Light - If you plan on using Art of War to cast instant Flash of Lights, this might a good glyph. You won't be spamming FoL, so the HoT will have time to tick. Of course, currently an instant-FoL resets the swing timer, so this is a bad idea in PvE.

Glyph of Hammer of Justice - Solid PvP glyph. Not that useful in PvE.

Glyph of Hammer of Wrath - Again, another PvP glyph.

Glyph of Seal of Blood - With Judgements of the Wise, you don't really need more mana.

Glyph of Turn Evil - I'm not really sure what you would do with this glyph. It might be funny in PvP against Warlocks (especially Demonology ones).

Minor

Glyph of Blessing of Kings - Mana reduction on a buff isn't that useful.

Glyph of Blessing of Might - Good for soloing for all three specs. Don't forget that Seal and Judgement of Righteousness improve with AP, making Might a good buff for a solo Holy paladin.

Glyph of Blessing of Wisdom - Decent for soloing, though I'd probably prefer Might.

Glyph of Divinity - Good for a Holy paladin. Combos well with Glyph of Divinity. Though all specs can and should use Lay on Hands.

Glyph of Sense Undead - A solid glyph for Ret and Prot paladins. There should be plenty of Undead in Northrend.

Glyph of the Wise - Another good glyph for a Holy paladin. Remember that Holy will have a Seal up and will be judging and re-sealing. This works very nicely with the Glyph of Seal of Wisdom.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Paladin Glyphs: Major Holy and Protection

Background

Glyphs are items made by the Inscription profession. Each glyph modifies one of your spells, changing it slightly. At 80, you can have 3 Major Glyphs and 3 Minor Glyphs. Major Glyphs are powerful, while Minor Glyphs tend to be cosmetic.

Glyphs need to be applied near a Lexicon of Power. This can be found in the major cities near the Inscription trainer. Essentially, you have to return to a city to change Glyphs, so you can't change them in the field. However, I think they will rapidly become fairly cheap, so re-glyphing might be something you do before you head out to an instance for the night.

Here's a listing of what I think the top 3 major glyphs are for Holy and Protection at level 80, and some comments on the others. I'll cover Retribution and Minor glyphs in another post.

Holy

1. Glyph of Seal of Light - You need a Seal up to get the haste from Judgements of the Pure. This improves your healing by 5%, making it very powerful, especially on shorter fights.

2. Glyph of Seal of Wisdom - Like Light above, but for longer fights. It's an interesting decision if you should take both of the Seal glyphs, because you can only use one at a time. But it makes you a bit more flexible for different fights.

3. Glyph of Holy Light - This can do a fair amount of splash healing, helping a traditional paladin weakness.

Glyph of Cleansing - Mana reduction is always useful, but not very exciting.

Glyph of Divinity - Lay on Hands doesn't drain your mana anymore, and only has 20 min cooldown. So it's a very useful spell, and this glyph makes it even more useful. You get to drop a large instant emergency heal, and you get a fair bit of mana back.

Glyph of Flash of Light - This glyph is currently terrible. The HoT does not stack, so you severely hurt your tank-healing capabilities. It might be decent if you were raid-healing, but given that Glyphs are permanent, it's really hard to see this being useful. Perhaps a Ret build (with Art of War) or a levelling build would consider it, but it's pretty much a waste otherwise.

Glyph of Seal of Righteousness - Might be good for soloing, but in an instance you will be using a glyphed Light or Wisdom.

Protection

1. Glyph of Righteous Defense - Having taunts miss usually ends very badly.

2. Glyph of Seal of Vengeance - Vengeance is a solid seal for Protection, and reducing boss dodge and parry rates by 2.5% is very nice.

3. Glyph of Avenger's Shield - This glyph is a bit of a toss-up. I think it will become more useful as you move into raiding, and precise pulling and having large initial threat becomes more important. However, you might prefer building threat on multiple mobs in the 5-man dungeons. As well, 100% more damage makes it more feasible to toss AS on every cooldown, just to build threat.

Glyph of Consecration - This glyph does increase damage per cast of Consecration. However, Protection has a very smooth rotation with an 8-9s Consecration cooldown, and this glyph spoils that rotation. Still, if you're very comfortable with managing your abilities as they come off cooldowns, this might be a good choice for you.

Glyph of Exorcism - Gives you another spell interrupt, which is something we lack. However, this is very specific and may depend greatly on what instance you are planning to run.

Glyph of Judgement - Extra damage and threat from one of your main abilities is always good.

Glyph of Seal of Righteousness - I think most Protection paladins will be using a glyphed Vengeance on bosses, but this could be decent for trash.

Glyph of Spiritual Attunement - You shouldn't need this glyph, as regular SA and Blessing of Sanctuary will provide enough mana. But keep it in mind if you do find you have mana problems.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

70 Hunter!



My third 70: a draenei hunter named Corissa, and her pet ravager, Fluffy. I believe the technical term in the hunter community is FO'SHIZZLE!

(Yeah, I don't know what it means either, but it seems appropriate.)

I tamed Fluffy at level 10, and it's been my only pet all the way up to level 70 (aside from temp pets tamed for skills). It's interesting how some hunters focus on one pet, and others collect many different pets. I'm full Beastmaster, because that was the only spec where my pet could actually hold aggro, but I have no desire to get any exotic pets.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

WoW Achievements vs WAR Tome of Knowledge

Patch 3.0.2 brought Achievements to WoW, and so far they're proving to be a lot of fun. I've explored and finished a few low level quests in Eastern Kingdoms to unlock the exploring and questing achievements. I went on a raid to kill Hakkar and Ragnaros (getting people who could douse runes was harder than the bosses). I've done several of the Hollow's End achievements. I even joined a large raid that attempted to kill the Horde bosses for the Black Bear mount. Unfortunately, it turns out that 120 Alliance attacking Cairne Bloodhoof crashes the server, so that Achievement will have to be tabled for later.

Judging by the flurry of activity, many other people are enjoying Achievements. Blizzard has done a really good job with them, I think. There's a really nice mix of Achievements of various difficulties.

WAR has a similar mechanic, Tome of Knowledge Unlocks, and it's interesting to compare the two systems. There's one huge philosophical difference. WoW shows you all the Achievements available, while WAR hides them.

I find this completely changes how one approaches Achievements or Unlocks. In WoW, Achievements are something you work towards, while in WAR, I found that Unlocks happened as I was playing. I never sought out any Unlocks. If you are seeking Unlocks, you generally have to do random things because you never know what will trigger an Unlock.

Of course, I'm sure that eventually someone will come up with an Internet database listing all the Unlocks that people have found.

In a weird way, how the two games handle quests is the inverse of how they handle Achievements. WAR goes out of their way to provide you with directions for the quest. I've noted before that I really like the quest and map integration. But WAR provides you with zero indication about Tome Unlocks. You can guess at a few of the obvious ones, but others are not obvious at all.

You could say that WAR is more Explorer-oriented, but I'm not sure that's the case. In some ways, it's more of a "guess what hoops the designer wants you to jump through" rather than really exploring.

I found it really interesting how the two games have very similar systems, but one single design decision--hidden Unlocks vs known Achievements--completely changes how you approach the system.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Are Retribution Paladins Overpowered?

Why are many people complaining that Retribution is overpowered? The answer is a little bit complicated, so I'm going to go bit by bit:

1. Ret paladins deal burst damage by design.

As I mentioned in this post, written a year and half ago in March 2007, Blizzard likes giving paladins a few strong abilities with long cooldowns. This means that you can line up all your cooldowns and deal a ton of damage in a short timespan. The downside is that you are then basically auto-attacking until your cooldowns come back up.

Second, burst damage is how Ret paladins are designed to kill people. Other than straight damage abilities, a Ret paladin only has 2 stuns with 60s cooldowns. Other than those two stuns, a paladin has no way to really control or put pressure on the other player. Paladins have no snares, no spell interrupts, no gap closing abilities like charge, no anti-healing debuffs like Mortal Strike, and most of all, no real ranged abilities. Hammer of Justice is the solution to all those problems. (When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.) A Ret paladin basically runs up to the other player, tries to stun, and hopes the sheer amount of damage kills them.

The paladin sees the 90% of the time they are without these long-cooldown skills, and considers them underpowered. The person who was on the receiving end the other 10% of the time is unhappy, and considers paladins overpowered.

2. Retribution is relatively simple to play.

You run up to someone, hit all your buttons, and hope they fall over dead. All the other classes are more complicated, and require a bit more time to get accustomed to. I don't think people have really gotten used to the new tools they have available. So it's no surprise that Retribution appeared the most powerful right out of the gate. All the other classes have a steeper learning curve.

3. Seal of Command is very swingy.

Seal of Command (or Seal of Casino, as paladins like to call it) is a powerful but random ability. It has about a 50% chance to proc if you are using a 3.6 spd weapon and the SoC glyph (1s internal cooldown). It does about 56% holy weapon damage, which we'll handwave and say is roughly equal to a weapon swing.

So let's say a Ret paladin runs up to someone and hits Judgement, Crusader Strike, and Divine Storm. She'll get off about 2 weapon swings as well. So that's a total of 5 swings in 4.5s. But SoC has a chance to proc off every ability. Taking the internal cooldown into account, there's a 30% chance SoC will proc 3 times (which is the maximum), giving 8 attacks in 4.5s, all of which can crit. That's very bursty.

4. Retribution damage talents are all front-loaded.

Pretty much all the damage talents for a Retribution spec are in the Ret tree, this means that they can all be taken at 70. The talent points from 70-80 will be spent on utility talents. A Ret talent plan for WotLK might look something like:

71: Finish Pursuit of Justice
72-73: Improved Ret Aura
74-75: Sanctified Wrath
76-80: Blessing of Kings

None of those are talents which directly increase active damage. They're all essentially utility talents. This is different from the other classes. Most other classes will get an increase in damage from the next 10 talent points, probably on the order of an extra 10%.

So a Ret paladin at 70 will have a greater proportion of damage talents than other classes, but they won't gain damage from the next 10 levels. So Ret is slightly ahead at 70, in order to ensure that everyone is level at 80.

Conclusion

So that's how I view Retribution at the moment. Retribution uses a few powerful abilities with longer cooldowns, and thus deals burst damage by design, apparently to compensate for its lack of control. All the other classes have a steeper learning curve. Seal of Command is very swingy. And Ret is able to max out the damage gained from talents much earlier than the other classes.

Is that overpowered? Maybe the talent issue at 70, but it will sort itself out by 80. I certainly don't think Ret is or was overpowered enough to warrant a hotfixed nerf. But I could be wrong. We need burst damage to function properly, but how much burst damage is too much? Half the challenge of playing a Ret paladin is actually getting to melee range. It's not like Retribution can Charge or Stealth or Death Grip. If a player lets a Ret paladin get in range, she has already lost half the battle.

Though you should take my opinion with a grain of salt. I'm not really a PvP player. I just want my class to: 1) feel like a paladin, not a warrior or priest; and 2) be viable in PvE raiding.

Edit: I do agree with people saying that Divine Shield (bubble) should be changed to -50% damage while it's up. It's currently -50% attack speed. Back in the old days, this was functionally equivalent to -50% damage because all we had was auto-attack + Seal. But now with our instant attacks, the attack speed reduction is a much lower penalty. Divine Shield is a defensive ability, and you shouldn't be able to use it to push through a burst kill without repercussion.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Seal Tax

"Let the bears pay the bear tax, I pay the Homer tax."
- Homer J. Simpson


Part of the reason I'm insistent that Seals should not proc of instant attacks is because those Seals exact a "tax" on our abilities. To see what I mean, compare Mortal Strike and Crusader Strike.

Mortal Strike is easier to get (31 points vs 41 points), has an awesome debuff, and does about the same damage as Crusader Strike (100% Weapon + 380 vs 110% Weapon).

Yet that comparison is not quite accurate. CS will proc a Seal. If we assume Seal of Blood (Seal of Command is much the same, only more bursty and with a bit more complex math), Crusader Strike actually does 110% Weapon + 28% Holy Weapon. *That* ability combination compares well with Mortal Strike. Paladin attacks will always seem weaker than you would think, because of the hidden "Seal tax".

You can see the same thing with Divine Storm. 100% Physical Weapon damage to 4 targets, with a small heal, is seriously not worth being a 51-point talent. It's pretty much Whirlwind, only Whirlwind is a baseline warrior ability. But 100% Physical Weapon + 28% Holy Weapon is much closer to a decent talent.

Maybe it's a problem with perception, more than anything else. Paladin attacks just look weak, and I think that hurts the morale of the class. If abilities didn't proc seals, but were slightly buffed, I think paladins would be happier. If for example, assuming no seal proc, Crusader Strike did 125% Physical Weapon damage, and Divine Storm went back to 100% Holy damage, they would look more powerful. A direct comparison to warrior abilities is not so one-sided anymore.

Second, having abilities proc Seals tightly couples Seals to the abilities. This means the abilities don't really exist independently of each other, and it's harder to tweak abilities without affecting Seals and vice versa. For example, Seals have been significantly nerfed since the start of Beta, primarily to keep Retribution damage in line. But this has had the side-effect of significantly hurting Holy's ability to solo. If Seals were separate from abilities, the Seals could be made more powerful, and Ret's abilities tuned separately. This would help improve Holy soloing, while not adding to Ret's burst or sustained damage.

Third, I think Blizzard is coming too close to making a Retribution paladin feel like a "Warrior-lite". Crusader Strike is Mortal Strike without the debuff. Divine Storm is Whirlwind. Apparently we're getting a Deep Wounds variant just like Warriors. We gear like warriors, and use warrior weapons. Judgements of the Wise mimics rage.

Having some points of differentiations is important in my view. For example, the new Art of War talent is a very nice talent--assuming the heal doesn't interrupt the swing timer--because it plays up to the *paladin* side, and doesn't feel like a warrior talent at all. Even the old Crusader Strike refreshed all Judgements, which is a very paladin-centric ability. One of the knocks against the new CS is that it really doesn't feel like a paladin ability anymore.

One of the main points of differentiation is that paladins do Holy damage. That's our shtick. Crusader Strike is the exception, mostly so we can still do something when Silenced. The old Divine Storm was Holy damage, reinforcing the differentiation, and the paladin identity. And this manifests in subtle ways. As Slayton at Retpaladin.com points out:

Making Divine Storm be physical damage also takes away from the good itemization. The armor penetration we weren’t stacking just got an itemization buff, and that destroys the simplicity of who got what and what was best. We got the haste strength gear, warriors got the hit armor pen.

It's not to say that armor penetration and hit are useless to Ret paladins, just we value those stats slightly less than warriors, and that's a good thing. Too much homogeneity is bad for the game.

I want a Ret Paladin to feel like a Ret Paladin, not a warrior rip-off. Keep Divine Storm as Holy damage, decouple Seals from abilities, eliminate the Seal Tax and balance abilities so that they can stand on their own.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Crusader Strike Syndrome II

Looks like Retribution got nerfed again. Divine Storm now does Physical damage (and is affected by armor) instead of Holy.

I sense a pattern here. In 2.0, the top Ret talent was released. People screamed that Ret was overpowered, and Ret got nerfed. Then Blizzard had to reverse the nerf months later. In 3.0, the top Ret talent was released. People screamed that Ret was overpowered, and Ret got nerfed. Will Blizzard have to reverse this change too?

Kind of honestly, this does not reflect well on Blizzard's testing practices at all. DS has been Holy pretty much throughout Beta and Ptr, yet it needs to get *hotfixed* within 24 hours of going live? This seems like an overreaction. As well, this patch is full of bugs when it comes to paladin mechanics. Maybe Blizzard should actually fix some of the bugs affecting the class before nerfing it.

I stand by my statement that instant attacks proccing Seals was a bad idea. It widens the gap between Ret (2 instants) and Prot (1 instant) and Holy (0 instants). It causes us to have watered down instant attacks, because attached Seal damage has to be considered. It increases our extreme potential burst unnecessarily, due to Seal of Command.

3.0.2 Paladin Builds

Here are the builds I'm thinking about for Patch 3.0.2 (PvE mainly):

Holy - 51/5/5

You don't have enough points to get Conviction in Ret, and Ret paladins won't have enough points to get Kings and all their damage talents. So for now, it's probably easiest if Holy gets Kings.

Protection - 0/55/6

Gets all of the defensive talents, and a 9s Judgement to make Prot rotations smooth.

Retribution - 0/5/56

Most of the damage talents, plus a few essential utility talents. Improved Retribution Aura versus a couple more points in Righteous Vengeance is a toss-up, but I'll give the tanks a bit more threat.

Note that in Retribution, you want 8s Judgements. All the simulations I've done show it as being an increase in damage. Because Divine Storm is on a 10s cooldown, Retribution doesn't have a smooth rotation, and your ability cooldowns will clash every so often. However, Protection does have a perfect rotation with 9s Judgements, so Prot doesn't need to spend the extra talent point.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Achievements



I had a single area to uncover to finish exploring all of Outlands. Now to clear Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor. There's a ton of zones where I'm only missing one area (including Elywnn Forest!).

Monday, October 13, 2008

Game Facets and Multiple Specs

I've been following Blizzard's comments about the dual-spec system that is probably coming after WotLK. I am a little worried that the system they are designing solves a different problem than the one many players want to be solved.

Let's start at the beginning. There are three "facets" to WoW: Group PvE, solo play in the world, and Group PvP. Many individual players want to able to participate in all three facets without going to a capital city and respeccing. The system Blizzard is designing theoretically allows you to do this, but it also allows you to change spec *within* a facet, as well. As Ghostcrawler puts it, "Since dps is your primary concern most of the time, this gives you a way to have say a trash spec and a boss spec, or a cc spec and pewpew spec without hurting your performance on either. "

Effectively, there are two goals:

Goal 1 - Participate in all 3 facets
Goal 2 - Have flexibility within a single facet

The problem here is that there is a conflict between individual and group. The individual wants to be able to participate in all three facets. The group prefers that the individual optimizes for the group's specific facet, and exerts significant pressure on the individual to do so. The group does this because it wants to be successful, not because it's on a power trip, and having the individual members optimized for the group's purpose helps significantly.

In the past, people have always optimized for the group. Spec, loot systems, loot priority, role, professions, buffs. Dual-spec systems will be no different. The system Blizzard is outlining will succeed with Goal 2, but fail to meet Goal 1. Both specs will be dedicated to a single facet of the game, especially for hybrids.

The only way to meet Goal 1 is for the game system to mechanically enforce the separation between facets.

For example, if one spec was only enabled in instances and the other spec was only enabled in Arena and Battlegrounds, then that would enforce an individual's ability to participate in all facets of the game. A group cannot pressure the individual into using two PvE specs, as the game physically prevents it.

The price here is that you lose the flexibility within a facet, you've now failed to meet Goal 2. Even so, I suspect that most individuals would probably prefer this solution, to be able to switch between PvP and PvE, or raiding and farming.

There are other solutions. For example, if you expanded to being able to switch between 3 or 5 specs, you could do:

Spec 1 - enabled in PvE
Spec 2 - enabled in PvE, world, PvP
Spec 3 - enabled in PvP

This would allow you to participate in multiple facets, but still have some flexibility in the group situation of your choice.

The ideal amount of flexibility would be something like:

Spec 1 - enabled in PvE, world
Spec 2 - enabled in PvE, world
Spec 3 - enabled in world
Spec 4 - enabled in world, PvP
Spec 5 - enabled in world, PvP

Note that spec 3 simply cannot be used in PvP or PvE. It's a guaranteed farming or personal spec. The game needs to enforce separation of facets, and prevent one facet from monopolizing all the character's resources. However, this is not as simple a solution, and might be too much flexibility.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Warhammer Online: Final Thoughts

I've pretty much decided that I'm going to drop WAR, at least after the first month runs out. It's a good game, with superb PvP and some interesting design decisions. A lot of the game mechanics are very well thought out. But I'm just not enthusiastic about logging in. There are several reasons why:

1. Starting the game makes me angry. Mythic, take a long hard look at the time from clicking the desktop icon to actually playing. Then take a look at WoW. In WAR, it's: login screen (which does not have focus for some reason), launcher, splash screen, splash screen, splash screen, intro movie, splash screen, EULA (!!), main character screen. (Why is there an extra button press if you want to pick another character? Why not go straight to the character select screen?)

In WoW, it's: launcher, login screen, character select. So much shorter, and it gets you into the game so much faster. It's like, "Hey, I want to play WoW" and then I'm in the game actually playing. Blizzard understands that when I click the desktop icon, I actually want to play the game, not fight my way through splash screens, movies, and EULAs.

Just starting a game of WAR is a hassle, and I find I'm always logging in slightly annoyed at the whole process.

2. Combat is not responsive enough. There's a distinct disconnect between pressing a button, the effect happening in game, and the animation on the screen. It's really bad on casters with long cast times, but it's noticeable even on melee characters. On my Witch Hunter, hitting an Execution (finishing move) has no relationship with firing my pistol. Often I end up firing my pistol at a dead body, as the Execution deals damage long before the animation actually happens.

3. A lot of basic functionality needs polish and basic fixes, especially the chat system. This is an MMO. It's defining characteristic is being able to play with other people. The chat system should be as close to perfect as possible. As it is, the chat system is mostly useless, and the game feels very quiet and lonely. There's lots of other subsystems with similar problems, like mail, etc.

4. Trade skills seem excessively complex and unintuitive. I don't think I like the design that requires multiple characters to function. I like being self sufficient to a degree. Even games with more intricate crafting, like A Tale In The Desert, allowed you to create things by yourself. Sure, it was a lot of work, but there's something deeply satisfying about constructing something all by yourself, from gathering the raw materials to producing the finished product. (And shuffling materials between a network of alts does not count.)

5. Probably the biggest reason is that I just haven't found a character class that grabs me. Mechanically, they're all quite well done. I really like the warrior priest mechanics, for example. But in a weird way, it might be because the WAR classes have *really* strong flavor. They're very specific: Human Witch-Hunter, Dark Elf Disciple of Khaine, etc. While WoW classes tend to be more general, more archetypical. Even paladin is a pretty generic class, with lots of room for interpretation. A rogue can be assassin, spy, thief, scout, swords, daggers, maces, dwarf, gnome, etc. But a Witch Hunter is a Witch Hunter.

You can see this in the armor. Looking at the first three paladin raid sets, you have Paladin as Golden Knight, Paladin as Dark Inquisitor, and Paladin as Gundam (not exactly a traditional paladin interpretation, but sometimes Blizzard is just weird).

I kind of like the freedom of the generic archetype. I like playing a Paladin, I'm not sure I like playing a Warrior Priest of Sigmar. Even though the mechanics of the Warrior Priest are superior to the mechanics of a Paladin.

But maybe I just haven't found the right class for me yet. Perhaps I'll check back in when Mythic adds the Knight of the Blazing Sun.



Anyways, this is not to say that WAR is a bad game. It's actually quite a good game, with lots of intriguing ideas and solid PvP. If you're thinking about trying it, I strongly urge you to give it a go. Even just playing it for only the first month is worth the money in my opinion. You might find it' s the perfect game for you. I just don't think it's the game for me.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

WotLK Beta - New Updates

Ghostcrawler posted some upcoming changes for paladins:

Righteous Defense -- cooldown lowered to 8 sec. It had been 10 sec recently and is 15 sec on live.

Infusion of Light -- now affects Flash of Light or Holy Light. Flash of Light is reduced to 0 cast time with 2 ranks, meaning that if you're running around and get a Holy Shock crit, you can also Flash without stopping.

Judgements of the Pure -- haste benefit now up to 15% with 5 ranks (was 10%).

Enlightened Judgements -- range benefit is now 30 yards with 2 ranks (was 20). This means you can judge or heal from the same range without having to run around so much.

They're all minor buffs, except for Infusion of Light.

The new IoL fundamentally changes the nature of the talent. The previous versions only applied to Holy Light, allowing a paladin to "sit" on the buff and drop a really fast big heal when necessary, while still doing maintenance healing with Flash of Light and Holy Shock. This granted more control over healing to the paladin.

The new IoL will apply to the very next heal cast after the Holy Shock. It will be used if the buff is needed, or if the buff is not needed. There is no added control over healing. The only thing the buff does is change the time a heal lands in the rotation. Instead of going:

0s - Shock (instant)
3s - FoL
4.5s - FoL

The paladin now goes:

0s - Shock (instant)
1.5s - FoL (instant)
4.5s - FoL

Wow, the gap got shifted one spell over, assuming you got lucky and your HS crit. That's so worth 2 talent points!

(The new IoL might be more useful in PvP, as double instant heals are probably pretty useful, even if the heals are smaller. )

But kind of honestly, Infusion of Light is now looking like a waste of talent points for a PvE build. Looks like Blizzard's crack Holy paladin dev team managed to make IoL even more pointless, and reduce the value of Holy Shock even further. I don't think there's any point to weaving Holy Shock into a regular healing rotation anymore. It's still okay for an emergency cast on the run, but not for casting regularly.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Stories, Wrong Choices, and Death Knights

This post and comments may contain spoilers about the Death Knight starting quest line. I've tried to be oblique about it though. This also may change before release, but I deem it unlikely at this point.

In western RPGs, there is a tradition of allowing the player to make some choices, and changing the world in response to those choices. In particular, western RPGs love multiple endings that depend on your choices throughout the game. However, because players in an MMO share reality, we don't make choices on quest lines. Rather, we play through the storyline, and our actions are dictated by the quest designer. In some ways, the designer acts more like an author or movie director than a traditional game designer.

For the most part, this works out pretty well. MMO quests are not deeply intricate, and most of the time the best choice for the story is obvious, and that's what the quest has us do. We may feel some sympathy for Edwin Van Cleef and his treatment at the hands of the nobility of Stormwind, but it's pretty clear he's gone nuts and needs to be taken down. That's really the extent of any moral dilemma in an MMO.

But what happens when the designer/author makes our character take the wrong choice?

This situation comes up in the Death Knight starting quest line. Your character has to make a choice, and she makes the wrong one. And it's not just the wrong choice morally, it's the wrong choice for the story as a whole. As a death knight, you're sent to do other immoral actions, but those work to forward the story. This choice works against what Blizzard is trying to set up in the relationship between the Death Knight characters and the Lich King. I can see the story unfold if the character took the other path, and it is much, much stronger.

In most stories where a villain is in a position of authority over the main character, there comes a point where the villain orders the hero to do something unforgivable. This sets up the rest of the character's arc. If the main character refuses, the story becomes about becoming a hero. If the main character agrees, the story becomes about the character's fall from grace.

The quest I am talking about is a perfect set up for this choice. Only the Death Knight chooses to fall. And that choice seriously weakens the rest of the Death Knight storyline. I can kind of see why Blizzard went this way. The idea is that this is supposed to awaken some feeling of goodness inside the Death Knight. But that awakening is never demonstrated, and thus it feels like the awakening never actually happened. In a lot of ways, the final climactic scene--which, by the way, is spectacular--is rendered hollow and feels oddly inconsistent because of the choice made in this quest.

I'm sorry if this seems obscure. I'm trying to avoid spoilers. If you're interested, I'm talking about the quest A Special Surprise. Search for it on Wowhead, the quest description pops up if I link directly to it. Ordinarily, I'd just delay this post until after Wrath is launched, but I'm hoping that Blizzard changes the quest. I don't think they will, but I can hope.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

On Posting Lately

Aaron comments:

I'm seeing more and more Warhammer posts and less Warcraft posts. realise it's a new game, but is this trend going to continue? I used to read your blog as a great source of paladin information, but lately... Might be time to unsubscribe.

I want to say something about "unsubscribe" but everything I try to write is coming out too snarky. So I'll just leave it alone.

The reason I'm not posting a lot about WoW and paladins is that nothing much is happening with them. Ret and Prot are pretty fun to play in Beta. Blizzard just needs to fix a couple of bugs (Art of War, mainly), and tune the numbers slightly, and those two trees are good to go.

About the only major change I'd want Blizzard to consider is to stop proccing Seals off special attacks, and then adjust the numbers. This might also allow Blizzard to dial Seal damage up a bit (revert the 20% nerf?) and that would make soloing as Holy easier. Seriously, soloing as Holy is something like three times slower than Ret. It's not so bad for the other healing classes, as healing gear now doubles as dps gear for them and they have the necessary tools to solo effectively. A resto shaman can still pump out Lightning Bolts and Shocks. A druid still has Moonfire and Starfire. But Holy lacks the tools that the other specs have.

Healing as Holy is still boring. But it's too late to significantly change Holy, and Blizzard seems happy with with the tree. Further proof that none of the designers play a Holy paladin.

Besides which, it's not going to matter. Blizzard is still intent on balancing raids around large numbers of healers. Most raiding paladins are going to be forced to heal, just because there won't be enough healers. Our Blessings are still in non-optimal state, meaning that PallyPower is going to be a required raid mod. All in all, I don't think I'm really looking forward to raiding in Wrath of the Lich King, at least not as a Paladin.

For now, at least WAR offers something new and different.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Bacon of Light

Epic thread on the WoW forums. Some highlights:

Bacon of Light is actually a skill for another hero class: the Iron Chef

The Iron Chef uses the Meal & Judgment system

The Iron Chef first creates a Meal (Meal of Light, Meal of Wisdom, etc), and when he calls for it, the judges come in and Judge the Meal

They have "Ham" spells that they can use on themselves or others. i.e Ham of Freedom, Ham of Protection

The Iron Chef also has auras like Froth Resistance Aura when you need to make a clear soup/broth/etc

Talents include "Rye for a Rye" and "Holy Stock" (much better than chicken stock, beef stock, etc.)



Only parts of the class are OP. Some parts are still questionable if it'll work out. For example, I think Guardian's Flavor should also affect Ham of Sacrifice, what with HoS being on such a long cooldown, but that's just me.



Back to the IC... it's even more dangerous in a group.

Basting of Might fills up a warrior's sage bar to full, and they'll be handling out Mackerel Strikes left and right with no cooldown.

Basting of Wisdom turns a shaman into a Grain-heal spamming machine

Basting of Kings is just good for anyone



no what's really OP is how they can spam Dash of Spice on their allies forever and never have to stop.

Hmm, I'm hungry now.

Warhammer Online: Defender's Dilemma

I was playing Warhammer Online with my Witch Elf the other night. I was doing the Tier 1 Elf scenario Khaine's Embrace.

Khaine's Embrace is pretty neat. There are two standards. If your team captures both standards, a horn sounds, and there is a giant explosion, killing everyone in a large radius around the standards. Then your team gets 75 points, and the standards reset. I like the map, though possibly mostly for the horn sound and explosion graphics.

Anyways, it's early in the match, Order has their standards, but we're pressing them hard. All of a sudden, our standard gets captured, and we fall behind. It turns out not a single person is defending, so a lone Order player was able to sneak by and cap.

So I start defending. It's terribly boring, but I do kill several Order players who try the sneak again. Our flag is never captured again, and we win handily.

The problem is that I ended up getting the lowest renown and rewards from that fight. And that has really soured me on WAR. I'll be honest, I basically won that map for my side. The zerg didn't accomplish anything, but they got to rack up kills and renown.

This is the problem with systems that try and track contribution, and hand out rewards based on contribution. Sometimes contribution is very hard to track. Defense in particular is hard to judge. Not to mention that it's far more boring than being on the attack with the front line.

Edit: Not to mention that you can apparently leave your Scenario group and not share any Renown/XP with the other players. Ahh, Mythic, did you not learn anything from WoW?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

WotLK Beta - Holy Updates

Divine Plea

Following a massive outcry on the official forums, Elitist Jerks, and pretty much every paladin site in existence, Blizzard changed Divine Plea to only decrease healing by -20%, but it is now a dispellable buff.

To be honest, I always assumed it was dispellable. Every other paladin ability is.

Infusion of Light

No changing on Infusion of Light. Holy is still looking very boring.

Honestly, there's nothing to look forward to in Holy. I macro Divine Favor and Divine Illumination to HL11, that's how boring those two abilities are. Holy Shock is kind of cool, but it's been lackluster for so long, it's hard to get enthusiastic. And even then, without IoL, HS loses a lot of its new shine.

You look at Ret, and you have Vengeance, Crusader Strike, and Divine Storm to look forward to. In Protection, Avenger's Shield is more exciting than all of Holy combined. You get to throw your shield at people like Captain America! Never gets old. (Though, the 10s daze is a little excessive. Takes the mobs a bit too long to get to you, and the fighting to actually start.)

JoW bug/nerf

If this is intentional, it is a big nerf to JoW. However, I sort of see the logic behind it. JoW is a very powerful buff that only a paladin can provide. Blizzard is trying to move away from buffs which only come from one class. If JoW had remained unchanged, it's quite possible that having a paladin would be mandatory for any raid content.

It is a severe hit to an ability that we love. But Blizzard's goal of making it easier to form a raid--being able to bring people because they are more skilled or are friends, instead of bringing them for their buffs--is more important than JoW being powerful.

On the other hand, I don't think this change should apply to JoL. Healing scales in a way that mana regeneration does not.