Tuesday, November 30, 2010

To Cataclysm!

Next week Cataclysm will launch, and - as millions of others have done - I've already pre-ordered the digital download and will join the throngs of pixelated avatars exploring and fighting their way through new virtual challenges. (Deathwing, I'm lookin' at you, kid.)

For this return to Azeroth, I will continue to play Elemental with a Resto offspec, and will likely become enchanted with an alt or two, just as in prior expansions.

However, due to the realities of my current (real) life, I'm simply not finding the time to write & research as much I had done in years past. As such, I'll be officially shutting down this blog until further notice.

Happy hunting!
~Exelus the Kingslayer

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On Deforestation

Back in The Burning Crusade, while my main was busy cracking skulls with both fists, my main alt was teaching me how to heal.

Ciribrus, a Druid, was initially a Dreamstate healer, spending all his time in Night Elf form. For a while this was a semi-viable way to heal (especially for leveling up as a healer), but as his gear improved it quickly became obvious that I needed to take the plunge and go Tree in order to flourish. Remember that back then, there was a significant trade-off to being stuck in wooden form: I hated the speed decrease, limited selection of spells, etc. But the efficiency and HoT-tastic power of Tree Form was awesome, and I learned to love it.

The recent announcement to relegate Tree of Life to a cooldown ability in Cataclysm was rather surprising (and dismaying) to me. Even though I no longer play my Druid actively, I still think of Tree form as the iconic healing form for Druids. The internets and forums seem to be up-in-arms about it, and I'd like to propose some options beyond just breaking out the chain saw:

Empowered Tree
Allow our leafy friends to stay in normal mobile Tree of Life form, but give them an additional Empowered Tree of Life form to invoke during cooldown phases. This new temporary form would buff healing, in exchange for reduced mobility (maybe even rooted) and perhaps limit/change their spell selection for the duration. This form could visually resemble the large Ent-type creatures you see hanging around with the Cenarion folk. (Bonus ability: serves as a very slow mount for two Hobbits Gnomes...)

Two Healing Styles
The Feral talent tree offers two roles: Bear tank or Kitty DPS. I realize this is something Blizzard is trying to get away from (removing tanking from Frost and Unholy Death Knights, for example), but why not offer healing Druids the option to spec into a permanent Tree of Life form? Caster Druids could be tooled more towards single-target healing (using Tree Form as a healing buff cooldown), while Perma-Trees could be more focused on raid healing and lose some of their single-target oomph. Almost like Discipline vs. Holy Priests.

Now obviously Cataclysm is still in development and there are Betas and play-testing to get through before we settle into normalcy, but I for one am certainly not in favor of deforestation.

Save the trees!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

And now for something completely different...

While we battle through the latter half of Icecrown Citadel and daydream about rolling Worgen Warlocks in Cataclysm, somewhere in the back of my head I'm boggled at the possibilities for Blizzard's next-gen MMO. The project is claimed to be well underway, and is said to feature an all-new IP (intellectual property: in this case meaning the game world and it's lore). So... what could this new World of Whatcraft look like?

Medieval Fantasy
We can probably surmise that Blizzard's next MMO won't be filled with knights, wizards, elves and goblins. Warcraft is arguably the most prolific representation of this genre we've seen so far, and Diablo's slightly-darker take is about to be re-introduced as Diablo III. Since Blizzard has already been-there-done-that, it's hard to imagine they'd do another high-fantasy MMO. Verdict: NOT LIKELY.

Sci-fi Fantasy
Don't get me wrong, I'd love to play World of Starcraft and would play the shit outta that game. Roll a Terran Firebat or Protoss Zealot? Hell yeah! (I'm still sore about the loss of Starcraft: Ghost, btw) However, the claim of an "all new IP" throws us off the trail for WoS. It's always possible they'll do a variation on a sci-fi fantasy theme (as they did with Diablo), but if it's not going to be Starcraft, I'd have to go with NOT LIKELY.

Super Heroes (a.k.a. Men in Tights)
We already have games like City of Heroes, and I'm just going with a gut instinct that Blizzard will stay away from this genre. There would be too many class/spec balance issues to contend with (especially with open-ended character designs), and even legal/copyright issues from comic book franchises. And frankly, a modern day real-world setting is just too boring/familiar. Verdict: NOT LIKELY.

Near Future/Post-Apocalypse
One of my all-time favorite games was Wasteland - a post-nuclear game world featuring mutated bunnies, machine guns, religious survivalists, and robotic invaders. I would love to see what Blizzard could do here. We already have games like Fallen Earth, but that doesn't mean Blizzard can't tackle the genre and exceed expectations. World of Warcraft was developed in a time when Everquest was king, after all. And the apocalyptic theme isn't limited to nuclear war - it could be biological/medical/environmental disaster, alien-invasion, or some horrific combination. Verdict: POSSIBLE.

Middle East/Far East Fantasy
Some of my favorite Diablo II zones centered around Middle Eastern lore (think arabian knights, mummies, animal-headed gods and camel mounts!). There's also a far-east possibility: who wouldn't want to roll a samurai, ninja, or monk? Both genres have a strong historical base to draw from (in the same way medieval history inspired Tolkien), and I think Blizzard could do wonders with these genres. Verdict: POSSIBLE.

Horror Fantasy
Vampires, werewolves, zombies, hunters, oh my! Think Underworld, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Call of Cthulu, where evil lurks in dark corners and you never want to be without a silver bullet. This could also be a great setting to incorporate steampunk elements, given horror fantasy's 1800's roots. Verdict: POSSIBLE.

Something Else Entirely
There's always the chance that Blue has conceived something else entirely. Perhaps some hybrid of themes listed above? Aliens have landed on Earth and we've been forced to scatter across the universe. We've formed a hodgepodge caravan of spaceships, traveling together in order to survive and carry on the human race. Oh wait, I've just described Battlestar Galactica. But you get the idea here - the trick for Blizzard will be to come up with a setting that is familiar enough to be immediately immersed in, but with enough unique twists to make it their own.

I just hope they do away with Trade Chat...

To my three readers: what other genres would make a great MMO setting?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gaming can make a better world?

It's a little early for an April Fool's post, right? Well, naturally the title of this recent TED Talk intrigued the radical thinker (not really) and gamer in me, and I had to share.

For those unfamiliar, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. They host video lectures on a variety of topics (social, economic, philosophical, whimsical, musical), and I always come away feeling smarter after watching one of their lectures than say, some steaming pile of brain-bandwidth-wasting crap you see on YouTube. (Onyxia Wipe Animation excluded, of course!)

In this talk, Jane McGonigal offers some interesting insight into the traits of gamers and how we're uniquely equipped to solve real-world problems:

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tier 10!

After a long Frost Emblem grind, this past weekend I finally amassed the 310 needed to finish-out the four-piece Tier 10 Elemental set. /phew! Along with a slew of other purchased items (made out like a bandit using alts to sell Primordial Saronites), I've managed to push my gear score up to 2954. For now I'll avoid the tired gear score topic altogether, and instead focus on something I feel Blizzard has done right this expansion: tiered gearing.

Back during The Burning Crusade (my first experience with "endgame"), I remember drooling over the Enhancement Tier 4 and hoping that someday, I'd be able to get Exelus outfitted with a full set. However our beloved guild was (and still is) primarily a 10-man guild, so I only had practical access to the first pieces in Karazhan. We never made it all the way through Zul'Aman, and Magtheridon and Gruul's were just out of reach. (Certainly Serpentshire Cavern and Tempest Keep was out of the question.) If only I had L2resto'd in pugs back then, I might have chain-heal-spammed my way to the Enhancement set I wanted?

Fast forward to Wrath of the Lich King, where at each raiding tier I was able to gather them appropriate gear set while collecting off-set/non-set items from raiding and heroic emblems.

[Blizzard] has earned the achievement: Getting it right this time around.

We can now access gear in logical stages: with current raiding level gear just within reach (but still requiring dedication and focus to earn), and previous raiding level gear very easy to get via emblems (great for gearing up offspecs and alts). Kudos, blue.

Now, on to the tasty stuff: the Tier 10 bonuses!

Elemental Tier 10
  • 2p: LB and CL reduce Elemental Matery's cooldown by 2 sec. Kinda meh, since EM has a longish 3 minute cooldown, but I'll take it. I have EM macro'd to everything so it's always popping on cooldown.

  • 4p: your Lava Burst increases Flame Shock duration on the target by 6 sec. At first glance it may appear that you could indefinitely refresh FS by casting LvBs, but with global cooldowns, flight-time and lag, the real-world use appears to allow casting ~5 LvBs (depending on your haste level) for each application of FS. The 2p Tier 9 bonus allowed us to cast ~3 LvBs, so we can definitely call this a worthwhile upgrade. (UPDATE: apparently this is due to change in 3.3.3, so stay tuned!)
Enhancement Tier 10
  • 2p: Shamanistic Rage adds 12% damage for 15 secs. Previously SR would have been used for mana regen or damage mitigation phases, but with this tasty bonus, its hard to imagine not using SR on every single cooldown. Macro that sucka.

  • 4p: Maelstrom Weapon x5 has a 15% chance to proc 20% AP for 10 secs. Enhancers are already well-versed in saving their MW stacks to 5, so this is essentially a passive AP proc that scales with gear. Hott.
Restoration Tier 10
  • 2p: Riptide grants 20% haste on next spell w/in 10 secs. The Riptide + Healing Wave combo is already common use for applying a massive, Pally-like single target heal (Healing Way and IHW ftw), so another 20% off brings HW to sub-global cooldown speed. Great for 10-man tank healing, where your attention is split between the tanks and the raid.

  • 4p: Chain Heal crits leave a 25% HoT over 9 secs. This is like Earthliving Weapon on steroids! Great for the 10-man healer and fantastic for the 25-man raid healer.
So what's next?
I'll admit that with Tier 10 under my belt (literally), I'm starting to think more about the next expansion and how to position my main and alts to tackle the new shattered world. I used WotLK to experiment with the Elemental playstyle, which I've grown to love, but I still miss the dual-fisted pew-pew. I may spend the next few months casually working on my Enhancement gear. :)

In the meantime, I hope to get at least 2-piece Tier 10 for the Resto set for that awesome Riptide bonus. And of course I'd love to get my Elemental set "sanctified" too, which means upgrading your existing Tier 10 using tokens from ICC bosses in 25-man and 10-man hard modes. That may or may not come with time, but I'm OK with that.

I mean, I already have fricken shoveltusks sticking out of mah shoulders!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Open Fire!

In this day and age of gogogo speed heroics, DPS players sometimes have a hard time knowing when it's safe to open fire on a group of mobs - or rather, most don't seem to care at all, opening up with full bore AOE as soon as soon as they're in range.

You could argue that a "good" tank is already aware of this impatient mindset and knows to adjust their opening rotations accordingly. The reality, though, is that tanks come in all flavors and levels of experience, so blasting away is just more likely to cause needless chaos and repair bills.

Remember that when your tank has to taunt off you or reposition, they're wasting time which they could be using to build more threat. So once one mob gets loose, it becomes much easier for others to get loose, too.

In order to do your part as a DPS Pro, there are certain audio/visual cues that can help you do your thing without pulling off the tank:

Death Knight
Death & Decay is what you want to watch for, which is a reddish-colored ground-effect AOE accompanied by a woosh sound. However, with many specs, it has a long-ish cooldown and can't always be used every pull - so they'll also use Pestilence (dark/smokey lines that shoot between mobs), Howling Blast, and/or Blood Boil (both sound like mid-rangey explosions).

TLDR: wait for some combination of red ground, dark smoke between mobs, and/or explosion sounds.

Contrary to popular belief, our furry friends can make excellent AOE tanks, as they come equipped with a spammable Swipe ability (no target limit, 360 degree radius!). This has a red claw/scratch-like graphic and a cut/bleed sound. They also have an AOE threat roar, that sounds like... y'know... a roar. And has a cute standing-bear effect, which apparently terrifies mobs.

TLDR: wait for a few scratch sounds and until all mobs are in melee range of your bear.

Most folks are familiar with Consecration, the yellow glowing ground around your friendly neighborhood Tankadin, which nicely distributes AOE threat to mobs around him. However, it's not always the first ability to be used, as they also have two great multi-mob abilities that are often used first: Avenger's Shield and Hammer of the Righteous. The shield is a ranged ability that flies out of the Pally, leaving a bright trail behind it. The hammer can hit up to four (glyphed) nearby targets and has a signature brrrrang sound.

TLDR: wait for clangy sounds and yellow ground before going nuts.

Much like the druid, some incorrectly assume that warriors have a hard time establishing AOE threat, but I've seen some very talented wartanks handle large packs with style: you'll see them Charge into a pack, lay down a Thunder Clap, maneuver for position, then blow Shockwave, stunning all the mobs. When executed well, it's very impressive to see! The clap sounds like an electrical explosion, and causes cracks to form under the warrior. The shockwave sounds like a low-range boom, and has the visual smokey wave-like effect.

TLDR: wait for thunder and lightning sounds before pulling the trigger.

So there you have it - the handy guide to improving pull stability! So stop staring at Recount, learn the abilities of your tanks, and everyone goes home happy - as quickly and efficiently as possible. :)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Healer Survey

A healer survey from Miss Medicina has been circulating the blogosphere as of late, and I thought I'd throw my Resto musings into the ring:

What is the name, class, and spec of your primary healer?
Exelus, an Elemental (57/14/0) and sometimes Restoration Shaman (0/13/58)

What is your primary group healing environment? (i.e. raids, pvp, 5 mans)
Most of my healing time is spent in 5-mans or 10-mans, with the occasional 25-man and rare foray into PvP (battlegrounds). As Elemental, I'm usually assigned to our 10-man raids as "heal-capable-DPS," meaning I spend the bulk of my time DPS'ing while spot-healing and backing-up our two main heals.

What is your favorite healing spell for your class and why?
No, it's not Chain Heal, even though it runs a close second behind my favorite: Riptide. I'm a big fan of damage-mitigation and passive healing (especially on a tank), so Riptide's trailing HoT is an important part of my style. I love the fire-and-forget nature of Riptide, and it also triggers the essential Tidal Waves ability which I try to keep up at all times.

What healing spell do you use least for your class and why?
Even though I'm spec'ed for it and consider it an essential part of my toolkit, Healing Wave seems to get the least amount of action. I think this is because in most cases, a critting LHW or Chain Heal will do the job. Still, with Tidal Waves up, I can go for an extremely powerful 1.5 second bomb-heal when needed, which is a really great option. I also have a Nature's Swiftness + Healing Wave macro for those "tank's gonna die now" moments.

What do you feel is the biggest strength of your healing class and why?
The obvious answer here is "raid healing," but I actually feel that a Resto Shaman's strength is versatility. While our healing kit is very basic (one instant, one AoE, two direct heals with the same effective cast time), with glyphs and spec tweaks I feel that Resto Shaman are very well setup to handle any healing role (tank, raid, 5-man content).

What do you feel is the biggest weakness of your healing class and why?
This is much less of an issues these days, but the lack of a threat dump or "keep 'em off me!" button has always been a sore spot. Priests have Fade, Night Elves have Shadowmeld, Druids have Barkskin/Cyclone/Roots, and Paladins have a bubble. Shaman do have Nature's Guardian, but it's a five-talent point expenditure that most avoid. I've used Earth Elemental before to taunt mobs away from me, but it's so situational and drastic that I don't really count it as a worthwhile panic button.

In a 25 man raiding environment, what do you feel, in general, is the best healing assignment for you?
The ever-predictable raid healing role is best for Resto Shaman in 25+ content: preferably the melee group so folks are clumped-together for Chain Heal love.

What healing class do you enjoy healing with most and why?
Duo-healing 10-mans with another Resto Shaman is great for totem farms and the criss-crossing Chain Heals (ooh! purty!). I also enjoy pairing-up with Holy Paladins or Disc Priests, because I know their single-target forte is a great compliment to my raid-healing abilities.

What healing class do you enjoy healing with least and why?
Our guild has a mix of all classes/specs which participate in our 10-man raids, and I can't say there's any one class/spec that I enjoy healing with less than others. As a Resto Shaman, I can adjust my healing style based on who I'm teamed-up with, so team makeup has never been an issue.

What is your worst habit as a healer?
Aiming heals (usually Chain Heal) at the person with the lowest health: often times they'll die during the cast anyway, so I'm forced to spend the next few seconds re-casting and playing catchup with the others who could've been saved more easily. Along those same lines, I probably don't use Nature's Swiftness enough - I tend to save it for those oh-shit moments, but they are (by nature) harder to predict so it's harder for me to make that snap-decision sometimes.

What is your biggest pet peeve in a group environment while healing?
Avoidable raid damage or over-anxious DPS who divert my healing attention away from the tank. People who ask for rez's after the fight. People who openly question my decision to heal myself and the tank over them. Luckily, these peeves happen outside the guild on PUG runs, which is why I usually refuse to heal PUG raids anyway. :)

Do you feel that your class/spec is well balanced with other healers for PvE healing?
Yes, absolutely. Just a few tweaks here and there (glyphs and spec) and we're well suited for almost anything, and have great synergy with other healing classes.

What tools do you use to evaluate your own performance as a healer?
Recount, WoW Web Stats, and in general, the number of deaths balanced against the successful completion (or wipe) of an encounter. I try not to worry too much about overhealing, but if I find myself going OOM on an encounter I will definitely check those numbers. In PUG raids, I sometimes do a quick healing meter check just to have a look at my performance relative to the other healers.

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about your healing class?
Contrary to popular belief, only half our keyboard is bound to Chain Heal. We also keep track of Earth Shield charges, Riptide durations, single-target heal with LHW/HW, Cleanse, drop specific totems for specific encounters, etc.

What do you feel is the most difficult thing for new healers of your class to learn?
Learning when/how to use Chain Heal vs. our other heals. CH has a long cast time, and certainly isn't the best heal in all situations.

If someone were to try to evaluate your performance as a healer via recount, what sort of patterns would they see (i.e. lots of overhealing, low healing output, etc)?
They would probably see more overheal than necessary, as I tend to pre-spam Chain Heal when I anticipate incoming raid damage and/or am trying to keep Tidal Waves up. Hopefully they'd see decent healing output, and very few healer-preventable deaths. (I refuse to take responsibility for those standing in the fire!) :)

Haste or Crit and why?
Haste FTW. I may have downplayed Chain Heal in some of the answers above, but in reality I do use it fairly often and since it starts with a talented cast time of 2.5 seconds, anything I can do to get that time down is helpful. I think currently I have it down to 2.1 seconds or so. Haste finishes your current cast faster, so you can get on to other things sooner. Over the course of a long fight, all that extra haste will add up to several more spell casts if your mana can handle it. Also, healing in faster bursts allows for longer regen periods.

What healing class do you feel you understand least?
Paladins. The single-target nature of them was a complete paradigm shift from playing a Resto Shaman and very difficult for me to get used to in a 5-man setting, so I eventually dumped my alt's Holy spec for Prot. In The Burning Crusade I raided as a Resto Druid, and one of my original mains was a Priest, so I feel like I understand them better than their plate-wearing brethren.

What add-ons or macros do you use, if any, to aid you in healing?
Grid and Clique are essential for me, as I wouldn't be able to (nor want to) heal without them. I feel like one of the biggest problems with WoW right now is the lack of healing support in the default UI. I hope they'll address this next expansion when they announce the Arch Druid hero healing class. :) For macros, nothing too fancy other than auto-popping trinkets and alternate mouse-clicks set up for Nature's Swiftness + Chain Heal or Healing Wave.

Do you strive primarily for balance between your healing stats, or do you stack some much higher than others, and why?
I tend to balance between spell power, haste and MP5 - with a bias towards spell power. I know it's not typical for Resto Shaman to go with MP5, but for the content I heal in and the style in which I do it, I prefer the extra longevity. I may experiment more with stacking Intellect at some point, but I'm fairly satisfied with the setup now.