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Filed under: Wrath of the Lich King

Expansions, redesign, and the balance of WoW

Between Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria, the warlock class saw a near-total redesign that, at this distant remove, we'd have to admit was a runaway success. Class redesigns are always a risky proposition - the dilemma is always between those who find the class reinvigorated and those that liked the class as it was, who now find it unfamiliar and undesirable to play.

The reason I bring this up is because lately, while playing Reaper of Souls, I keep thinking about that warlock redesign and the fact that in RoS Blizzard managed to take a game people generally felt was an unsuccessful sequel and change it in a variety of ways, and in the process so utterly remake people's opinions of it that we get reviews like this in Forbes. This has me thinking about whether or not World of Warcraft is going to see this kind of radical redesign in Warlords of Draenor or not. On the face of it, we're aware of a lot of changes coming - the removal of reforging, stats like hit and expertise, the deflation of stats on gear, health and healing changes - but there's still a lot we don't know about how thorough the redesign of the game is going to be.

Now, to be fair, RoS didn't make any significant mechanical changes - certainly nothing as dramatic as the warlock redesign was. And the warlock redesign came at a time when talents were completely overhauled as well. Clearly, there are various kinds of redesign in any expansion, but how does Warlords of Draenor compare? While we don't have a complete answer, we can compare it to previous expansions.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor

Know Your Lore: Warriors of Azeroth and beyond Part 1

The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

Okay, this week, I'm going to do something massively nerdy and more than a little ridiculous. I'm going to rank the best warriors from across the World of Warcraft, according to my own subjective criteria for what 'best' means. It's not just who would win in a fight (that's in there, but it's not all of it) and unfortunately, some races are going to get shafted here just because they don't have as much representation. I'm trying to keep the list somewhat representative, but there are some races that just dominate it - orcs and humans get big representation, while other races like draenei just don't have an established lore warrior as of the time of this writing. I'm sure there are draenei warriors (I play one, even) but we tend to see paladins from the boys in blue. It's a sad lack.

Some of these are kind of iffy because Blizzard does weird things sometimes - some of these characters have abilities you'll never see a warrior use in game - but none of them will be specifically mentioned members of another class. No demon hunters, paladins or rogues on this list. Sorry, Garona fans.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Burning Crusade, Lore, Know your Lore, (Warrior) The Care and Feeding of Warriors, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor

Siege of Orgrimmar and the waiting game

I've played World of Warcraft for the entire history of the game, since about a month after launch (my wife actually played in beta, and she's the one who got me into WoW in the first place) and I've raided for pretty much the entire time - I took a few months off after The Burning Crusade dropped, and had to catch up in BC raids. Since that time, though, I've raided - I was in my server's most progressed guild in Wrath, switched servers but ended up in the same situation in Cataclysm, and have settled down to a still well progressed but less aggressive heroic raid in Mists of Pandaria, cruising at 10/14H and working on Thok. We have one pally, so Thok's a bit of a gigantic cinderblock wall, but we're still plugging away.

Being that I've been raiding so long, I sometimes see patterns. There's one I saw in BC, and repeated in Wrath and Cataclysm - the end of expansion lull. Once we get into the last tier of content, there's a surge of interest and everyone leaps to get in there and work on it... and that lasts a couple of months. After that, however, interest starts to wane. Players get burned out, stop playing, need to be replaced. Each player who needs to be replaced causes tension as the guild slows down due to the losses. Recruitment means bringing in people with less gear, less experience, and even if you manage to get a player with both the gear and the experience, it doesn't always mean they know how you do things. I was once recruited, after my Horde guild had killed all of Heroic Dragon Soul, by an Alliance guild that was on Spine. I took the jump because I wanted to play Alliance again - and even though I was geared as well or better than they were, I still had to relearn the fights based on their strats, and make suggestions based on my own experience that meant delays as they learned these new ideas.

This can lead to a feedback loop - players burn out, leave, this stresses the guild, more players get burned out. It's always present in raiding - churn is inevitable, recruitment must be continuous - but the promise of future content to come creates a counter pressure. You don't just raid to see the current content, you do it to be ready to get into the guts of the new stuff when it drops. But when you get into the last tier of raiding, there is no new content to keep you interested. And so, when that last raid tier takes months and months - sometimes, as in the case of ICC in Wrath, over a year - it becomes very difficult to keep guilds focused on progressing through it. Talking on twitter about all this after reading multiple posts on the issue, I started thinking about how it works out.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, Raiding, The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor

Know Your Lore: The Eredar

The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

On Argus, Mac'Aree was the most sacred of our cities. Would you believe me if I told you that the walkways were lined with precious minerals? That the rivers glittered even in complete darkness? I long for those days... How long has it been? A thousand years? Ten-thousand?
-- Jessera of Mac'Aree

Many peoples have had a golden age. The ancient kaldorei on Azeroth had one, over ten thousand years ago, when their mastery of the magic of the Well of Eternity made them effectively the most powerful people in Azeroth. Before that, the mogu ruled a nation carves from slave labor while the ancient trolls of Zandalar held their empire. These events are distant to us, the long past.

The eredar had already had at least two golden ages before any of this had ever happened. Over twenty five thousand years ago, on the planet Argus, a people worked wonders so profound and magnificent that they drew the attention of a power beyond anything they could have imagined. Everything they were up until that point, their ancient and magnificent works, their intelligence and magical acumen, it is all long lost now. Then, they were the eredar, one people. Now, they are two - draenei, exiles, and man'ari, what we today simply call by the name of that long vanished people. Be not mistaken, however - the eredar of today are the twisted, corrupted, magically powerful but spiritually debased remnant of that people, just as the draenei are the last remnant of what they were before their fall.

But fall they did. Who were the eredar, and who are they now?

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Burning Crusade, Lore, Know your Lore, Wrath of the Lich King

How much should an expansion cost?

We've talked about this briefly in a recent Breakfast Topic, but that's not the same as actually standing up and taking a position on an issue, and I (specifically, I, Matthew Rossi, not all of WoW Insider) do have a position on this one - namely, that this expansion will likely contain as much if not more gameplay, art assets, and overall design work as any game coming out, and that frankly the last couple of expansions have been under what they should have cost.

I didn't come to this decision in a vacuum, either - I come to it as someone who does not want to pay the price as established. I'm extremely penurious. almost outright parsimonious when it comes to money. I don't like spending it. So when I heard how much the expansion was going to cost (the day the pre-orders became available) I immediately balked at it. It's only ten bucks more to buy Titanfall, I said to myself, and that's a completely new game. And then I read this post by Kim Acuff (who often comments here at WoW Insider as Ember Dione) a developer on Skylanders, and I started to rethink my position on the relative cost of the expansion, how much it should cost, and the validity of the whole "as expensive as a new game" discussion.

Because here's the fact - each WoW expansion has effectively been a new game.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, News items, The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, Diablo 3, Warlords of Draenor

The struggle between gear disparity and good play

Okay, truth time - I can solo any five player heroic dungeon in Mists of Pandaria, as long as it doesn't have mechanics that prevent me. If I'm even concerned that I'll take too much damage and die, I'll pop on my tank set and go prot, but many times it isn't even a concern. Blow all my DPS cooldowns, blow my defensive cooldowns when I'm at about half health, boss falls over. Done it in Mogu'shan Palace and Scarlet Monastery. And I'm hardly the exception here - the fact is, the Mists of Pandaria dungeons were introduced at the beginning of the expansion and tuned so that players in ilevel 450 gear could complete them.

I'm at around ilevel 576.

Even players who are just in flex or LFR gear out gear these instances immensely. If a DPS player in full SoO LFR gear goes into Mogu'shan Palace and decides to pull more mobs than the tank was ready or waiting for, he or she can probably DPS them all down before dying themselves, especially if they get a few heals. Meanwhile, even the tanks can often put out enough damage (while taking so very little and having various means to heal it up) that they can basically solo the whole place if they want to, leaving absolutely everyone in the group feeling very little need to actually play as a group. As many, many people point out to me on twitter, it's just assumed that everyone is going to pull like crazy, so even undergeared players in a specific role often assume it's going to happen and react. Maybe your tank doesn't want to pull like a fiend, but they saw your gear and thought they had to in order to keep control of the dungeon. The lines of group communication have broken down into a silence that masks intent - runs are zoned into and pulled with grim efficiency.

Into this veil of silence enters you, the player. So what can be done about it?

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria

Know Your Lore, Tinfoil Hat Edition: What Storms May Come

The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

This one isn't your usual Tinfoil Hat edition - it is going to be one of the weirder ones. Why, you may ask? Well, it's because of Heroes of the Storm, the upcoming Blizzard DOTA style game. And specifically, how that game interacts with Warlords of Draenor. You see, I'm starting to believe that our travel to Draenor is only the beginning of a much longer, much stranger trip that will have us dealing with the consequences of actions we undertook long before - a travel through a crisis point of unimaginable, unfathomable extent.

The defeat of Deathwing in our world, the breaking of the future we saw in the End Time instance may have had further reaching consequences than we could have guessed. Our choices were simple - allow ourselves to die at the Destroyer's talons, or fight - but we still saw Nozdormu, the Aspect of Time, charged with maintaining time make choices that seem almost unfathomable. He chose to send us back to ultimately steal the Dragon Soul, to help us use it against Deathwing.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, The Burning Crusade, Know your Lore, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor

Cory Stockton's first draft of Dalaran

We've seen quite a few of these behind the scenes peeks at Blizzard's design process, from Alex Afrasiabi's pictures of his Benediction design and the Rhok'delar pages, to these pages from Cory Stockton and Jonathan LeCraft including Death Knight and class designs.

Now Cory Stockton's back with this, an early look at how Dalaran's layout was designed.

It's striking in how familiar it is, and yet places like the Dragon Embassy (later relocated to Wyrmrest Temple), the lack of clearly demarcated Horde and Alliance sections, and the presence of the Violet Citadel as a separate instance definitely set it apart from the Dalaran we ended up with. As always, interesting to see the game that might have been.


Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Machinima, Blizzard, Lore, Wrath of the Lich King

Know Your Lore Tinfoil Hat Edition: How is flesh a curse?

The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

Please don your tinfoil hat - all that follows is speculation based on in-game evidence. It is not canonical lore endorsed by Blizzard.

One of the big reveals of Wrath of the Lich King is the Curse of Flesh. Upon our arrival in Ulduar's Halls of Stone, we escort Brann Bronzebeard to the Tribunal of Ages, a repository of Titan knowledge. After a fierce battle with the Tribunal's defense systems, Brann manages to access the Tribunal's information and learns the history of Azeroth, including how the Titans created Azeroth and how the Old Gods came to infest it, and how the Titan's creations of stone and iron were infected by the Curse of Flesh, making them more easily assimilated by the Old Gods. After defeating and imprisoning the Old Gods, the Titans re-engineered their creations to ensure they were no longer susceptible to the Curse... leaving the ones they'd already created to suffer it, and slowly change into the dwarves, gnomes, humans, troggs and their offshoots. Thus was Azeroth peopled in many cases.

It sounds plausible enough. But there are some problems with it - namely, not all of the Titans information sources agree with it. For instance, the first Titan trove accessed by the mortal races of Azeroth was in Uldaman, in the Badlands. This Titan complex, lying in the heart of the Eastern Kingdoms, is potentially the source of the dwarves and gnomes who live nearby in the mountains of Khaz Modan.

The Lore Keeper of Norgannon we meet at the end of Uldaman tells us that the Titans deviated from their normal plan when creating seed races.

A cross-section of Azeroth's crust was used as the foundation for the Earthen's synthesis rather than the typical biomass construction foundation used by the Creators.

Research on the world's composition led the Creators to theorize that an enhanced being could be synthesized that would epitomize the resiliency of this world's essence. This was accomplished by choosing to use a blend of Azeroth's various stone core compounds as the foundation.

What does this mean? Rather than the typical biomass construction foundation used by the Creators implies that the use of stone and other materials in the Titan constructs of Azeroth is not standard. This is not what the Titans usually do. Why did they do it on Azeroth, then? They appear to have done it quite extensively as well - the Earthen, the Mechagnomes, the Vrykul, the Mogu, the Tol'vir - a whole host of inorganic entities, using 'a cross-section of Azeroth's crust' to construct them. And why is the resilience of Azeroth's essence so remarkable?

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Burning Crusade, Lore, Know your Lore, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor

Do not panic about paid character boost prices

As of this writing it appears that the paid character boost will be priced at $60. Since this was taken down quickly and with no comment by Blizzard, it seems fair to say the following:
  • This was clearly not intended to be visible yet.
  • No announcement has been made officially about the actual price.
  • The pre-orders for Warlords of Draenor are not even available yet, so it's unlikely that the paid option will be sooner than those.
In a general sense, this is a non-issue: no price for the feature has been established. We don't know what it will cost, only that when servers briefly came up Tuesday morning, it was visible at $60. I know this because I personally saw it. But that's all we know - that price might have been an internal joke, a default setting, or potentially the price we'll end up paying for the service. Until the actual price is announced, it's not worth getting upset over.

In fact, even if the price was announced at $80, or $100, or even more, it's still not worth getting upset over. Here's why.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, The Burning Crusade, BlizzCon, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor

Know Your Lore, TFH Edition: The Dangerous Enlightenment

The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

This Tinfoil Hat post is not meant to be taken as established lore, but merely as an exploration of what that lore could mean.

Sometimes an idea starts small. I was musing about Saronite, the literal blood of an Old God, which as we all know was used as the material that created Icecrown Citadel. Then I thought about how the last dying breath of an Old God became the Sha, actual embodiments of corruption.... and how, even after the death of that Old God, the Heart of Y'Shaarj could taint the entire Vale of Eternal Blossoms. The very substance of an Old God... its blood, its flesh, even its last breath can taint, warp and corrupt the world.

Then I started thinking about the madness the Old Gods engender. Upon first arriving in the Howling Fjord, members of the Explorer's League were driven mad by the thoughts of Yogg-Saron, trapped within the Whisper Gulch. Yogg-Saron, after all, was massive - his tendrils extend all the way across the continent, from Icecown through the Storm Peaks and down into the Dragonblight, the Grizzly Hills, into the Fjord itself. And this got me thinking something else.

Northrend is dominated by Yogg-Saron... but the Old Gods predate the Sundering, and so when all continents were part of the great original Kalimdor, that means that the Old Gods lay submerged beneath it as well. The Old God N'Zoth most likely lay beneath the center of the primordial landmass, ancient C'thun lay to its west, and before its death at the hands of Master Ra and the Mogu the south was the domain of Y'Shaarj whose seven heads consumed hope and begat despair. But many were the Old Gods, and powerful (or so the Klaxxi maintain) and this leaves me to ask - was there a god to the East? And what became of it?

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Lore, Know your Lore, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Goblin, Mists of Pandaria

The case for catch-up dungeons

The 'catch up' dungeon was a commonplace design in Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm, one that's fallen out of favor in Mists of Pandaria to be replaced by the Timeless Isle and Raid Finder. It's understandable that this should be the case - designing a dungeon or dungeons is a lot of work, and it means other content (like, say, an open world zone like the Timeless Isle) won't be delivered. And as a catch up mechanic, the Timeless Isle is in many ways superior to a five man dungeon. Art assets were reused and gear randomized - you get a piece for your class and spec, but it's not necessarily ideal for them, so there's benefit to keep farming the zone. Furthermore, there's an upgrade mechanic in place (Burdens of Eternity) that will allow you to make pieces that are much closer in quality to current raiding, giving you even more incentive to keep running it.

However, I'm much more a fan of the catch up dungeon. As much as I like exploring on the Timeless Isle, there comes a time when you've explored all that you can, and the Isle stops having any use for you. Even for a dedicated alt-maven, it's lack of weapons (yes, I know you can get some weapons, but even after the upgrade in 5.4.7 they won't be very good) at a reasonable cost makes it less appealing to me. The Timeless Isle trades the random drop factor of catch up dungeons for near certainty - you will get every piece you want, eventually. It's an efficient and workable system and I dislike it. In comparison to Wrath and Cataclysm it lacks in the following areas:

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor

Death Knight love story casts actors Brian Blessed, Joanna Lumley and more

Okay, guys, look - I could talk about how Death Knight Love Story is a fan film, machinima made with some decidedly interesting talent behind the scenes. Created by Hugh Hancock of Strange Company, (who's been making machinima since 1997) who also created Machinima.com (a little website you may have heard of) it's an ambitious project using motion capture in addition to in-game assets, and it has voice acting from people you'll have heard of like Joanna Lumley of Absolutely Fabulous fame, Anna Chancellor (BAFTA award winner) and Jack Davenport (Commander Norrington in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies). But the real reason I just about leapt at the chance to post this is the picture above, because that's Brian Blessed playing Arthas.

So yeah, I'm pretty much there for this. Check out Death Knight Love Story for yourself.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Machinima, News items, Lore, Death Knight, Wrath of the Lich King, Arts and Crafts

Know Your Lore: Lore summed up part 4 - Wrath of the Lich King continued


The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

Last week's coverage of the lore of Wrath of the Lich King got to the thematic middle point of the expansion - the Wrathgate event. It changed the nature of Horde/Alliance relations, breaking any possibility for faction cooperation. It also capped off the Dragonblight storyline - Horde players had to deal with the realization that the very plague used on Horde troops by Putress was created by their efforts questing in the zone, while Alliance players saw the loss of one of the more beloved lore figures on their side, Highlord Bolvar Fordragon. (The last name Fordragon means "He who cleaves on Dragons' in old Arathi. Okay, no it doesn't. But Bolvar absolutely did that.) Combined with the way Bolvar's previous encounters with players had been worked into the quests, it was a gut punch to lose him.

It was far from the end of the story, however. We had miles to go before we reached the foot of Icecrown Citadel. I mentioned, briefly, the Arugal storyline in the Grizzly Hills, but there was also the story of the Furbolg in the region - a story that touched upon earlier zones such as the Howling Fjord and the Whisper Gulch. These stories would be shown to be of vast importance, and connected to that of an entity named Loken, who was directing the plunder of ancient Titan sites across Northrend by a force of strange Iron Dwarves.

The story of Loken would, in a way, eclipse that of Arthas Menethil without displacing him - for while the Lich King was a clear and present danger and the reason the Alliance and Horde had come to Northend, Loken would prove to endanger Azeroth far more directly. If the Lich King succeeded, the Scourge would rule a world dominated by the undead. If Loken had his way, there would be no Azeroth at all.

The machinations of these two forces both involved a strange material called Saronite - the Scourge forces seemed determined to mine this unusual metal from specific dark corners of the land beneath Northrend's surface. Whisper Gulch, too, teemed with it. But what was Saronite, and why did the Scourge seemingly loathe and fear the name Yogg-Saron while still using the stuff?

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Lore, Know your Lore, Wrath of the Lich King

Why Warlords of Draenor needs a pre-expansion event

Lately I've been thinking about Warlords of Draenor and how I hope it returns to the tradition of pre-expansion launch patches with big world events. Let me tell you a story.

I was talking with a friend about the period at the end of Burning Crusade when the crates began spawning in major cities. He reminded me that neither of us had really paid much attention - his guild was in the process of breaking up over M'uru/Entropius and I was tanking for a guild working on clearing Black Temple at the time. We were busy, is what I'm saying. So busy, in fact, that one day we found ourselves running for our lives from an Ironforge that was completely infested with the walking dead. Other players were now zombies. The auctioneers were dead. It was all chaos and madness.

Now, for a lot of people, the zombie invasion was a load of fun. It was new and different, something you didn't see in game every day. Some of my guildies went over to Orgrimmar and joined forces with Horde players they knew (Norgannon was a smallish and incestuous server in those days, all the Alliance and Horde players seemed to know one another) to form roving gangs of undead, laying waste to all, Horde or Alliance. They had great fun.

For me it was a huge pain in the rear end.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Events, The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor

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