Monday, February 23, 2009

What is best in life?

....To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women.

Nord hit level 80 tonight, my third toon to do so. I felt a Conan quote was appropriate, given Nord was originally based on the Cimmerian.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dust off that Alt-Hunter

I've been playing Wrath for a while & have been level 80 for some time. It's time to work on an alt. It's time to dust off my beloved hunter.

If you're like me & haven't been playing your hunter for a while, you may be surprised. Hunter looks the same but the differences will jump out at you. The game may be easier, but suddenly you can't seem to play & eat your sammich at the same time. Fear not. Make some tweaks and you'll be back to your Pew Pew Munch Munch days soon enough.

Mana Management

The big "issue" in Wrath is the major change to mana regen & the way the Aspects work. You absolutely want to cycle between your Aspect of the Hawk (or Dragonhawk) & Aspect of the Viper quickly. You'll find yourself swapping a lot. You may also find yourself forgetting to swap.

Find an addon to flashed a notice to turn off Aspect of the Viper when you've hit 100% mana. ViperNotify does this in a very minimalistic way. Combine it with a very basic 1-button cast sequence macro like this...
/castsequence Aspect of the Hawk, Aspect of the Viper
Again, you'll need to make changes when you hit a high enough level to get fancy aspects.

Target & Pet Management

There are other changes to game-play as they relate to pets. A pet of Aggressive or Defensive will attack your target the moment you cast AutoAttack. This is both great & frustrating all at the same time. When soloing you still want to send your pet in before you attack. You also want to "stay on target" when your pet engages multiple mobs. The same is true when in a group. Fast switching to the tank or main assist target is very important. Combining these functions with Hunter's Mark (due to Mark being on the GCD) is a great idea. I use 2 macros to achieve this.

The "Pet Attack Button" is a simple point and shoot part of your cast sequence. You want to mark the target & you want your pet to engage first.
/cast Hunter's Mark
/petfollow [target=pettarget,exists]
The "Switch Targets" macro requires you to set a Focus target in group. I'm a big fan of setting a focus targets. It serves a dual purpose of keeping you on target & allowing for rapid use of Misdirect. If you aren't in a group, then this switch target button will allow you to follow your pet onto it's next target.
#showtooltip Hunter's Mark
/assist [target=focus,exists]; [target=pet, exists]
/cast Hunter's Mark
Combine this with a basic Misdirection Macro & life is easy. You'll note that I do not have the non-focus element to your standard misdirect sequence on this macro. It's a personal preference.
#showtooltip Misdirection
/cast [target=focus, exists] Misdirection; [target=pet, exists] Misdirection
Now Pew Pew

The other development in Wrath is the increased complexity in shot selection. Gone are the days of simply spamming Steady Shot.

If you are using the Glyph of Steady Shot, then you want to have Serpent Sting as part of your rotation. But finding room for it & Kill Shot (and getting Kill Shot off in time) is tricky. This macro will always allow you to cast Serpent Sting, but it will always keep Kill Shot the visible button. If your bar mod changes color when an ability is ready, then you'll always know when to cast Kill Shot.
#showtooltip Kill Shot
/cast Kill Shot
/cast Serpent Sting
/script UIErrorsFrame: Clear()
Even though we no longer have to weave Steady Shot, we still want to use that old standby macro. I've simplified it based on the current mechanics.
#showtooltip Steady Shot
/cast [exists, target=pettarget] Kill Command
/cast Steady Shot
/script UIErrorsFrame: Clear()
Here's another macro I've been toying with. It's not perfect, but it does the trick. It takes advantage of things not on the GCD and combines them with Aimed Shot (something you want to cast more.) The two trinkets will not go off at once. Replace these with your own, obviously. And remove BW if you aren't spec'ed Beastmaster. (Hopefully this means you're 80 & switched Survival.)
#showtooltip Aimed Shot
/cast Bestial Wrath
/use Bloodlust Brooch
/use Empty Mug of Direbrew
/cast Aimed Shot
There's a lot more to all this of course. Mostly, it's about finding your way through the mine-field of shot selection. Remember an unused cooldown is a lost opportunity. Aspect management is just as important as shot selection. Survival hunters may be the hot new game in town, but it's still mostly about skill.

You are hunters. All mobs fear you!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Cat Swipe & Idol of the Wastes

Yesterday, I got into a discussion with a couple of the other ferals in my guild about the Idol of the Wastes trinket & Cat Swipe. The trinket states "Your Shred and Swipe abilities have a chance to grant 61 strength for 10 sec." But does it work?

I tested it for 20 minutes. I closely monitored my combat log, which I recorded, and my buffs for the "Snap and Snarl" effect.

- Bear Swipe gave me an almost 100% up-time for an effect called "Snap and Snarl." It would go off with my first swipe even on a single target. When the effect ran out, a new Bear Swipe would immediately refresh the effect.

- Prowling up to a mob, pouncing & shredding also resulted in "Snap and Snarl." I only did this a few times, but the results were consistent.

- Cat Swipe resulted in no "Snap and Snarl" buffs. I pulled several mobs using nothing but Cat Swipe & auto attack. My trinket "Crusader's Glory" effect went off several times, but at no point did the Idol work.

Obviously, this was not a scientific test, but the results are fairly conclusive. I'm curious what Blizzard thinks. The issue now is that this trinket does not make a good solo-cat item unless you've taken ranks in both Shredding Attacks & Brutal Impact. It does still make a good group DPS trinket. Still, I would like it to work with both types of Swipe attacks. I wouldn't even mind them removing the proc from Shred to make this happen.

Druid Trends: A hybrid ill-wind?

I read a lot of druid blogs. It's partly because I play one. It's partly because I'm married to one. It's partly my friendships with Flyv & Karthis. From these relationships & my copious amounts of free-time, I've drawn some observations about the state of Druids and mainly ferals.

There is currently an excessive amount of QQ about "hybrids," specifically druids. There's the post on Tobold's blog about Hybrid Envy that set off an interesting back & forth with Karthis. Or read the comments section below today's WoW insider post about Druid Changes in 3.1. These are not isolated events. I think they represent a potential ill-wind for druids.

First the arguments against druids & their flaws as I currently see them.

There are so many druids right now. They are clearly broken!

This is the same argument that has been made against hunters for years. I also play a hunter. Hunters are not - except for early 3.0 Hunters with Volley & Gorilla pets - broken. Hunters are simply easy to pick up & great in solo PvE environment. They make awesome alts. Hunters have just as many flaws & stereotypes as any other classes.

The reason why druids are so plentiful is their broad-ranging appeal. More than any other class, druid can be tailored to the play-style and interests of the individual player. The perfect example is my house, where my wife & I both play druids. We are night & day in our approach to the game.

Yes, if you put 4 druids in a room and ask them their "role" you will get about 5 answers: trees, boomkins, bears, cats & off-tank. Yes, I think there's a distinction to be made in relation to a bear, cat or off-tank. It's all about skills, preferences & talent specs.

Druids can do too much! Nerf them!

I can't play a tree. I'm an even worse boomkin. My "hybrid" flexibility comes into play when I'm able to battle-res someone, or hot myself up. But a feral's ability to do these things are extremely limited. I don't have int on my gear. My mana-pool is insanely small. I need that mana to shape shift. I'm not wasting it on being your back-up healer.

Feral Druids are too good! Nerf them!

Actually, Feral druids might actually agree with this assessment to a certain extent. That's not a concession, however. No, feral druids just don't want to all be pigeon-holed back into the "off-tank" role all over again. Some of us want to be main tanks or pure DPS. The fact remains that the lines are blurred a little right now. That doesn't mean there should be a nerf but rather a refinement.

Druids and Hybrids are so versatile why bring anything else on a raid? Nerf all Hybrids!

This is one of the stupidest arguments I've heard yet. First off, what kind of bazaaro-world guild are these people running in that they have 25 raid-worthy druids, shaman & paladins? Secondly, how fucking boring would that be? On a lark? Sure! Every night? WTF!

I treat hybrids as a "value-added" element to a raid or 5-man. There are also trade-offs. If I've got a dps'er who's dropping back to heal, then I'm missing their dps. If I've got a healer tanking, I'm fucked! Show me a raid leader who honestly fills more than 2 to 3 slots based on "hybrid flexibility" and I'll show you a moron. Raid leaders will take the best players in the slots they need. Nerf'ing a hybrid because it's not fair for other classes is tantamount to calling for hybrids to be dropped from raiding.

All this brings me back to my other observations. See what you think.

- Blizzard has been deliberately moving Bears to more talent-dependent specs by removing armor bonuses and "forcing" us to have specific talents to compensate. A druid without these key talents can't gear their way out of a problem.

- Blizzard has been deliberately moving all ferals to more rogue-like gear. This makes feral gear drops easier, but has reduced the number of unique options available to us. Gear itemization & enchantment decisions will further move ferals into DPS vs Mitigation.

- Blizzard has made statements about increasing cat dps. Cat swipe was added to bring druids in line with other classes. The next step will probably be a boost to a cat-specific talent. This will further widen (not shrink) the divide between cats & bears.

- Blizzard wants to lower mana regeneration (specifically for healing classes.) The interesting side-effect will be on all hybrids. In Pre-Wrath, a lot of druid gear had broad stats. Ferals didn't want int & spirit but we got them. That's gone. A reduction in mana-regen on an already mana-starved hybrid makes them less versatile.

- Dual Specs are coming. This will be great for transitioning between solo pve/pvp and group/raid environments. The restrictions will be big. It won't be something that raids can exploit. Why is this important?

Put it all together. To balance out a druid imbalance (real or perceived) Blizzard will make our "limited" hybrid effectiveness even more so. The difference between a tanking druid & a Feral DPS druid could become more like the difference between a Protection & Fury Warrior. Only unlike the two warriors, these druids would be using the same talent tree & be dressed in the same gear. Yet one would be a marginal tank & the other a marginal DPS. It's completely opposite what Blizzard claimed they wanted from Wrath, but it's becoming more and more likely.

Is any of this a bad thing? I'm not sure. I'm a 5-man tank. If I got back into raiding full-time, I would probably want to be an off-tank. If the wind really is blowing in the direction I'm seeing, then it wouldn't change the way I do things. In some ways it would be a "fair & just" response to the QQ'ing out there.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

How the Other Bear Lives

I've been meaning to post more about my gaming setup for a while now. Yesterday's post by Karthis about his desk, pushed me over the edge. Before I get started, I want to note that I'm about to break a golden rule of blogging. This is going to be a long one...

As many of my readers/friends know, I have some rather debilitating physical problems. I used to have a rather traditional computer desk. It was not ergonomic. It was not particularly comfortable. Sitting at my computer should be a haven from the stress and strain of my life, instead it was adding to it. So last year, I went on a mission to design a personal space that was extremely comfortable but afforable.

If you've ever priced ergonomic chairs & specialty desks, you know that they can end up costing more than computers. I couldn't afford that. Still, it was clear that I needed a really good chair. I finally found this one at Office Max. It's not "cheap" but it was also much more afforable than your traditional ergonomic chair. It has adjustable everything. Unfortunately, I can't link the chair to you. It's no longer available. The next model up is the Space Air Grid Executive Chair for $200 more than I paid. Still, I can't emphasize enough the importance of a good chair.

My keyboard tray cost more than the whole desk. This isn't because the tray was particularly expensive. It's because the desk is a yard-sale find. I got it for $30 & the guy even tossed it in his truck and drove it over for me. The side-table is a combination of an old printer stand & an old piano bench. The legs broke, so I slapped on some 1x1's from the scrap pile in the garage. So, instead of spending hundreds of dollars on a fancy desk, I spent less than a hundred on a DIY. Is it pretty? No. BUT, it's extremely functional.

For months, I researched keyboard setup that would - in conjunction with the fancy chair - minimize strain on my hands & arms. The solution was a Logitech Trackman Wheel Mouse and an Ideazon Merc Keyboard.

The trackball took some adjustment, but was the right choice to maximize my comfort. Trackballs are not for everyone. If you prefer to click your spells with the mouse, you will hate using a trackball. You should look for a comfortable gaming mouse. If, however, you are a keybinder, an ergonomic trackball can make a huge difference in your comfort. In some situations, you may find you can respond FASTER than a standard mouse user. You will spend weeks, even months, adjusting to the trackball. Stay with it!

I could write an entirely separate post about the Merc keyboard. It was - after the chair - the hardest part of the research. There is no such thing as an ergonomic gaming keyboard. I could have gone with an ergonomic keyboard, but they aren't great for games like WoW because they further increase the distance between the keys. I considered a number of pure gaming keyboards, but those would keep my hands in the same uncomfortable typing position. Then I came across a variety of gaming pads like the Wolf Claw. I considered a combination of a side-pad & an ergonomic keyboard. I actually did a lot of field testing by going to a number of retail stores and trying the keyboards.

I finally settled on the Merc because it was affordable (less than $40), comfortable and fit on my keyboard tray. I still type in the standard QWERTY keyboard position, but with arm & handrests. The gaming pad space allows me to move my hand from the standard position & is extremely functional. The tray allows me to adjust the angle of my keyboard & slide it right up to the armrests of my chair. There are times when I will just sit at my desk, with my arms on the keyboard pad & watch a movie. It's just that comfortable.

I customized the Merc keypad in conjuction with Bartender4. The keybinding options are limitless & completely legal under the game's EUA as long as you don't do any keyboard keystroke macros. To get used to the unique keypad setup, I actually adjusted my bars on screen with bartender to mimic the shape of the keypad. The adjustment period was a matter of days. After months, it's just awesome. All my toons use the same basic layout now.

Finally, it's obvious that I'm using two boxes. I'm not a "dual-box" player. When I upgraded my system last year, I simply kept the old one. There's nothing wrong with it. It's just not as fast as the newer Quad Cores. The old system is, however, plenty fast to run Hulu or Pandora while I'm soloing. I can look up quest information, check email, or catch up on Google messenger. I use the Logitech Cordless Desktop MX3000 for the second box. I highly recommend it if you are ever in the market for a wireless setup. It's inexpensive & has been extremely reliable for over 2 years. Wireless is not great for gaming, but it's awesome in other situations.

Why not use a KVM switch to free up more space? Using two allows me to do a lot of stuff simultaneously. This comes from my days in IT & playing a hunter for 3 years. Autoshot...type email...loot mob...check weather...laugh at stupid sammich. Besides, there's still plenty of deskspace for paperwork, & gadgets. I use the sideboard from the old piano bench for snacks & drinks.

Anyway, that's my world. I'm here most of my time. If you have any questions about my setup, the keyboards I've researched or stuff on my desk, just let me know.

Posted by Picasa

Korathnord the Spear-slayer

My work on leveling my third toon to 80 continues. After finishing up the Loremaster of the Eastern Kingdoms achievement, I took Nord back to Northrend and finished out Grizzly Hills and started Zul'Drak. That got him to level 78.

But in the process, I decided to try something new. Much like Cainam is doing with Sofea, I decided to respec Nord to one of the less talked-about less-glamourous specs for warrior: Arms.

Back in the day, that was the core of Nord's playstyle. I tore through MC, BWL, ZG, and AQ carrying either a big 2-H sword or (my preference) a nasty polearm. Spears and polearms were the weapon no one else seemed to want, so Nord always got first pick of anyone that dropped. TBC changed all that, driving fury spec to the top of the DPS warrior pile and the introduction of Titan Grip in Wrath continued that.

So a few observations:

1) Arms is fun but complicated. It relies a lot on ability procs. Fury warriors waiting on Bloodsurge to proc have already had some experience with this, but you spend a lot of time as Arms waiting to see when Sudden Death and Taste for Blood to proc. As such, there's not really a "cast sequence" for Arms warriors. You have to play it by ear pretty much every fight. As such, DPS can be somewhat inconsistent. There are some fights where I'm not even cracking 1k, others where I hit 2.5k depending on what triggers and what doesn't. (Note this is at level 78, well before I get any heroic or raid gear.)

2) Mortal Strike is no longer Arms' bread-and-butter ability. I keep it around and use it, but the bulk of your DPS comes from Rend (which allows Taste for Blood to proc), Execute (from Sudden Death), and Overpower (triggered by dodges and Taste for Blood). Seems odd to talk about Rend, the oft maligned warrior bleed as potent but a lot of the recent patches have really buffed this ability.

3) And speaking of previously maligned abilities, I find Slam is a good rage dump. With talents, it's a quick half-second cast time that doesn't interfere with your normal swing timer.

4) You play arms in Battle Stance, which opens up Overpower (necessary) and Charge. Thanks to Bloodrage no longer putting you in combat, rage generation at the start of a fight is pretty easy. I find that rage is almost never a problem in Arms. Titan Grip, with using two slow 2-handed weapons for attacks, often kept me rage starved despite its potent DPS.

5) Bladestorm is fun. It is, by far, the nastiest AOE for warriors. Although its 90 second cooldown makes it much less versatile that Whirlwind, it hits a lot harder and lasts a lot longer. Ninety seconds isn't all that long either. I find I can use it about once every two pulls.

6) Glyphs. I added the Glyph of Overpower into my book, since it allows Overpower to proc off of parries from time to time. Glyph of Execution makes Sudden Death pretty potent, despite the recent nerf to that ability.

5) Weapons. Nord picked up the Tuskar rep spear last night to finally put a polearm in his hand again, but his best bet if he wants to keep using spears is to get the blue spear off the beholder boss in heroic Violet Hold. It's the only pre-raid spear that is strength based and not agility.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Seeking Loremaster

I'm not normally one who cares much about the achievement system in WoW. It's a nice feature, but more often than not when I gain one it was unexpected. "Oh, wow, cool." is usually the first thought that crosses my mind when an achievement procs.

Which is pretty much exactly what happened to me about a week or so ago while leveling Nord. I hit the 2000 quest achievement, which of course "unlocks" the next step up which is 3000 quests. That achievement carries with it a title, "Seeker," and I got to thinking that would be a nice title to give my oldest and longest played toon.

So I start looking under the "Quest" tab on the Achievement window and I get another surprise. I'm only about 95 quests from "Loremaster of the Eastern Kingdoms."

So Nord has been catching up on a lot of old lowbie quests in the Eastern Kingdoms. And I've discovered a number of things.

1) I'm stumbling over quite a few of what might be called "secret quests." Take Sweet Amber for instance. It's a level 44 quest in Westfall. Who is ever in Westfall at level 44? If you're not, you'd miss this chain entirely, so I imagine not many have ever done this chain. Got another one in Stormwind to take a poem to Shattrath. Given the content of the poem, I get the feeling that one is memorial to somebody.

2) If you're looking to gain rep with Classic WoW factions, this seems to be the way to go. With a lot of the changes made both recently and a while back to mob rep and quest rep, you can rapidly gain reputation this way. Nord is almost exalted now with both IF and SW.

3) I still hate one of the patterns of Classic WoW questing, which I call "Let's go 'round the world for this quest." This quest is a good example. You pick it up in Stormwind. It takes you to Stonetalon in Kalimdor. You turn it in back in Stormwind. Thankfully, this sort of quest is from a bygone age. Now, if you pick up a quest in say Dragonblight, odds are good you complete it there.

4) My final observation is the sense of surprise I have in discovering just what quests Nord managed to skip while leveling. Being an altaholic, there are not many quests in these lowbie zones that I've missed, but apparently some of them got done on my alts but never on Nord. Slaughtering the once uber-deadly Defias Pillagers and getting quest credit for it was kind of fun on a level 75. :-)