It’s over 2 months in, so it’s time to comment on Cataclysm. I haven’t leveled all my alts, but I think I’ve gotten enough of an impression to put my feelings into words.
I’m not thrilled. I’ve been feeling disappointed in the changes since 4.0.1 went live in October. The one caveat was that it was balanced for 85, not 80, so we were told to judge it at 85. I’m not any happier at 85, really. The numbers and balance is different, but the core issues haven’t changed.
Cata is essentially a failure in low-level design. The basic goals were simple and elegant:
- 1)Boost survivability in pvp to combat burst.
- 2)Nerf aoe and buff trash mobs to bring Crowd Control back to pve.
- 3)Boost tank Effective Heath, lower tank avoidance, make high-thoroughput healing more costly to place more emphasis in healing on mana management instead of dealing with damage bursts
They have, in fact, largely accomplished these goals. The problem is that so many details came out so clunky, the game often ends up becoming frustrating than fun.
I didn’t get a beta invite, so I didn’t know what was brewing before 4.0 launched. Knowing that CC was coming back, I turned first to see how the game handled my biggest issues with CC in TBC: tanking around CC’d mobs without breaking CC.
Even running the aoe-friendly Tankadin, I always marked for CC if it was available. It reduced healer mana use, and it gave the dps something to do while I pulled, positioned and build aggro. Tankadins were unusual in TBC for their reliance on reactive damage. Losing aggro not only meant using your (long CD) taunt to get it back, it meant you were in trouble on holding it for the rest of the fight. If it stopped hitting you, you stopped building threat, while the healer (and possibly dps) were still generating their threat. Even waiting for it to run back could be enough to lose aggro again. Your only constant source of threat was consecrate, an aoe that broke CC on anything nearby. It was a positioning nightmare when you were dealing with casters that wouldn’t pull.
Patch 2.4 made an important change to Avenger’s Shield that seemed to have passed to all multi-target (hits X mobs) abilities. It would choose from among all non-CC’d mobs available before it would break CC looking for additional targets. I tested most of them in 3.3 and they seemed to be using the same code. Repentance one mob in a group of four, and AS,HotR.Cleave, etc. would all ignore the CC’d mob and hit the other three instead. I was reassured that tanking with CC should be painless, needing only to watch the situation so you didn’t use an ability that hit too many targets, and picked up mobs as CC ran out or broke. A few adjustments to some tanks would make things easier, but should be, strictly speaking, unnecessary.
Instead, patch 4.0 made Cleave much harder to use (rage starvation), HotR became an aoe (while they nerfed consecrate into near-uselessness). Druids lost the ability to spam swipe, and received no good multi-target ability to use (just the suddenly more expensive glyphed Maul). Only DKs came out ahead here, getting a 3-target HS with the changes. Guess which one I leveled to tank with.
The Wrath system of tanking was actually _better_ for working with CC than Cata, where CC was supposed to be coming back! All that needed to happen was a reduction in aoe damage (especially for dps so they wouldn’t want to use it so much), and instead they screwed it up.
So having noted my disappointment with tanking in general, I will now discuss the tank I did level to 85 and gear for heroics (not yet for raids). Blood spec is now the only tank spec for DKs. Dual specs has superceded the old model of tank/dps in any tree. That makes sense. I miss Glyphed Howling Blast for tanking, but I can live with the compromise there. Once again though, they screwed up important details.
Blood used to have a talent that turned your Frost and Unholy runes into Death Runes (can be used as any rune) when used by certain abilities (Death Strike and Obliterate). In Wrath, this made sense. Blood DKs did much more damage with two Heart Strikes (BB), than either of the other abilities (FU for either one), so it was a dps/threat gain to get those Death Runes, aside from the flexibility. In Cata, Blizzard addressed issues with damage spikes on DK tanks by giving them an absorb shield, much like what Druids have. Unlike Savage Defense though, which has a chance to proc on any crit, by any ability, Blood Shield has a 100% chance to proc off _1_ ability, Death Strike. From a survivability standpoint, that means you want to use DS(FU) as much as possible, not HS(B). You no longer want to turn FU runes into B runes. You want them as FU runes! Couple that with recent changes to make diseases more important (FU to apply both when Outbreak is on CD), Bone Shield and D&D using Unholy runes, and the Death Rune scheme becomes counter-productive. You don’t want FU runes to become Death runes anymore, only now the ability is automatic when you choose Blood Spec. That’s right, one of Blood’s “features” is effectively designed to trick inattentive DKs into getting themselves killed by burning FU runes on HS and missing their shield ability! /facepalm
Why does Bone Shield need an Unholy rune anyway? None of the other tanks’ 1min CD abilities have a resource cost, only Bone Shield. The obvious answer is that DKs have a 1min CD ability to turn a B rune into a D rune. Bone Shield cost an Unholy rune simply to burn this ability so it can’t give you a rune to keep up your DS rotation. Stupid.
One last note. In Wrath, HS was designed to be a straight replacement for Blood Strike. They both used B to cast and hit one target, but HS did much more damage. In Cata, HS isn’t a direct replacement anymore. HS hits three targets, while BS hits one still. Thing is, sometimes you don’t want to hit three targets (breaking CC for example). Guess what, BS is still less single-target damage than HS. Using BS instead of HS to avoid hitting addition targets also means a dps/threat loss on a single target. In a small way, this continues the design of assuming aoe is ok, when we’re supposed to be using CC and single-target dps instead of aoe. It’s an easy enough problem to fix, but I’m not going to hold my breath for a change to the HS talent to bring BS up to the same level against a single target.
Paladins got a new resource in Cata, called Holy Power. It acts like combo points in that certain abilities give you one, certain abilities spend them. They exist on the Paladin rather than the mob though, and only stack to 3. Yep. Some abilities even require exactly 3, or scale such that using less than 3 will reduce effectiveness. I feel like I’m in a Monty Python sketch. “And the number shall be 3, no more, no less…” Add in some randomness to HP gains, and it something more that needs to be watched and tracked. It has an important role in healing, but it’s nothing but a nuisance to distract Ret and Prot Paladins from their jobs. Even after more than 3 months of dealing with it, it still chafes. Too clunky, too high maintenance, too random; too important to ignore. Ugh.
I did note that it plays an important role for Holy. Basically, it provides the mechanism to fix the FoL problem. Spamming FoL was always too cheap and too easy for Blizzard to allow Healadins to rely too much on it. With Cata, they replace it with a rotation. Pre-Cata FoL spam -> HS/WoG/HL mixture. They accomplish the same task, but the added requirements of mixing HS (6s CD) with WoG (HP ability that costs no mana) and HL (cheap but slow and small) allow Blizzard to give it a little more bite. In practice, it’s not much harder than FoL spam was before, but it’s more engaging and a definite improvement.
The problem with Holy is how they adjusted regen. Paladins were getting out-of-control regen from Int stacking + Divine Plea, Divine Illumination, Seal of Wisdom, and somewhat from Illumination (though this was nerfed in Wrath). All healers get their SP from Int now, so all stack it to some extent. The rest of the equation got kneecapped. Illumination is gone entirely. DI got replaced with a haste/crit CD ability. Divine Plea and Seal of Insight got their regen slashed. No other class lost so much (or any, really) active or class-based regen. Paladins went from OP regen to pretty much no active regen overnight. That isn’t a direct problem. It just means that their mana usage has to be balanced to require much less mana to accomplish the same tasks. This comes primarily from the above noted rotation. Therein lies the danger. The low cost of their HS/WoG/HL cycle has already caused issues where good raiding Paladins end fights with a nearly full mana bar, just from not needing to use their expensive spells. Shift the numbers too much though, and mediocre Paladins start running oom before any other class (in likewise mediocre hands), simply from lack of tools to recover from a crisis. Paladins are once again the outlier on regen, as with every other expansion. Blizzard’s track record of dealing with these outliers isn’t very good. We’ll see if they do better this time. They’ve already nerfed the cheap healing rotation, and made it less fun as a result.
Not Playing the Game
No, I’m not quitting yet. Just scored our first kill on Magmaw, actually. If you read through the above complaints, one theme seems to stand out. It’s a familiar cry to anyone who’s healed in this game (or any game like it). See, healers all experience the same frustration as the play the game. A large part of their job requires watching health bars, not monsters. The fundamental flaw of MMOs, is the tendency for play to shift from playing the game, to playing the _interface_. As the game gets more complicated with more CDs, more different types of resources, and more procs to watch for, gamers spend less and less time enjoying their character moving and acting in the world, and spending more time adjusting, modifying, and fighting with their UI trying to get something done. Watching HP, Runes, Mana bars, Rage bars and Health bars is UI management, when most players really want to watch their toons, their enemies and the environment around them. It’s been a healer complaint forever and instead of trying to fix the issue, it seems to be spreading in WoW.
In the beginning, the challenge was finding info and gear. Game changes and the web community changed that. Then the challenge was learning fights. Now we have youtube videos. Blizzard seems desperate to keep some difficulty and mystery in the game to keep people engaged, but their latest efforts seem to be focused on forcing player to monitor more UI elements and making abilities more difficult to use (properly or at all). This is not a positive direction. People want to be engaged in the game around their toon, not the UI. We want to play the game
It’s trite, but I have to mention it. Blizzard made fishing a success in wrath by making it easier and more worthwhile to use. In Cata, their choice of balance is to have basically 3 grades of fish. Good fish has a low catch rate from fishing any appropriate water. Mediocre fish have a 100% catch rate from pools, and poor fish have a high catch rate in any appropriate water. Poor fish, thus are basically vendor trash. They give no buff when cooked, just heath and mana. Worse, the recipes cost tokens from the cooking daily just like buff food. Who wants to spend tokens on a recipe that gives no buff? You can _buy_ food to accomplish that without wasting your time. Clearly they felt that a high catch rate made it too easy to stock up on the most desirable fish. I understand that, but they could have at least made all the fish useful! Make the more rare fish produce the best primary stat food (90 each), the pool fish the best secondary stat food (90 each, but the stat is haste/crit/etc, instead of Agi/Str/Int/Spi), and make the common fish produce the lesser foods (60 each stat instead of 90). That would at least have made all fish useful, allowing you to use up your common food on trash and easier 5 mans and saving the best stuff for raiding. They could have made the common fish produce no buff food, but made the recipes trainable, so you could level up with them and then buy the recipes you want with tokens. No, they had to make the most frustrating decision possible. They made the common case junk, literally for one fish for the first two months. The common saltwater fish had no recipe that called for it from 4.0.3 (Cata release) to 4.0.6 (first full patch). Even now, the recipe isn’t worth buying. Why put more junk in the game? Makes no sense to me.
The whole issue is just one final, trite, but simple demonstration of how they could come up with all the right ideas on a macro level, and screw up the details, much to our frustration.
I still want to like Cata, but I’m not having nearly as much fun as I did in Wrath. I’ve already switched mains from my Prot/Holy Paladin (main since I started almost 4 years ago) to a Fire Mage. Less responsibility, fewer obligations, less impact if I decide to back out more. I have leveled a Blood/Frost DK and Resto/Enhance Shamen to 85 and geared them for heroics, but I feel far less enthusiastic or optimistic than I did in Wrath. Burnout? I don’t think so, just frustration.