Well, with a solid 1.1 GB of background download data for the 3.0 patch sitting on my hard drive, presumably to launch in just over a week, and the expansion making its debut about a month afterwards, it's probably about time to write up my final thoughts on the Wrath beta. Obviously there may be another balance pass or five down the line, but the big picture should be in place. Part one, which you're reading right now, is all about the new profession, Inscription.
Experience: I leveled Inscription from 1-400 on a Death Knight prior to writing this review. I got enough herbs for that entire process from stuff I picked naturally while leveling Herbalism to 300 and herbs I came across while leveling in Outland and Northrend. I currently have almost all trainable abilities (there is one more set of scroll upgrades at 425 skill) and a few discoveries.
Is the profession good for anything besides glyphs?
I’ve already discussed some of the various non-glyphs the profession makes. Inscribers can make papers which enchanters can enchant and then sell, an ability that Enchanters have been crying for since WoW launched (and doubly so since TBC allowed Tailors and Leatherworkers to sell enchant-like items on the AH). Blizzard has also scaled up the tarot card system; in each tier of Inscription, there is a recipe for turning unused inks into random tarot cards. Complete a set and you win some exp (probably not enough to convince people to buy the things for cash, but I guess you never know) and a random green item. Inscribers also get to make stat buff scrolls (previously found as world drops and occasionally from vendors) and a Hunter pet rename certificate.
Shoulder enchants in action, the materials are dirt cheap. Also note the large number of inscription-related icons in the spellbook.
In terms of self-only perks, Inscribers are allowed to use the Scroll of Recall, which sends you to your hearthstone point or, if you are too high of a level for that particular scroll, to an arbitrary location which may or may not be useful (if you have some way to get home, should it not be somewhere you want to end up). Inscribers have been granted a set of self-only shoulder enchants that significantly outstrip at least the level 70 Aldor/Scryer ones, though it’s a bit early to tell how these stack up to other alternatives. (Most professions seem to have some similar self-only enchant these days.) Having the profession will supposedly unlock a fourth major glyph slot, though this ability is not yet in the beta. There are off-hand items that are BOP and require Inscription to equip; most are aimed at spellcasters, though there are a few that might, in principle, get used by a Hunter or feral druid (pre-Outland). Finally, there is a new pair of abilities in the game that use up a fair chunk of herbs in exchange for some random inscription products and a high chance of discovering new recipes (usable once per day, and a great option for skill points). I’m not sure that it’s the best set of self-only perks, but it’s not a bad haul either.
Discovery in action!
Glyphs and You (Inscriber or otherwise)
All characters now get to equip three minor glyphs and three major glyphs. Minor glyphs tend to be either cosmetic upgrades (e.g. polymorph sheep turning into polymorph penguin), or cost reducers (either less mana or removing a reagent, typically for buffs or other less combat-oriented spells). Major glyphs also fall into two categories. Abilities that you are not going to be spamming as your main raid DPS/heal get flat out upgrades; for instance, the Death Knight ability Plague Strike gets some extra bonus damage against diseased targets, while a shaman's Frost Shock glyph offers a longer snare duration. By contrast, major glyphs that buff bread and butter raid abilities tend to offer a tradeoff; a glyph of Frostbolt offers slightly increased damage at the cost of removing the snare effect (!) while the glyph for Mortal Strike offers 10% more damage in exchange for halving the famous healing reduction.
A fully glyphed spellbook (well, minus the middle slot, which Cheery should be entitled to eventually).
One thing that’s kind of odd about the glyph system is the level requirements. Glyphs tend to be usable at whatever level you actually learn the spell they modify. However, those levels don’t correspond to the level of Inscription needed to actually learn to write the glyph in question. This means that glyphs usable at low levels might be expensive due to requiring reagents from Northrend, and that a low level player actually leveling up with Inscription may not be able to make glyphs that they can (or at least would want to) use. The system seems to have been better designed for retrofitting onto an existing level 70 character than for learning it as you level a new alt, and that's kind of unfortunate and awkward on a profession you can take at level 5.
Obviously, the new system adds options, both in terms of professions and in terms of the actual customization of spells offered by glyphs. The costs aren’t that bad (again, with the caveat that sometimes the glyph you want at your level requires substantially higher level herbs); glyphs are more expensive than potions, but cheaper than equipment, and, in principle, they can stay with you longer. If you have lots of alts, this is a great profession. You can, for the first time, enchant your other alts soulbound gear, and you won’t have to worry about finding the obscure glyph that your level 30 alt really wants on the AH. If you have fewer alts and expect to use a mostly stable set of glyphs, on the other hand, it might make more sense to try and buy the 3-6 of them that you need.
The Bad and Ugly: Saving the Hardcore from Themselves
Unfortunately, when I said that the costs weren’t bad, I meant for people who pick a glyph, equip it, and rarely change it. Players who raid are going to feel a fair chunk of pressure to have optimal glyphs. Blizzard recently changed glyphs so that they can only be altered when you’re in a physical inscription trainers’ shop, in order to prevent raiders from feeling obligated to swap out glyphs every fight. Even so, I question whether another form of specialization that costs money to change is really a good thing for the game. We’re STILL waiting to hear when and how healers and tanks will be allowed some form of relief from respec costs so that they can solo farm more efficiently (Blizzard confirms that they're working on it, but not for the expansion's launch). Also note that some glyphs enhance talent spells, and thus become at least temporarily useless if you respec.
The Lexicon needed to swap your glyphs. Whether this actually stops people from swapping is a separate question; with a mage to portal the swap-ee to a city and a Warlock to summon them back, it's still possible to swap if it makes a huge impact on a fight.
Also, the scroll system is going to draw some serious complaints. Scrolls no longer stack with each other; i.e. you can use a scroll of strength or a scroll of agility or whatever, but you don't get the benefit of one of each. However, they do still stack with other buffs. The good news is that the inscriber doesn’t need a specific herb to make scrolls. Any herbs of a given level range will produce the same inks, and five of any Northrend herb will cough up 2-3 of the top-ranked scrolls (though these materials may go up, as they're currently identical to the second-highest rank). Still, we’re looking at another stacking buff that high end raiders will be expected to buy themselves. One might argue that these scrolls are optional, but, in practice, serious raiding guilds will expect their players to show up with all the buffs money can buy, and less serious guilds won’t make progress. It seems odd that they are adding another consumable raid buff after going to so much effort to limit consumable costs for raiding in the previous expansion, especially since a second profession that uses herbs will almost certainly raise the price of alchemy potions/elixirs/etc.
Bottom Line: Is Inscription good for the game?
I didn’t really see a role that absolutely had to be filled for another primary profession when Wrath was announced, and I don’t see one now that the system is live. This type of customization could have been done within the existing talent point system, or perhaps as a fourth, parallel tab. It also might have worked as a secondary profession, such that every character gets the ability to glyph their own personal spellbook.
Instead, the glyph system feels like Blizzard made the decision that they wanted another profession for time and cash sink purposes. They went from there to figure out how to force players to buy the new profession’s products, much as they did with Jewelcrafting two years ago. The price tag should not be as steep as cut gems (the materials are easier to obtain, though there are many more products and it may be hard to find any but the most popular for convenient sale in the AH), but, either way, it feels like we’re being asked to pay even more to get our gear, and now skills, up to par.
Overall, I can’t give this profession a positive review as something that I’m glad they’re adding to the game. I will probably take the profession anyway on one of my alts simply because I have so many of them. Even so, the profession never really shakes the perception of being yet another cash sink in my book.