Tuesday, August 4, 2009

World of Weak-Mob-Craft?

One of the highlights of WoW's PTR testing happens when Blizzard rolls out "premades", level capped characters in high end gear of any class the player wants. It's been over a year (and an expansion) since the last time I messed around with premades, so I figured that the last night of the patch 3.2 PTR's would be a good time to see what I've been missing.

Enhancement Shaman
First, I pulled up a Shaman premade and made my best guess at speccing enhancement. I'm actually not all that sure what Shamen want when it comes to gems (all the premades came with maxxed Jewelcrafting and a sack full of uncut gems) or other gear, so I had to guess. After reading some tooltips, I decided that Blizzard wants me to solo by putting Windfury on my main hand, Flametongue on my offhand, spamming Stormstrike and Lava Lash as often as they were available, and using Earth Shock and instant cast Lightning Bolts (procs-permitting) to take advantage of the nature damage boost off of Stormstrike.

So, I flew out of the city with minimally constructed hotbars, poorly enhanced gear, and no real idea how to play the class. And I pulled some mobs. When I say "some", I mean I found a buggy spot where a seemingly indefinite number of Nerubians respawned to attack me immediately after I killed them, probably due to a phasing issue for not having completed some of the quests in Icecrown. This might seem to be a problem, given that I didn't really know what I was doing. The only thing is, my Earth Shock was critting for something insane like 7K and my other attacks were also posting 3K+ numbers. I didn't really seem to be running out of mana or health (with the occasional stop to heal). Mobs kept coming and I kept killing em, until I got bored and used my instant cast ghost wolf to high tail it out of there.

Is Enhancement way better than it was when I dismissed it as a concept because I can't be arsed to use Totems?

Elemental Shaman
As long as I was signed onto a Shaman, I figured I might as well use the second spec slot to go elemental. I made a few mistakes allocating talent points because I didn't know what the spells were called, and decided that the pre-made had raid quality gear, so going WITHOUT socketing the gems (which would have taken a while anyway) would give me a better idea of how the class would handle in pre-raid but properly socketed items.

My best guesses were for a strategy were Flametongue on my main hand, Totems of Wrath and Wrath of Air (which I love dearly on my mage), use the Flame Shock -> Lava Burst combo, and rely on Lightning Bolts (70% pushback reduction) to finish off any stragglers.

I pulled my first undead... and the mob went down in three hits. Basically all of the mobs go down in three hits, because Lava Burst is a guaranteed crit with Flame Shock on, and crits for something like 70% of a level 80 non-elite mob's health. In fairness, my mage can take down a mob in 3-4 hits. On the other hand, the mage wears cloth armor (no shield) and can't heal. Is it just that Shammies in general are overpowered?

Destruction Warlock
Demonolgy bores me, since having a pet to tank is like being a mage without any of the actual risk of dying. So, I tried a improvised Destruction build, using the fire spell combo (Immolate -> Incinerate -> Conflagrate) with a talent-improved imp and no tank. I put a variety of other spells on my hotbars (Chaos Bolt, Shadowburn), but stuff died quickly enough that it wasn't really worth straying that far from fire.

Affliction Warlock
These guys seem to have gotten even more tools since the last time I tried one - Corruption got the Siphon Life debuff as a passive bonus, and Haunt adds even more life draining to a DOT toolbox that includes Corruption, Unstable Affliction, Curse of Agony, and Drain Life. I was pretty sure this build was going to make non-elite mobs a joke, so I started pulling those giant undead elites with 40K health and drain tanking them with a Succubus up. This had largely the desired effect, of slower, more measured fight length (in part because of reliance on more DOTs) without becoming so tough that I felt like I was burning all my cooldowns to avoid being pancaked at any moment. I guess I should have tried rounding up more than one to see whether there would come a point where it would be unsustainable.

Hm, maybe the problem is just that Ulduar-quality raid loot puts characters way over the heads of outdoor content?

Greenhammer, level 70 Ret Pally
I'm too embarassed to link Greenhammer's armory profile - he wasn't actually Ret during the TBC era, and some of his gear choices are, shall we say, less than ideal because that wasn't the gear he was actually wearing. My pally is wearing an odd mishmash of green quest rewards (including a green weapon from the first quest in Northrend), PVP gear, rep items, and three pieces of the Scourge Invasion set.

I didn't feel like signing onto another character to buy the cold weather flying tome, so I decided to test the Pally out on the level 68 undead outside Valiance Keep. This isn't precisely a fair fight, as Greenhammer is level 70, has reasonably good gear for the level, and bonuses against the undead. Still, I wasn't expecting a rout. I was cutting down mobs so quickly that I had to hold back to keep the mobs alive for the 8 seconds needed to cast a second judgement (for mana regen purposes).

What's up with wimpy mobs?
Part of my perceptions here are colored by having spent a lot more time in EQ2 than WoW of late. EQ2 combat is balanced to take longer per mob than WoW's is, and that only makes it more startling when I start 3-shotting mobs on classes that wear heavy armor and can heal themselves. Gear is clearly another part of the problem, as Blizzard has now reset gear tiers so many times that outdoor non-elite mobs simply cannot keep up.

Still, I can't help feeling like something is wrong with the picture beyond the gear inflation. My Paladin, the character I once abandoned back in 2005 because it was taking me 30-60 seconds per mob, is mowing down enemies in 8 seconds flat, and would still be doing so in 10 seconds if I was working with less impressive gear.

Mob HP's have approximately doubled between level 70 and level 80, but player DPS has more than doubled over the same time - indeed, the Pally now does way more damage at level 70 than he did at level 70 in TBC because of the revamped Ret spec. Even the learning curve for classes that I've barely ever played wasn't enough to keep me from getting to the point where I could breeze through daily quests after maybe five minutes of talent and hotbar setup.

Time to Buff The Mobs?
Personally, I don't think I'd complain if every single outdoor mob in Northrend abruptly doubled in HP. When my mage visits Wintergrasp, I actually prefer to kill the giant elementals rather than the regular ones, simply because they have 2.5x the HP and actually live long enough to feel like a fight.

In practical terms, though, we're not likely to see that kind of increase in the next expansion because it creates a real speed bump for future alts and new players. SOE tried a dramatic increase in mob difficulty for the Kunark expansion, to tune level 70 solo mobs against players who had geared up when level 70 was the cap. The result is a very difficult transition for anyone who is arriving late to the party.

Instead, though, I'm starting to worry that the quest-based MMORPG is going down the road that drove me away from single player games, where the only reward for playing the game and min-maxing well is an easier, and thus less interesting game. Part of the appeal of the open world MMORPG for me is that I have relative freedom to seek out content with the level of challenge I'm after by aiming a few levels above or below my head. (Indeed, my rogue does a fair number of orange-conned quests for precisely that reason.) That isn't going to do much good if the level capped mobs are easy in the gear you'll have when you get there, and trivial in what you can be wearing a few months later.


Whats my main again? said...

Maybe it all has to do with perspective. My shaman happens to be in ulduar gear... and I don't even bother with setting up a lava burst crit since most things die in 2 lightning bolt casts... but thats my job. My shaman is a pure dps class and is used to going up against bosses with millions of hps.

The otherside of the coin is healers and tanks. Leveling my priest... things didn't die in 3 casts, and as a tank, unless you are aoeing stuff 1v1 combat is slow and tedius. My paladin tank is nigh invinsible when it comes to non elites.... I regularly pull 20+ mobs only to come out at full health and mana. My warrior can pull the same amount... and I barely live to tell about it.

My point is though you can't raise the hps of mobs just because dps kills them quickly. Take the same shaman and spec resto and then see if you think raising the hps is a good idea.

As a side note I agree about killing the tougher mobs in wintergrasp and I also like seeing what elites in icecrown I can solo.

Also I can tell you that if my shaman wasn't keeping up in dps to mages... because I could heal... that I wouldn't have a raid spot.

Green Armadillo said...

I will concede that I wrote my post thinking that the group dedicated specs would be using their second spec slot for a DPS spec. Are there really two Resto Shaman specs that are so different that a raid healer needs to use both of their spec slots for healing? Even if so, wouldn't a raider with that much dedication have so much gear that they could overwhelm mobs while healing specced?

In any case, my reasoning in that regard doesn't hold for Pallies and Druids who choose to use their two slots on tanking and healing, or for healers who decide they should run separate heal specs for PVP and raiding (neither one of which is viable for soloing).

The hybrid DPS issue has been done to death (including here on this blog). Also, it's possible that the Ulduar premade outgeared my primarily non-raiding mage even with all of her gem sockets empty (though you would think that my lack of experience would outweigh any such advantage). I'm just saying that, when soloing, being able to take hits on the chin thanks to better armor, pushback resist, and self heals seems like a more useful strategy than trying to kite.

Anonymous said...

Blizzard has the player dps : mob hp ratio set up this way on purpose. It gives players the special or heroic feeling when they can plow through normal mobs like butter or take lots on at once.

There are always elite and group quest mobs around if players really want to challenge themselves to a difficult open world PvE fight.

The high dps and short fights helps give the combat a more high action energetic pace. If you were to double or triple mob HP while doing the same for the XP rewarded per kill (so that the leveling pace is exactly the same) people would still tend to find the combat more sluggish and tedious.

This is often the reaction many people have when they try other MMO's after playing WoW if the dps to mob HP ratio is noticeably lower, and they will often consider it a negative aspect of the MMO in question instead of a positive like you consider it to be.

It may not seem like a huge sticking point at first but how you design that dps to hp ratio can have a major impact on your players view the combat/grind both conciously and subconciously.

Whats my main again? said...

Ah but you are going on the assumption that everyone has dual specs. While 1k gold is nothing to spend on a main character I have 6 level 80's and only 2 of them have dual spec.

My paladin is always a tank and my priest is always a healer. My shaman is actually elemental/enhance atm.

You are right that there isn't much need for 2 resto shaman specs, unless one is for pvp, but priests have 2 very distinct and different healing trees. If I ever got dual spec on my priest my other build would be holy because it increases my viability as a healer.

ZacharyPruckowski said...

With the spell-damage/healing unification into spellpower, I can still put up decent numbers while resto-specced.

I'd like to see some middle ground between even-con mobs and "holy crap, can't handle an elite". The WG Revenants do that decently, but a lot of the time I feel like that divide is too large in most of the world.

Green Armadillo said...

@Anon: The leveling pace is indeed a very game specific decision. EQ2's non-heroics are tougher to leave a bit more room for grouping, while Warhammer's mobs aren't more dangerous but take longer to kill because the PVE game was designed to work around the reduced-insta-gib RVR game. The reason why I've stopped regarding WoW's pace as a good thing is because 2-shotting mobs is not very intellectually interesting. Push button, wait 2 seconds, push button again, loot. Perhaps they're balancing the kill time around the damage output of tanks and healers these days.

@What's My Main: I haven't paid for dual spec on any of my alts for largely the same reasons as you - my alts are really only used for solo leveling. My mage occasionally groups, and therefore has a fire spec for situations where I don't want to be embarassed on the damage meters. I certainly could solo on that spec, but it feels like, well, an Elemental Shammy with worse armor and no heals, leading to lots of time spent eating and bandaging.

My point is that dual spec is, by design, something that you invest in if you feel you need to because your current main spec does not fill all of your needs. With half a dozen 80's at your disposal, you don't NEED versatility on one character because you can swap in another. If you're only doing group content, it doesn't matter that your character isn't specced to solo, and, by contrast, you might feel differently about that priest if you didn't have more solo-friendly alternatives for your farming needs.

@Zachary: I agree - on my mage, there's very little middle ground. Either something can be frozen and torn to pieces by a frost mage, or it's immune to snares/roots and basically impossible to solo.

EQ2 handles this by labeling mobs with both a level and a degree of difficulty. A mob with three up arrows (^^^) is the equivalent of a WoW elite, while one or two up arrows might be more manageable. The system also allows for solo pulls of larger groups of weaker minions, significed with down arrows.

Dorgol said...

I think we are seeing some of this being addressed with things like the tournament jousting.

You have the easy Valient Jousting, the hard Champion Jousting, and the "group" Commander Jousting. The problem is that some people don't like jousting (or any vehicle content).

Also consider that what's challenging for one DPS is a joke for another DPS class. A single hardhitting mob that's immune to snares would be a royal pain in the ass for a Mage. That same mob could be easily pet-tanked and killed by a Warlock. On the other hand, a group of 5 mobs that all hit really hard and are immune to fears could be AOE killed by the frost mage whlie the Warlock and his pet goes splat.

So it isn't as simple as increasing HPs.

Jacob said...

I'm not fond of the weak outdoor mobs. They're too weak.

In Burning Crusade, fights lasted long enough to let you become a little interested in the combat. Maybe 15 seconds, if you were a DPS character.

In Wrath of the Lich King, fights end in three or four button pushes. 1-2-3... next! 1-2-3... next! It's so fast that combat becomes completely shallow, and uninteresting.

I would love to see double mob health.

I disagree with the suggestion that weak mobs make it more enjoyable for healers to level. I leveled my shaman to 80 in Restoration spec, and can say that my enjoyment suffered because I was able to see other people tearing through mobs thee times faster than I could. I wasn't measuring how long it takes me to kill a particular mob. I was comparing myself to other players, and being frustrated at the difference.

What's My Main Again? said...

@Dorgal The issue with vehicle combat is that some people can't do it. Some people level to 80 never doing more then 400 dps. My wife struggles doing even the valiant fights but does great on her warlock.

Whereas I'm soloing Chillmaw and the commanders...

@Jacob even during the Burning Crusade era my druid still burned through mobs in 4-5 seconds. Not too much has changed on that end.


Blizzard has to balance the game around the worst case scenario. While I would love the option to be able to pick the difficulty of fights based on my character... to balance around my abilities or class could make the game impossible for others.

With WotLK I was able to level my priest as disc from 70-80 but earlier levels then that I would run into problems fighting mobs.

Maybe the solution would be to create an Elite Zone. A zone where all the mobs are 3 levels higher then the max level and health scales with the current dungeon releases. Soloing here would be very difficult but not impossible (unless you are a healer).

Would be cool to form groups to take on zone mobs similar to some of the Old world zones with the high level demons.

Pangoria Fallstar said...

I wish I could find you the quote, but WoW combat was designed in direct opposition to EQ combat. Where EQ and many other MMOs were doing minute long combat per mob, and 30 minute bosses, WoW wanted mobs to die in under a minute, and bosses under 3 minutes.

Now of course we have bosses that take longer now, but overall in WoW we've never had to deal with a 19 hour boss.

Dorgol said...

@What's my main: It doesn't matter what someone's DPS is in vehicles, though. Vehicles put everyone on the same level (or did before 3.2 scaled them with gear).

I do like the idea of an "elite" zone, though. The problem is finding an incentive to get players there.

More resource nodes ala Wintergrasp? Doesn't work for non-gatherers.
Easier reputation farming? Useless once you are exalted.
Better gold / drops? Might work, but I (and indeed, most players) never kill anything JUST to farm for gold.

One of my favorite outdoor zones was the troll zigurat in Hinterlands. Back when all the mobs were elite, they were perfectly balanced for a level 60 player. Combat lasted long enough to be interesting, pulling one rarely put me in danger (from the POV of my warrior), pulling a group could easily result in death. And at the top was a mini-boss who was a real challenge to kill.

Something like that would be fantastic.

Delbin said...

Shaman have always had an easy time with non-elites. This was even back when we were using two-handers and had one useful damage spell. The bursty nature of our DPS means the mob gets wiped out in a single windfury-shock combo, so you don't notice the DPS drop when you're waiting for stormstrike or windfury to come off cooldown.

The playing field is more equal in raids. A 6K crit doesn't mean much when 20 million health is involved. The bursts of big numbers are compensated by the valleys of waiting for ability cooldowns or the next windfury. We don't spam nukes like casters do. We have support skills that sometimes hit for big (stormstrike and lava lash,) but are usually just there to proc windfury and maelstrom.

Right now my DPS is competitive, but hardly overpowered. Our DK was piss-drunk one day and still beat me even though he was doing 1500 less DPS than usual. I haven't grouped with him since the patch, though, so I'm not sure how things have been balanced.

Whats my main again? said...

@ Dorgol

I think you answered your own question about the elite zone. The incentive is simply the challenge. Just like the world elites (typically outside of instances) that used to be scattered everywhere... the incentive is just because you can.

Sure you could add extra incentives if you like, maybe some dailies or rare resources. Personally I stop and kill elites in icecrown just to see if I can.

Of course this kind of situation is impossible for a healer to do solo.

I get what you were saying about the vehicles now... but still having to rely on vehicles to equalize difficulty between classes doesn't feel like a good alternative. After all I rolled a [insert class here] not a turret.

Khrys said...

>My Paladin, the character I once abandoned back in 2005 because it was taking me 30-60 seconds per mob, is mowing down enemies in 8 seconds flat, and would still be doing so in 10 seconds if I was working with less impressive gear.

I've got no stats to prove my next remarks but here they are regardless:
Click games have a broader audience and so WoW is catering to click-gamers.

This attempt to broaden their subscription pool by making it more arcade-style seems successful not only by the increased accounts from 4 mil to 11 mil over three years but also by the fact that the Bejeweled and Peggle add-ons are monster hits with WoW players. Even during a 3-min flight you can continue to click-click-click!

If Diablo III were to bother putting out bi-annual expansion packs/patch content along with a subscription fee it could contend with the coveted title of "WoW-killer".

If we continue to kill faster and eventually reach a one-shot playstyle, is WoW still technically an MMORPG? Or does it then become the world's most successful version of a fantasy-themed first-person shooter?