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.
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?
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?
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.
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.