Where the view is always better.

Cataclysm

Personal Progression Review and Preview

As I have said before, Cataclysm is the first expansion where I have been able to complete PvE content in its entirety from start to finish. Today I found out that on both WoW Heroes and WoWProgress, I have the highest gearscore of Alliance hunters on Eredar. Moreover, I am tied for third overall in the server and am the only Alliance hunter in the top 10.

Those of you who have heard of Eredar may know it because of our local celebrity Lore of Tankspot. Eredar is a PvP realm and leans favorably toward the Horde, especially in endgame content. While the Alliance has had its fair share of successes and has its own healthy progression, we sometimes bang our heads hopelessly against the Horde that outnumber us in every zone and Tol Barad battle.

Although Eredar is one of the oldest realms, having been available since launch, the number of players active over the past few weeks have dwindled. Some may return for the first few months of Mists, but one can feel that the Alliance raiding scene has always featured the usual people and their alternate characters.

I had previously contemplated a transfer to a more active realm, but I have some attachments to Eredar, especially because it’s where I started playing with my friends who are no longer subscribed to the game. Sometimes I still hope that they will someday return, but it has been years since they have logged into the game.

Admittedly, I can also a bit of an elitist. (I think it comes with the fact that as bloggers we sometimes feel special and have some level of authority.) I don’t deny that seeing myself at the top of rankings excites me as an achiever, and I wouldn’t necessarily be able to achieve the same level of success with another guild in a different realm.

I started this blog as a way to chronicle my own journey in the game. As I looked back on my older entries from the Burning Crusade era, I am sometimes surprised at how my view of the game’s content has changed. I think part of the reason is that I no longer have many friends I would consider close who are still playing the game. What has been driving me in the past few months has been the desire to finish what I started in this raiding tier. It satisfied me to say at the end of our last Dragon Soul on Friday that we have finished Cataclysm.

That’s why I hope tonight launch of Mists will return me to that feeling of a child’s curiosity and distract me from doubts on the state of my own progression. Mogu’Shan Vaults opens on October 2, and the earliest my guild can raid will be October 5. I don’t know at this point whether I will be raid ready by then, but I want to believe that new content will reinvigorate my gameplay.

It’s time to shed the old hesitations and push forward to greener grass.


Hunters at the End of Cataclysm

Patch 5.0.4 information is everywhere, and it’s nearly impossible to include everything, so I will point you to Battle.net and MMO-Champion for a top-down view.

We have a month between patch 5.0.4 and Mists of Pandaria to analyze the effects of the new changes. I have never been an expert in analyzing things forward, so I will analyze what has already happened. How has Cataclysm been for hunters?

RaidBots began collecting combat log data since the last days of patch 4.0.6. Unfortunately, we don’t have much perspective from the early days of Cataclysm, but this will suffice.

From the data it collected, it is clear that Marksmanship dominated the combat logs for the majority of Cataclysm. It is also not a surprise for us now that Survival has been the dominant build on the raiding scene since Dragon Soul opened. What is surprising to me is how wide the DPS gap has become over the patches.

Balance is an abstract concept, but other patterns can point us to reasons why it is so hard to achieve. In an true environment of balanced talent builds, any hunter is free to choose his or her own build without impairing the ability to play the game. But what if that game is raiding? Then clearly a DPS gap indicates that the talent builds are in no way balanced. Moreover, a widening gap over a period of changes indicates that all attempts to balance the field have failed.

Patch 4.2 was seen as the nail on the coffin for Beast Mastery. It made the build’s viability in raiding worse, and Beast Masters began thinking they have really been neglected. Their nominal DPS did not reach the patch 4.1 peak until it had passed the middle of 4.2. Marksmen and Survivalists continued their steady upward climb.

I spoke about Survival’s silent comeback in patch 4.3 some time ago. It is obvious now that the comeback is not so silent. Survivalists came back with such a vengeance that the maximum hunter DPS was pushed higher until it reached a plateau of about 53,000. This is a 47 percent increase over the peak DPS in patch 4.2. No one would have foreseen in December.

Marksmen, on the other hand, suffered terribly. Their numbers dwindled, and hunters began switching their talent builds to Survival in droves. In the end, their final nominal DPS was only slightly higher than the patch 4.1 peak.

The surprise here is Beast Mastery. I had seen a small yet persistent group of Beast Mastery hunters continue with their talent build. They have continued against the odds and eventually overcame Marksmanship hunters in nominal DPS. The question, then, is what kept Beast Masters interested in their build that the Marksmen did not have in theirs?

Back in November, I pointed to a blue post on the official forums which should have indicated that the three talent builds are balanced. The story of the past nine months, however, have indicated otherwise. Assuming that Blizzard was correct, what changed the mathematics?

The answer should be player behavior. For reasons which I have yet to see articulated, hunters shunned the two talent builds which are not the top to a greater degree in patch 4.3. The fact that nominal DPS continued to rise steadily through patch 4.2 meant the ratio of players for each talent build and the rate at which they gained new gear remained constant. This status quo was thrown away when patch 4.3 arrived, and I have yet to rationalize how and why this happened.

We can assume that Blizzard already has this data because it constantly monitors players’ progress in the game. They may already have the answer to this puzzle, and if they do, I hope they will attempt to prevent this from repeating in Mists of Pandaria.


Dawn of Twilight

Patch 4.3 arrives. It has been 22 weeks since our last content update, and 51 weeks (almost one year) since the release of Cataclysm. This is the mother of all patches because:

Our intent is to start acting even more on our Mists of Pandaria philosophies of encouraging players to approach the content they want to, how they want to, and be able to work toward meaningful player progression.

That statement is a side commentary that accompanied yesterday’s announcement about Conquest point reward changes. All the changes in 4.3 are pointing toward the envisioned gaming philosophy for the next expansion.

Changes for hunters primarily come from buffing the Beast Mastery and Survival talent trees. It appears that the changes to Focus Fire and T.N.T. never made it to the official patch notes that was posted before the entire Battle.net site went down for maintenance. For now, I will mark them as undocumented until they have been confirmed in-game.

Beast Mastery

  • Animal Handler now increases Attack Power by 30%, up from 25%.
  • Focus Fire now lasts 20 sec, up from 15 sec. (Undocumented)
  • Widow Venom now reduces the target’s healing received by 25%, up from 10%.

Survival

  • Explosive Shot damage has been increased by 15%.
  • T.N.T. now has a 10/20% chance to proc, up from 6/12%. (Undocumented)

Pets

  • Burrow Attack (Worm ability) now does approximately 20% more damage, and has an increased area of effect.
  • Froststorm Breath (Chimera ability) now does approximately 20% more damage, and has an increased area of effect.
  • Monstrous Bite (Devilsaur ability) now reduces the target’s healing received by 25%, up from 10%.

Although there were no changes planned for Marksmanship (which indicates just how strong the tree is already), there is a puzzling change that affected Marksmanship’s Trueshot Aura buff. Results are still inconclusive as to how this affects the DPS balance between hunters and other melee classes.

All raid and party buffs which grant group members 10% increased attack power have been changed slightly. They continue to provide 10% increased ranged attack power, but now provide 20% increased melee attack power.

  • Trueshot Aura: The melee attack power bonus from this raid buff has been increased to 20%, up from 10%. The ranged attack power bonus remains 10%.

If you are part of a progression raiding guild, it’s time to dust off that guild standard because it’s gotten a bit more useful.

Guild Standards are again useable in Firelands. Duration has been increased to 15 minutes, the effect has a 100 yard radius, and now affects dead players.

For the rest of the patch notes, visit the Battle.net blog entry.

What is the first thing on your to-do list when the realms go live? I’m going to transmogrify my ranged weapon to the classic [Sunfury Bow of the Phoenix].


Cataclysm Ranged Weapons: Review and Preview

This morning’s update on MMO-Champion included the latest addition of weapons added to the Firelands loot, which includes an epic 384-item-level bow. This means tier 12 content will see one of each type of ranged weapon being added. However, that doesn’t actually change the balance of ranged weapons currently in place in Cataclysm.

Let’s take a look at all ranged weapons with item level 333 and above. Notice also that we have a throat needler, a chicken splitter, and a hole puncher. What silly name will the developers come up with next?

Bows

Bows are the most abundant ranged weapon in Cataclysm, with almost as many bows as there are crossbows and guns combined. Many players seeking to enter heroic dungeons start out with a bow. Soon, the new Zul’Gurub bow will replace the varying 346-item-level weapons as the new standard for entering raids. Don’t we have too many bows already? Moreover, Arathar will be the new best-in-slot weapon for tier 12 raiding.

Crossbows

So far, crossbows remain limited in this expansion, with only three weapons on live and one in development. They are also more difficult to obtain for the casual player because one cannot simply enter heroic dungeons daily for that drop. The three crossbows listed here are created by engineering, bought with Tol Barad Commendations, and drops from a raid boss. Granted, Dragonheart Piercer is a best-in-slot item for tier 11 raids, but that’s only a single crossbow.

Guns

While it is true that no epic level gun has yet appeared in game, guns are actually just about as rare as crossbows in Cataclysm, with only three available on live and one in development. At the very least, one can easily enter Vortex Pinnacle every day to get a decent gun, unlike crossbows. As much we like the addition of the new gun in the 4.2, we’ve also come to realize that it is only the new superior level weapon and doesn’t compare to anything that drops in Firelands.

Scopes

It has been pointed out that [Flintlocke's Woodchucker] is an homage to a series of webcomic strips from 2008 that make up Episode 7 of Flintlocke’s Guide to Azeroth. It explains why not many people understand the reference because the golden days of WoW webcomics and blogging have ended. If you would like to compare how the new scope holds out against the [Gnomish X-Ray Scope], head over to Rapid Fire to see the mathematical comparison.


Patch 4.1.0: 20 Weeks Post-Cataclysm

Patch 4.1 hits live servers exactly 20 weeks after Cataclysm was released in Europe and North America. Because this patch has been in the Public Test Realms for quite some time now, sometimes even I forget that all of these changes are coming out today.

Overall, very few changes are being made to hunters’ offensive abilities, which gives us an indication that Blizzard probably feels the three talent trees are now pretty well balanced.

  • Multi-Shot damage has been increased by 250%. Although this change, which gives us better area damage capabilities for Marksmanship and Beast Mastery, sounds very aggressive, it actually isn’t. Multi-Shot currently deals 55 percent weapon damage. When increased by 250 percent, Multi-Shot will deal 138 percent weapon damage.
  • Distracting Shot and Multi-Shot are now properly 40-yard range. As I’ve mentioned before, this change closes an era of hunters having a 35-yard maximum range, which means the title of this blog is now obsolete.

Perhaps the biggest changes for hunters this patch comes from changes to the pet system.

  • The Happiness/Pet Loyalty System has been removed. Hunters will no longer have to manage Happiness for their pets, and the previous damage bonus for pets being happy will now be baseline for all tamed pets. Sometimes I wonder why this change was not introduced when Cataclysm was originally released. The happiness and loyalty system is a relic of the original game when pets with low happiness and low loyalty would leave your side. Why did Blizzard wait 20 additional weeks?
  • Tame Beast now tames pets to match the hunter’s level, rather than 3 levels below. I can also confirm through the Public Test Realm that tamed beasts that are below your hunter’s level will match the appropriate level when they are summoned again. I still remember the days after the Grimtotem Spirit Guide was discovered as tameable in Burning Crusade, and many hunters were bringing their level 30 spirit wolves into heroics to level them fast.
  • Summoned pets now start with 100 focus, up from 0. I have not tested this, but this is supposedly a solution to the problem of pets instantly dying if you are dismounted when being chased by a loose mob.

Auto Shot, which has cause a whole slew of problems after it became useable in motion, saw the bulk of bug fixes for hunters.

  • Hunters will no longer automatically acquire a new target if the current target dies in the middle of a cast. Note that this note itself has been fixed since the previous version failed to include the negation “no longer”, which caused a lot of confusion.
  • Aimed Shot and Steady Shot should no longer start casting Auto Shot on a new target when the “Stop Auto Attack” option enabled.
  • Auto Shot now automatically turns off until reactivated once Freezing Trap is cast on an enemy player.
  • Scatter Shot’s disorient effect should no longer sometimes be broken by the hunter’s Auto Shot.

We’ve come a long way since December, but still not everything is perfect. We’ve now taken for granted how to manage focus through rigorous shot rotations. We’ve also learned to bring out the inner collector in us and fill our stables with beasts we’ve come to love. There is, however, one curious item left over from the 4.0.1 patch notes:

  • The Stable will now store 20 pets. If a pet is moved into the Stable, its talents are wiped. As far as I know, the second half of this note was never implemented, which makes for a curious question as to why this is the case and why there has been no mention of it.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that all these changes will have a tremendous impact on how we play the hunter class. Gavendo has surveyed how hunters have changed since beta yet believes that all the original tenets of the class still remains. With time, we will take all these changes for granted, whether for better or for worse.

Have these 20 weeks changed how you approached playing your hunter?


Fire, Iron, and the Red Shirt

Dwarven Gryphon Rider

Posting on a weekend is something I usually never do. Posting about lore is also something I usually never do. Today, however, is not a usual day.

Dwarven lore is, in my opinion, the most interesting component of the story of Warcraft. Last night’s release of the short story “Fire and Iron” by Matt Burns reinforced my view. This was the story I had most looked forward to out of all the faction leader short stories, and it didn’t disappoint me. If you have not read it yet and would not like to be spoiled, I’d recommend you not read further.

Spoilers don’t concern me.→


Losing Steam in Cataclysm

It’s been the talk of Blog Azeroth for almost a month now. Cataclysm has been out for just over 3 months, and current content has essentially been cleared with last weekend’s world first achievement of Glory of the Cataclysm Raider.

Janyaa sought inspiration about continuing her progress in Cataclysm, and, earlier today, Peashooter felt the diminishing flair of the expansion. I also wouldn’t be surprised if all the pomp about Rift is partially caused by what we are observing. To be frank, Cataclysm is simply losing steam. The question, then, is why?

Those who are knowledgeable with the technology industry are familiar with the “diffusion of innovation”, also known as the s-curve. The concept behind it is simple:

When the World of Warcraft blogging community and Blog Azeroth first manifested themselves, the game was at the height of the Burning Crusade expansion. You could say that this community from which you read daily was conceived around the time when the rate of adoption of the game was at its highest. One could also boldly speculate that the blogging community started the game’s golden period, and with the loss of a significant portion of its writers during Wrath, so did the game’s attractiveness.

What is the primary difference between Cataclysm and Burning Crusade? I would have to say attunements. In the first expansion, it took longer to finish content when you reach the level cap of 70. One had to work to buy heroic dungeon keys from their associated reputation factions. Some keys required more effort to get than others. To enter Karazhan, the first tier Burning Crusade raid, a quest chain takes you around the world unlocking the secrets of Medivh’s legacy. Before attunements were lifted several months prior to the release of Wrath, there was still a sheer portion of players who did not progress past the first raiding tier. Players had to determine with how they spent their time, and creativity flourished.

Although Wrath also did away with most of attunement processes, elements of it remained. The clear difference is that we knew who the enemies were in that expansion. Arthas would be an eventual encounter in the minds of all players from the moment we stepped into Naxxramas. Clues were left behind in every step of the way, and the Lich King even made personal appearances in quests and dungeons. This is not the case with Cataclysm. Despite seeing Deathwing in several quests, we are still left with little clues as to what exactly he is planning.

This is compounded with the lack of quests marked “Raid” that would properly lead into the entry-level raiding encounters. Al’akir and Cho’gall were mentioned several times during questing in Uldum and Twilight Highlands. However, there are no proper lead-ins into either the Throne of Four Winds or the Bastion of Twilight. Don’t even get me started with Blackwing Descent.

Of course, the game is not all about moving into raiding content. What we have lost is far more than just attunements. We lost the ability to appreciate new content because they have been spoon-fed to us instead of being required to discover them for ourselves. Imagine not being amazed at Fel Reavers walking around Hellfire Peninsula two seconds before being stomped by them. Imagine not experiencing the boat trip into Valgarde at Howling Fjord and staring at the hanging burning ship above. That is the inspiration we lost in Cataclysm.

And if that’s not enough to make you think about what we lost in Cataclysm, take this from the perspective of hunters who flourished in the time of Burning Crusade.


Stifling Progression or Sustaining Progress?

Within the first week of Cataclysm‘s release, bloggers and podcasters alike have been raising a topic that no one would have seen coming in the days of Burning Crusade and vanilla. It seems Blizzard now has a tendency to put a cap on one’s ability to move forward within the game, whether it be high-end dungeons or guild leveling.

Larísa at The Pink Pigtail Inn raised the issue of using Item Level to prevent players from entering high-end dungeons. I first noticed this when I hit level 80 on the hunter and yet was not able to use Random Dungeon to enter the Icecrown Citadel 5-man dungeons because my average Item Level was too low. While I understand Blizzard is using this to control the number of undergeared players from ruining others’ experience in high-end content, I believe the absolute Item Level threshold is somewhat unreasonable. A player’s skill cannot be judged by the Item Level he or she wears. An undergeared player may also have the most to gain from the rewards of these dungeons.

At the most recent All Things Azeroth podcast, Shade revisited the method of “gating” to one’s progression in dungeons and equated this to the current system of guild leveling and guild reputation. She estimated that for the most active guilds, players would reach exalted status at the same time that their guilds reach level 25, which amounts to over 4 months. Before we knew it, we were playing on Blizzard’s schedule instead of our own schedule.

One could speculate two ways as to why this is occurring. The first is that Blizzard wants to ensure that players go through as much content as possible before progressing instead of skipping around, giving way to content linearity. The second is that Blizzard is trying to sustain its player base instead of seeing people finishing as much content as possible in the least time possible, especially for those players who are accustomed to the becoming the “world firsts”, and then moving on to a different game. This is very possible in light of revelations that the subscriber base during Wrath never really moved much from the 11.5 million mark. New players roughly equaled outgoing players in the 25-month period of that expansion. I could even see this in the mass exodus of bloggers who had started writing in late 2008 only to quit the game by middle of the following year. Only on the eve of Cataclysm did the number finally break 12 million.

We may never know what is Blizzard’s true intention, but it is likely that these changes are here to stay until a newer system can take its place. Whether it is for better or for worse we have yet to find out.

Oh, and if you have not heard, Marksmanship has been dethroned; Survival is king now. We’ll talk hunters more another time.


New Old Adventures

It’s been almost 2 weeks since I started playing again. Loronar is now a level 80 hunter (because I have not bought Cataclysm yet). I am planning to delay buying the new expansion until I can finish exploring Northrend content up to at least Sholazar Basin. While finishing Grizzly Hills and starting Zul’Drak, it made me realize how nice it feels to quest without everyone else running around like when Wrath first came out. Unfortunately it’s hard to find anyone to do group quests anymore. I’m guessing it will be nicer when I finally move on to level 85 without everyone competing for the same quests as well.

In any case, I’ve managed to get all my secondary professions (including fishing) up to 450. It’s also nice to finally see some changes in the game, including the Cenarion War Hippogryph mount getting a walking animation.

Dalaran fishing pool

Late night fishing in Dalaran with some great company

Cenarion War Hippogryph in Dalaran

Mount of choice: Cenarion War Hippogryph

My new project, however, has been an experiment in healing. I rolled a Tauren shaman on a new server and am only leveling him through dungeons. This way, I get to have a jump start on learning how to heal in groups. It’s been a very positive experience, and tanks seem to be happy with my performance since I got some praises after some tight situations. I’m also well on my way to getting the Classic Dungeonmaster achievement.

Hello, Shadowforge City. I've only seen you in screenshots.

Can I say I am an awesome Alterac Valley healer?

Finally, it appears Horde trade chat has its own fun as well.


Revisiting Aspect of the Hawk

Aspect of the HawkI’m sure you are all aware by now that Aspect of the Hawk is returning to the game in place of Aspect of the Dragonhawk. (I wasn’t until yesterday.) For those who regularly followed my blog in 2008, you will understand why I’m interested in this after my now-obsolete research on Ranged Attack Power (RAP) scaling in Dragonhawk.

I tried searching for new statistics on the RAP bonus on the redesigned Hawk (as much as I could without actually having reactivated my account and playing the new patch). However, I found more questions than answers. Some may be more obvious than others to readers, but I could not find an answer at the time of writing. If anyone can answer these or point out something I missed, I would be very grateful.

  • Wowhead now displays Aspect of the Hawk with a sliding bar that lets visitors see the RAP bonus according to the level of the player, which caught me dumbfounded: How is the training of Hawk conducted with Cataclysm? The sliding bar indicates that RAP changes mostly every other level up to level 60 and every level from 61. Does that mean Hawk is retrained every 1 or 2 levels, which is different from the system of every 10 levels pre-Cataclysm?
  • Assuming that the current live version of the game is correct, why has the RAP bonus of Hawk (previously Dragonhawk) for level 80 been reduced from 300 to 180? I saw nothing in the patch notes mentioning this change, and by my calculation, the rate of increase of the RAP bonus in Wrath has been reduced by nearly one-half (from 11.7 RAP per level to 5.7 RAP per level) because of this.

I mentioned in my previous research that in Wrath, linear progression of RAP bonus increased by more than two-fold with each expansion. Cataclysm, on the other hand, increases the progression by more than four-fold (to 49.7 RAP per level) compared to old Wrath bonuses. Compared to the new 71–80 data, there is a nearly nine-fold increase in the progression of RAP bonus. Other communities have also noticed the drop in bonus at level 80, and the other spectrum laments the fact that level 85 will have a bonus of “only” 638 RAP.

This begs the question of how hard is Cataclysm content compared to Wrath? Do we really need that much of a boost in RAP that the developers had to re-normalize the bonuses up to level 80?


R.I.P., Black Kitty

Vornskr the (original) Duskstalker

It appears Pike will not be the only one who will miss the sight of a loyal companion with the onset of Cataclysm. You see, my very first pet Vornskr is the rare Teldrassil Duskstalker. I tamed her the moment I completed my hunter taming quests, and she was slightly difficult to find because she had the same skin as normal spotted cats walking around the zone.

I was not aware until yesterday that the Shattering brought about many changes in the skins of creatures throughout the game. One of those affected was none other than my prized Duskstalker. Unlike Pike’s Locke, however, Vornskr is obtaining an upgrade in her skin, from a normal cat to a saber cat. However, this comes at the expense of her skin color, which changes to white. While I appreciate the gesture of love in making the Duskstalker unique, the color change does not reflect the nature of their name at all. As a Duskstalker, I wish Vornskr could keep a darker skin tone, one worthy of being called a creature who stalks her pray in the onset of darkness. A white-skinned animal would stand out in the night.

Blizzard’s effort in making pets once again a very attractive aspect of being a hunter is commendable, but I wish they had put some more thought into reassigning animal skins according to some common sense and its potential impacts. Thank you for your faithful partnership in the journeys through Azeroth and Outland, black kitty. Welcome, big snow kitty.


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