Monday, March 15, 2010


Glyphs are terrible.

First of all, just like in my gems post, I should point out that I am very aware of the fact that glyphs are fantastic, especially considering the alternative to glyphs is not having glyphs.

Glyphs were a cool idea that worked out pretty badly. I have at least four gripes about glyphs, which I may, of course, add to in the future as I think about more problems with glyphs. They are:
  1. The level of your inscription skill bares no relation to glyph power
  2. Glyphs are mostly uninteresting and trend towards being more uninteresting all the time
  3. Many glyphs seem to have been abandoned as useless
  4. There are *really* not enough minor glyphs
First of all, the inscription skill is completely bizarre. The reason you skill up leatherworking is to make better leather items. You skill up jewelcrafting to cut high grades of gems. You skill up inscription to make equally powerful glyphs. While a few glyphs apply to class skills that are only attained at high level, and as such can't be used until high level, a lot of the "high level" glyphs are just as useful at level 15 as they are at level 80. Glyph of Fireball, a spell that mages get a level 1, requires 385 skill to create. This is not because they didn't want you to have it at low level. The glyph's item level is 6 and it requires level 15 (the level you get your first glyph slot) to use. It's just that if you want to use it at level 15, you'll need to get it from someone who is at least level 65 who makes it out of herbs found in Northrend.

On the other hand, Glyph of Pestilence only requires 75 skill to make despite requiring level 55 to use (since there are no death knights below level 55). Glyph of Power Word: Shield, the most important glyph by far for discipline priests, required 80 skill to use, so there is no correlation between skill to make and usefulness either.

Basically glyphs are assorted randomly at different skill levels and herb requirements. They had to do this to make inscription fit their skilling up paradigm, but it makes no sense whatsoever. If I started playing this game today, made a mage, and decided that inscriptions sounded cool, I would hit level 15, get my skill to 75, and my profession would give me the incredible Glyphs of Fire Ward, Frost Ward and Arcane Blast. So two spells I never cast and one I won't learn for 49 levels. Inscription is designed entirely with the idea that you have max skill in it. Until then the profession doesn't make sense.

When glyphs first came out, the idea seemed to be that you could modify your spells to give yourself different options. A spell might be faster but cost more, or do less damage but more healing, or have some other kiss/curse type effect. There were also those glyphs aimed at changing the way you play. In practice, half of the glyphs just gave spells a percentage boost and had no trade-off. So, of course, people use the ones that make the things do they flat out better rather then using the ones that change things around. Also in practice these "interesting" glyphs often made the spells just plain bad. So many of the trade-off glyphs started to vanish to be replaced by simple percentage boost glyphs. Many glyphs could just ultimately be replaced by "+2% damage" and no one would notice. It's a lot of work and game mechanics to accomplish this.

But the fact that glyphs have that kind of effect makes many of the glyphs pretty close to useless. If there are glyphs that give you 2%+ damage then you aren't going to take glyphs that don't directly add to damage. If there are glyphs that give you 2% more healing, or 2% more damage mitigation, then you are going to skip utility glyphs in favour of these as well. As a result, many utility glyphs seem to have just been abandoned completely as useless. Glyph of Mass Dispel reduces the mana cost of Mass Dispel by 35%. According to Armory Data Mining no one uses this glyph at all. Even if they are just rounding down the very small number of people who use it, that would still mean that more discipline priests are using Glyph of Divine Spirit than Glyph of Mass Dispel.

And who can blame them. When I was running ToC and Ulduar my spreadsheet told me that Glyph of Mass Dispel would be worth about 4 Mp5. With my ICC logs it would be worth zero. I haven't cast Mass Dispel in a while. Even if they upped the 35% to 100% it would still see little use, though some people might swap to it for particular fights and it would probably see use in PvP. Glyph of Barbaric Insults is similar. So are Feint, Entangling Roots, Scorch, and several other glyphs from every class. These glyphs aren't good, it seems like they can't be good, so they've just been left to die. But some of these glyphs are really pretty easy to rehabilitate. Up the damage percentage on Glyph of Scorch so that a Scorch mage does almost as much damage as a Fireball mage and you'd see at least a few people using it. Up the effect of Glyph of Rapid Fire so that it's overall contribution to your damage is somewhat similar to other hunter glyphs and people would use that too. Others, like Mass Dispel, might be rehabilitated best by making them into minor glyphs.

Which would help a lot with the last problem I'll talk about today with glyphs. There aren't enough minor glyphs, and the homogenization in their use is rather incredible. About 95% of priests use Glyph of Levitate. A similar number of druids use Glyph of Unburdened Rebirth. For every class there are the minor glyphs people use and the minor glyphs people don't use. Some degree of homogenization is inevitable with only six glyphs to choose from and three slots to fill, but even in quality of life improvements there is room for balance. It if fairly obvious that people value getting rid of reagent costs far above duration increases for self-cast spells. Just like the unused major glyphs, I get the feeling that minor glyphs are just seen as unimportant, and that the ones people don't use have just been left to die. Minor glyphs aren't terribly important, but if there is anywhere in the game where it would be nice to see variability in behaviour, this would be it. They want to see options in talent builds, sure, but that is very hard to do when talents are tied to your performance in your raiding role. Variability in a part of the game that should be appealing to people's personal taste for quality of life improvements shouldn't be as hard as that.

So what to do about these problems? The first one seems absolutely impossible to solve without significant new tech that is unlikely to be implemented just for one profession. I assume that when Cataclysm comes out there will be a new Greater Heal glyph that you'll need to be level 80 to create while many glyphs that can be made at level 5 will continue to be useless to characters under level 60. The other option is to put in lots more glyphs and actually make the low level ones worse than the high level ones. I don't see this happening.

The solution to uninteresting glyphs is to just nix them all. If something simply says, "Increase the effect of something you'd cast anyway X by 5%" then replace it with something better. Things that increase the effect of spells by 20% are meaningful as they probably rearrange the priority of your casts, but small percentage to commonly used spells really take away the meaning and intent of glyphs. Of course this would be a ridiculous amount of design work, and they would probably rather introduce new glyphs than rework old ones, but if people are using "X does 5% more" type glyphs now than unless the new glyphs are "X does 6% more" I don't see that people will use them.

I already said that a big part of the solution to glyphs no one uses might be to make some of them minor glyphs. I don't think this is appropriate for all of them, but it would sure work for Mass Dispel and Barbaric Insults. But another part of that solution is rebalancing the minor glyphs that no one takes, reducing the attractiveness of reagent-replacement glyphs by selling Light Feathers and Fish Oil at reagent vendors, and making at least six more minor glyphs for each class. If you only get a quarter rather than a half of the glyphs then which ones you take will inevitably be less of a foregone conclusion.

Of these solutions I think that the last one, including more minor glyphs, will probably come with Cataclysm. I have little hope that any of the others would ever be done. Two years from now we will still most likely be able to look upon Glyph of Feint and weep.

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