Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Patch 4.0.1 Testing - Druids and General Observations

Just in time before the PTR was taken down and the extended maintenance to implement the new patch started up, I finished my druid testing. I ran into some early problems because of the Thunder Bluff death bug1 and set aside the druid for a long time after getting some initial impressions. I felt like I could write a review but I felt like I owed it to the druid to try Feral after my bad experience with Balance, so yesterday I made a Night Elf and went to it.

Druid (Tauren and Night Elf)
Druids don't play quite as well as Mages or Warlocks at low level. Wrath is more like Smite than it is like Fireball for some reason. When you get moonfire it doesn't really do enough damage to be worth casting, though larger enemy health bars make it just barely worth it by around level 7. It usually ends up doing less damage than a Wrath would have, but with a shorter casting time, and since enemies don't have health that is evenly divisible by your Wrath damage it ends up being as good as another Wrath anyway. At level eight you get to learn six new abilities, and pay the same price to learn each as other classes pay to learn their one level 7 ability. The consequence of this is that you can't afford them. Of course it looks like you can only learn three, since Rake, Claw and Ferocious Bite all all grayed out given that you don't have Cat Form. But once you click to learn Cat Form they all appear, sorted in alphabetical order and your second Learn click learns Claw when you thought it was going to learn Entangling Roots. Could I have avoided this problem by slowing down a moment? Sure. Should first time players be deciding between whether to learn Rake or Ferocious Bite? Probably not.

At level eight Balance druid damage was just terrible. It took me around 4 starfires to kill things, so 14 seconds per kill. I don't know if I played another class that took more than 10 seconds to kill an enemy at level 8. Of course there is Thorns, which ticks for about as much damage as Starfire does, so you can use Moonfire to gather up enemies and then just Thorns them to death while healing yourself and kill things much more efficiently. At level 10 you get your eclipse meter and your Starsurge spell. Starsurge was hitting enemies for around 90% of their health on a fifteen second cooldown. Given that it took me nearly 15 seconds to kill an enemy without Starsurge, I'd just wait out the cooldown for each enemy before engaging this. It was pretty terrible.

Feral played much better. I was killing enemies with Rake + Claw + Bite, followed by waiting for a second Rake tick and a couple of auto-attacks. At level 10 I got Mangle and was very worried that it was going to heavily skew things. I really expected that it would completely obsolete both Rake and Bite, but much to my surprise Mangle only did about 50% more damage than Claw (for 10 less energy, of course). A two point Bite still exceeded a Mangle for damage. The rapid expansion of enemy health between level 10 and 12 meant that I still felt like I was fighting enemies rather than just hitting a button that defeated them. The absurd strength of Regrowth and Rejuv and the fact that I didn't use mana to kill things made me pretty much unstoppable, which, while convenient, isn't something I like in design. Plus there was the fact that even when Feral spec the most efficient way to kill enemies was surely Thorns, which was hitting for 69 at level 12, compared to a mid-40's Mangle.

Overall Grade: C (though I'd give it a D in a heartbeat if I hadn't gone back to play Feral)

Overall Impressions
Quite a few details of low level play have been screwed up inadvertently by the 4.0.1 changes. Most notably, there are quite a few monsters that use player spells on themselves at low level that have become significantly overpowered. Level 6 mobs with around 120 health have Rejuvenation spells that tick for 45. A level 11 mob had a Thorns that did 49. Having to stop attacking and wait for these spells to end is pretty annoying.

Some classes have pretty exciting talents to take at levels 10 and 11, but the excitement around those initial talent points is not going to be there for all classes. Many classes clearly had little thought put into the pre-level 10 experience.

The transition to dual-wielding is a very difficult one. As a Warrior I just happened to complete a quest with no two-handed weapon option shortly before level 10, then saw another quest with a one-handed weapon option. As a shaman when I picked Enhancement my bonus ability was Lava Lash, but I had to go to town and buy a white weapon for my off-hand to be able to dual-wield. This transition was very problematic. Perhaps, given there is no spec that actually supports them anymore, they should simply remove the ability of Shamans to wield two-handed weapons to smooth this out a bit.

Maybe I make too much of this because the first 9 levels are pretty easy anyway, but I do feel like depending on the class and starting area they choose, a new player could end up with very different starting experiences ranging from the polished feeling of a very evolved game to the choppy feeling of a new game that doesn't know what it wants you to do. We all know that a big problem for established MMORPGs is growing the player base when the "real" game is focusing on an end game that gets increasingly farther away for new players each expansion. After playing a Mage I thought the 4.0.1 redesign was a very dramatic step to make the game more friendly to new players while at the same time evolving the end-game experience. After playing the other classes, I'm no longer convinced that this redesign was a huge step forward for new players. It's a step forward for everyone for sure, but maybe not for new players in particular.

Of course, the starting areas themselves will be redesigned when Cataclysm actually launches, so there are more improvements coming. The revamped leveling experience is probably more dependent on those world changes than it is on the mechanical ones being introduced today.

1. You died when you zoned out of Thunder Bluff and your corpse appeared in the graveyard at Thunder Bluff so you couldn't corpse run back and resurrect outside the zone. I assume they've fixed this one.


  1. I quit wow because of patch 4.0.1. I had been playing for eight months and had 45 days of game time on my main toon alone.
    Here are the reasons in no particular order. I had worked hard to improve the DPS on my ret pally. I read, studied, tested glyphs and seals and talents and finally could do serious damage while minimizing aggro. When the patch went live, my DPS dropped 60 percent. I had to buy new glyphs and new gems just to bring it back to where it was. It didn't work because I didn't have enough understanding of the new talent trees. Imagine becoming an excellent quarterback and on game day Superbowl gets changed to synchronized swimming? I was upset. Months of work down the drain. Where I was once a knowledgable person I was now a novice all over again. But that's not all. I switched to my thousand dollar lvl 29 twink hunter. Which had half an xp bar to go before 30. Ha! Incidentally, I had bought a mana-regenerating piece of gear to see if I could do better in longer duels. Ha! NO MORE MANA!! Hunters now use focus. You cannot do that! You cannot change game mechanics so drastically as to require people to relearn everything they knew plus farm farm farm just to bring their toons back to they were...the day before.
    Ok, a small side note. It is entire possible that the NEW game mechanics level things out and make the game better and if I started playing yesterday that would have been fine. But what about ur existing loyal fan base? Are we chopped liver? All the emblems that I converted to heroism so that I could buy heirloom gear were gone and instead I had a few pieces of gold in my mailbox. Not cool. My key bindings gone. Hotkeys gone. Taskbars half empty. Not cool. I know its all virtual but if u upset it THAT much then there is no structure or purpose in learning or achieving.
    I hope my contribution is useful to someone out there.

  2. Maybe you were in a sweet spot where you'd been playing long enough to get good at the existing game but not so long that things had gotten stale but believe me when I say they would have at some point.

    One of the reasons MMOs can get away with charging monthly fees is the constant changes that happen to the game. You might be happy with a static game (though I doubt it, have you played a console RPG for over a thousand hours of played time?) but most of the user base expects constant change.

    This particular patch is a little rough because it's not meant to be a good one. It's meant to set the groundwork for the awesome one due to come out with the Cataclysm expansion in December. Things aren't balanced right now because they're trying to balance things for leveling and for level 85 instead of necessarily for level 80.

    I bet anything if you come back and play again with the launch of the expansion that you will have as good a time or better as you've had for the last 8 months.

  3. For those of us who've been playing for many years, huge changes like this are something we've come to take in stride, since changes on this order of magnitude have happened at least three times before in the game's history. I've been thinking a lot about the changes in Cataclysm for new players that might be joining the game and for players who've been playing for nearly six years, but not a lot for those who have been playing 6-10 months. In a way, I think you had the misfortune of joining the game at the worst part in it's life cycle - the lead up to the next expansion.

    Expansions are a huge reset button. Everyone's gear becomes obsolete and the accomplishments of the past become unimportant compared to the new accomplishments that await. Having joined the game at the time you did, though, it also feels like a skill reset, which obviously is really unfortunate. In reality I think most of the important skills for playing the game - being aware of your surroundings, reacting quickly, an understanding of the "physics" of the game - transfer between characters and will continue to be useful. After over 45 days played you wouldn't be started from scratch again, even if you were knocked down a peg.

    I don't mean to be saying that everything they've done is good. I think that big changes like this are necessary for a game that is going to be played constantly for 6+ years, and I think that the changes they made in particular are really good in this case. None of that means, though, that the changes they made - and the timing of those changes - won't be bad for some of the players. It's also worth noting that paladins are, from my observation, the most frequently broken class - in one direction or the other.

    As Ziggyny says, this patch isn't really supposed to be good, it's laying the groundwork for good things to come. They release these patches ahead of time so they can notice things like ret paladins doing way too little damage and fix it, and to give people a change to iron out the bugs in their user interface caused by the change. This is the time to figure out how our new buttons work so that when the new content hits we can go out and start experiencing it.

    Of course there are worse things than leaving WoW behind, so I really have no interest in convincing people to stick with it. But I do tend to think that Ziggyny is right. First of all, the majority of the player base will be happy with the changes, and secondly that the vast majority that aren't happy with them will be very happy with the game come December 7 if they choose to play.

  4. Simply, i have quit WOW because of this patch, i have played since TBC release date. I don't think all of old players will like/enjoy this new changes which ruin all the things that all of us was love at this game. Changes from 60 to 70 before TBC wasn't so dramatically, changes from 70 to 80 wasn't that bad...but this changes are to deep to be appreciated by old players. Think that almost 70% of old players was not played WOW in PTR to have a small idea about 4.0 patch and try to imagine how can they appreciate this?
    Tanking mechanics are totally changed, healers have been changed...dps classes also. Almost everyone have to spend time to farm gold to buy new glyphs, discover and learn new rotations for his main spec.
    I discovered that i cant afford to spend all that time to relearn everything instead of spending that time enjoying raiding or do anything else.

  5. Really, I just don't see this as *that* big of a change to the way the game is actually played. Things are mostly the same, its just that some abilities are better or worse than they used to be relative to one another, and there are a couple of new abilities thrown in. If Rejuvenation is worse than it used to be and Regrowth is better, then you may cast a few more Regrowths and a few less Rejuvenations. I don't think that's a very seismic shift.

    Only paladins had a really substantial change in the way they are played, but every site I can find that gathers statistics says that paladins are the most played class. Blood Elves end up being the most played race because they are the Horde paladin race.

    The most important skills in video games are generally transferable between completely different games, let alone different iterations of essentially the same game.

    Like I said, if you want to leave the game because you'd rather be doing other things, that's great. But that's not really what it sounds like. Trying to generalize your experience to all "old players" makes it look like, rather than happily leaving this game behind because it no longer suits you, you feel resentful towards them for ruining something you enjoyed. You predict - or, really, hope - that their player base will shrink and they will realize that they have made a bad decision which would vindicate you and punish them for what they did.

    As WoW players go I am about as old as they come, having started just a month after the released. If anything, these changes were a let down for me because so *little* changed rather than because so *much* changed. I sort of wanted a brave new world with patch 4.0.1 and I just plain didn't get it. I'm eagerly waiting for December 7 for that, like most other old players.