30 June 2010

Real ID - Its potential and its flaws

Patch 3.3.5 is out and with it came Real ID, a new friend-network that Blizzard introduced for communication between players on different factions, realms or even games. Sounds good, right? I'm planning on getting StarCraft 2 when it launches and spending time in there when not raiding (since there isn't much else to do in WoW right now for me) and it'd be great if guildies could give me a poke because they need a tank for a 10man or so. However, the way Blizzard has chosen to implement Real ID leaves much to be desired. I'll quickly go over how Real ID works and what's wrong with it.

How does it work?
Next to your regular WoW friendlist, you can now add players as friends by inputting their Battle.net username, which is the email-address you've used for your B.net account. The other person gets a friend-request and if he/she/it accepts, you will become "Real ID friends".

You can talk to Real ID friends from any up-to-date Blizzard game. Right now, that's just WoW, but in a month, StarCraft 2 will be added to this list and Diablo 3 will follow when it comes out. In addition, classical WoW-related boundaries like realm and faction do not apply to Real ID friends, so you can keep in contact with a friend on a different realm.

As a bonus, you get what Blizzard calls "Rich Presence" information about your Real ID friends, which means as much as being able to see which game the player is logged in to and where he is in the game (WoW) or what he's doing (SC 2). So you can check if your friend is raiding in ICC or playing a ladder-match in SC 2 before disturbing him with the latest Chuck Norris jokes.

Since Blizzard wants Real ID to become sort of a mini social network within Battle.net, you will be able to see the friends of your friends, so you can add them to your friend-list if you would want to.

So that was the happy story, what's the bad news?
In a world where information is power, you have to give away quite a bit of information to use Real ID. First of all, your unique identifier is your Battle.net email-address. Now you could use a secondary spam-address for this, but it's quite a bit of extra hassle. On top of that, your display name within the Real ID system is your full name associated with your Battle.net account.

Not only is it not directly desirable to have to give away this information in order to use Real ID, it's also not convenient in an online world where nicknames have replaced real names long ago. If I were to whisper a guildie who is online in SC 2 and it would say "Rannasha says: ...", they'd immediately know it's me. If it would say "Gideon says: ...", most of them would have no idea who it is that's talking to them.

Now, Blizzard claims that Real ID is meant to keep in contact with real life friends that are online in a Battle.net game and that therefore the whole real name business makes sense. But ask yourself: How many real life friends do you know that play WoW / SC 2? And how many people in WoW do you know that you would like to keep in touch with? For most people in solid guilds, the second group will be bigger. In addition, most people will already have their real life friends on some communication network like MSN, Skype or Facebook, which they can use without having to be ingame.

Then there's the "friends of friends" feature. I don't want this. I want to be able to turn it off and as far as I know (EU realms are still down, so can't check), it's not possible. I just want a way to chat with guildies when either I or they are not online on our realm. I don't need to build my online social network. If I wanted to do that, there are several superior systems for that already.

I will use Real ID. With SC 2 coming out, the ability to cross the boundaries between games to chat with guildies is too useful to pass up. But I would've preferred if Blizzard had made Real ID more focused on actual gamers: Nicknames instead of real names as identifiers and no visible friends-of-friends. Save that for Facebook and co.

23 June 2010

Bloodlust - When?

Bloodlust is one of the key abilities that when properly used can greatly ease an encounter. But, since it's only available once per fight (LK Heroic excepted), it needs to be timed properly. There are different views on how to time it. The naive claim is that it should be popped when the boss is below 35% HP, because several classes deal more damage then (the so-called Execute-phase). However, this turns out to be false.

Execute-phase or not
When you Bloodlust in the Execute-phase, the time you spend in this phase goes down, which means that the raid has less time to benefit from that sub-35% DPS boost. It turns out that this effect exactly compensates for the increased damage you get from Bloodlusting during the sub-35% phase. And since math says more than a thousand words, I'll show this.

The following variables are used:
- H = boss HP
- R = base raid DPS without Bloodlust or sub-35% bonus
- D = duration of Bloodlust (40 sec)
- e = raid DPS increase factor due to Execute-phase (1.2 means 20% increase)
- b = raid DPS increase factor due to Bloodlust (1.2 means 20% increase)
- t1 = time from start to the moment the boss hits 35% HP
- t2 = time from the moment the boss hits 35% HP to the moment of death
- t3 = time to kill the boss, so t1 + t2

If we Bloodlust early (say, at the start of the fight), then we have some time with Bloodlust, during which we deal D * R * b damage. So the time left to burn the boss to 35% is (0.65 H - D * R * b) / R. And we need to add D to this to account for the time we spent during Bloodlust. Then we can obtain the time needed to burn the last 35%: (0.35 H) / (e R). Adding this up gives the total time:

If we Bloodlust when we hit 35%, the calculations follow the same idea:

Notice anything special? Right, both results are the same. The conclusion is that whether you Bloodlust early or late, the time-to-kill remains the same.

So when do I use Bloodlust?
Seeing as there is no DPS-gain from waiting for 35% to Bloodlust, I can give some compelling arguments to Bloodlust as early as possible, once all the relevant debuffs are up and people have their rotation going. This way players can pop their trinkets and cooldowns early and automatically have them sync up with Bloodlust, which is a decent DPS gain. If you postpone Bloodlust until the 35% phase, people will either not have their cooldowns available or they will have postponed using those cooldowns, which makes them get less benefit from them over the entire fight.

Another reason to Bloodlust early is that people die from time to time. Especially on new bosses, where DPS actually matters, you may lose people during the fight. At the start, everyone is alive and at full capacity, so you get the maximum out of your Bloodlust.

Decision-altering circumstances
All the conclusions made earlier assume a simple tank-and-spank bossfight with no adds or different phases. This is not entirely realistic and in actual fights, there may be circumstances that make you want to adjust your Bloodlust timing.

Encounter-specific damage buffs (such as Icehowls stun) are a great thing to combine with Bloodlust. A dangerous wave of adds is more easily disposed with a Bloodlusted raid. And finally, don't forget the healers: Bloodlust makes their work easier too, so if you anticipate a period of very high raid damage, Bloodlust can help the healers get through it.

ICC Boss-Bloodlust Guide
A quick summary of when to Bloodlust (IMO) on ICC fights:

- Lord Marrowgar: Preferably shortly after the pull or after the first Bonestorm.
- Lady Deathwhisper: Start of phase 2. Alternatively, during phase 1 after clearing up an add-wave.
- Gunship Battle: People Bloodlust here?
- Deathbringer Saurfang: At his 30% Frenzy. This phase is the most dangerous, so you want to get it over with quickly.
- Rotface: Just after the pull, people will be busy running around to drop their oozes later on.
- Festergut: Just after the first tank-switch. The old tank will be DPSing with alot of damamge-increasing buffs and Festergut will hit 3 stacks of Inhale Blight, causing alot of damage to be healed.
- Professor Putricide: At the start of phase 3 (normal mode) or during the second double-ooze transition phase (heroic mode)
- Blood Prince Council: Once Taldaram or Keleseth gets empowered. Empowered Valanar requires too much movement.
- Blood Queen Lana'thel: At the end of the fight, just after the last round of bites and after the second fear/airphase. More vampires means more DPS.
- Valithria Dreamwalker: Your healers decide, but generally once they have high stacks of their buff and just after they exit a portal.
- Sindragosa: Phase 1. We like to stress that Phase 3 is not a DPS race and just maximize the time we have for that phase by getting through the first 65% of her health quickly.
- Lich King: Second transition phase (normal) or right at the start and again in Phase 3 (heroic).

16 June 2010

Solo: Heroic Skadi the Ruthless (UP)

Last night I was doing a random heroic on my alt after the raid with some guildies. One of them asked if the place would be 2-mannable up to the third boss, Skadi the Ruthless, for the mount. I said it should be quite easy to 2-man it and started wondering if I could solo it. So, after the heroic ended, I logged back to my Druid and started flying towards Utgarde Pinnacle.

Preparation and trash
I used my regular tank gear (ilvl 264 & 277 stuff) with the usual buffs, MotW and Thorns, along with the Drums of the Forgotten Kings. I used my Flask of the North for some extra strength. Not so useful, but better than not using it. In addition, I used an Endless Mana Potion, because I had no regular ones on me.

All trash can be skipped with stealth. One time I accidentally ran into a pack of 4 mobs in the second hallway (before the first boss) and that turned out to be quite deadly. The first and second boss can be skipped, just like many pugs do, by simply not engaging / activating them.

The gauntlet
The gauntlet is fairly straightforward in the sense that it most likely won't kill you. However, transitioning from the gauntlet phase to the boss phase can be tricky. The first batch of mobs are all melee mobs that are rather weak and you can charge in and Swipe them to death like you would do on a regular run.

After that it gets a bit more involved: The Harpooners, but mostly the Witch Doctors deal more damage and you'll need to start handling the pairs of adds that run towards you. I opted to pull slowly and to prioritize DPSing the Witch Doctors, then the Harpooners and the Warriors last. My "rotation" on these packs, with 2-3 mobs being up, was to debuff my #1 target with FF, Mangle and Lacerate, then do the same with the #2 target and then just spam Swipe, obviously using (glyphed) Maul every auto-attack.

The Witch Doctors don't move easily, which means you may have to charge them and by doing so aggroing the next pack. This can't really be avoided. Don't hesitate to pop cooldowns, including SI+FR, when needed. Pick up 3 harpoons when you have time.

After the stationary packs have been dealt with, it's time to heal your wounds and wait out your cooldowns. If you DPS the mobs down efficiently, you should regularly have some time to heal yourself. Regrowth followed by Nourish spam until you need to shift back to Bear. Also shoot 2 harpoons at the boss when he's in the right position, that way you only need to shoot one last shot when you decide to transition.

Transition and boss-phase
Once your SI+FR and Berserk are back up and you're at reasonably high health (70% or so), the time has come to push to phase 2. Each pair of gauntlet-adds spawns quite a while before it actually activates and runs towards you. This means that you most likely won't be able to DPS down a pair of adds and shoot the boss down before the next pair spawns (not to mention the timing-luck required to have the boss in the right position when you down the adds). So you should transition with adds up.

Since the Witch Doctors hurt the most and the add-pairs alternate between Witch Doctor/Warrior and Harpooner/Warrior, I opted to only transition the boss when I was fighting Harpooner/Warrior or if I wasn't fighting anything, but Harpooner/Warrior would be the next pair to spawn.

When the time is right, shoot the last harpoon (this takes you out of form FYI), pick up the boss and pop Berserk to get rid of the adds that are still up. At this time you will definitely want to use Barkskin+Enrage to reduce damage intake and you may have to pop SI+FR as well. Once the adds are down, the actual bossfight begins.

There are 3 abilities that the boss uses besides his regular auto-attack. The first is a short stun, that you can't really do much about except soak it. The second is his whirlwind. If you react quickly, you can outrun the boss while he is whirlwinding, especially with Cat Form (with or without Dash). You should only take 1 or 2 hits of the whirlwind. Once you've made some distance, you can cast heals on yourself, while running away. I used Rejuvenation and 3x Lifebloom. After that, the boss is closing in and I would stop to cast as many Nourishes as I could (between 0 and 2 typically) before shifting back.

The final ability and the one that I found to be the most deadly is a Poisoned Spear he throws at you. This leaves a poison DoT that hurts quite a bit. However, since it's a Poison, you can remove it. To do this, I changed my heal-plan to include an Abolish Poison at the last moment before shifting back to Bear. Most of the time, Skadi would use his Poisoned Spear before Abolish would fade and with Abolish Poison ticking every 2 seconds and the DoT every 3, the poison is cleansed before it can tick. For all Poisoned Spears after that, I would just shift out and cast Abolish Poison on myself. The extra damage from taking a hit in casterform is worth not having to take the poison damage and with a bit of luck, Skadi will try to reapply the Poisoned Spear before Abolish runs out, giving you 2 cures with 1 cast.

The main limitation with this tactic will be mana. You will shapeshift often and cast inefficient heals (HoTs are quite bad without spellpower to boost them). Use Innervate as soon as you first run low on mana. Then pop a mana potion the next time you run low and pray that Innervate is back up when you need it. Use Barkskin and Enrage on cooldown to reduce damage intake. Keep Frenzied Regeneration up and pop SI+FR whenever you can, but ideally not during a whirlwind or when a whirlwind is about to start. You don't want to run out of rage and only get reduced benefits from FR. The SI glyph is useful for this fight, as it boosts your SI+FR healing quite a bit. I didn't use it. Swapping to a healer weapon during whirlwinds to boost your healing is another great idea that I came up with only after the kill.

On my kill, after 3 failed attempts, I went down to 10% when the boss was at 35% HP while I was waiting for SI+FR and Innervate to come back off cooldown, so it was quite close. However, during the next whirlwind, I could Innervate and spam myself up a bit and when he caught up with me SI+FR was back and I went back up to 75% and the deal was sealed at that point.

Encore: Soloing Oculus heroic
A few weeks back I tried soloing Oculus on heroic mode for no particular reason. Despite the trash dealing mostly magical damage, it was easy to deal with using cooldowns. The first 3 bosses were not so hard, the third boss requires you to kite him around the platform to prevent the frost DoT from stacking.

The last boss turned out to be impossible though. I flew a green drake and had swapped in a few items that had a higher itemlevel than my tank set (Go go ilvl 277 Moonkin-offspec-gear) to maximize my drakes health and damage. The damage from the boss is outhealed by the leech-DoT, but the whelps spawn too quickly and will start to overwhelm. Stacking the DoT to 3 on a whelp and letting it tick is not sufficient to kill most of them (whelps have different levels and their HP scales with level), which means you have to go back to that whelp and spend a global cooldown on it to finish it off. And that takes too much time, because the next wave will be up by then.

Kiting the boss, as was done on solo-kills (and green-only achievement runs) in the past turned out to be unsuccessful as Blizzard apparently hotfixed the encounter at some point to give the whelps infinite range on their spells. Perhaps that with a couple more upgrades (Steelhoof, if you're reading this and I know you do, give me extra DKP for the sake of science!)
I can do enough damage to kill the whelps with one 3-stack of the DoT and I can keep up, I don't know.

10 June 2010

Feral Cataclysm talent preview

Along with Shamans, Priests and Rogues, Blizzard has released a talent preview for Druids. I'll go over the Feral talents. Note that some talents are marked "TBR" which stands for "To Be Redesigned" or "To Be Removed". In either case, the talent is not expected to make it through unchanged.

Tier 1
Ferocity and Feral Aggression remain unchanged. The Tier 3 talent Sharpened Claws is moved to Tier 1, but its effect is changed to the effect of Savage Fury in Tier 2, which was removed completely. A bit confusing. But what it really means is that Savage Fury (+20% damage on Claw/Rake/Mangle/Maul) moves down a tier and is renamed and Sharpened Claws (+4% crit) is removed.

Tier 2
As mentioned above, Savage Fury was moved down from Tier 2 to Tier 1. Shredding Attacks was moved from Tier 4 down to Tier 2, but the energy-reduction on Shred was reduced from -9/-18 to -5/-10. The Lacerate component (-1/-2 rage) remains unchanged. Thick Hide and Feral Instinct remain unchanged, but Feral Instinct is marked as "TBR".

Tier 3
Feral Swiftness remains unchanged. Predatory Instincts was moved down from Tier 8 to Tier 3, its AoE-damage-reduction in Cat form component was removed and the +3%/+6%/+10% critical strike damage bonus is no longer restricted to Cat form only, changing the talent from pure Cat to all-round. Feral Charge is moved down from Tier 5 to Tier 3 and a new talent, Improved Feral Charge, is added to Tier 3. Imp. FC causes the damage done by your next 3 attacks to be increased by 5%/10% after using Feral Charge (Bear) and it causes Ravage to no longer require stealth for 3/6 seconds after using Feral Charge (Cat).

Tier 4
Nurturing Instincts has come down from Tier 5 and Primal Fury remains unchanged. A new talent, Fury Strikes, was added: Fury Strikes gives a 4%/8%/12% chance when auto-attacking in Cat or Bear to generate a second auto-attack against that target, with a 6 second cooldown. Think pre-WotLK Windfury/Sword-spec here. Note that Maul will no longer be an on-next-attack in Cataclysm, so all your auto-swings in Bear form will actually be auto-attacks dealing white damage that can proc this.

Tier 5
Improved Bash remains unchanged. Heart of the Wild moves down from Tier 6. Survival Instincts moves up from Tier 3. Predatory Strikes moves up from Tier 4, loses the AP-benefit (50%/100%/150% of level + 7%/14%/20% of AP on weapon), but gains: Ravage has a 25%/50% higher crit chance against targets above 90% health. The instant-cast proc after using a finishing move remains the same. This talent has become a PvP talent.

Tier 6
Natural Reaction and Survival of the Fittest remain the same. A new talent, Endless Carnage, was added that increases the duration of Rake, Savage Roar and Pulverize (see below) by 3/6 seconds.

Tier 7
King of the Jungle moves down 2 tiers from Tier 9, but loses the mana-reduction of the Feral form shapeshifts. Leader of the Pack and Improved LotP remain unchanged. Primal Tenacity has had the damage-reduction while stunned in Cat form halved to 5%/10%/15%.

Tier 8
Protector of the Pack remains the same. Infected Wounds was reduced from 3 talentpoints to 2, for the same total effect and now includes Ravage as well as the original Maul, Mangle and Shred.

Tier 9
Mangle and Improved Mangle remain unchanged. A new talent, Primal Madness, was added, which requires King of the Jungle and causes your Tigers Fury and Berserk to increase your maximum energy by 6/12 for the duration of the effect and cause Enrage and Berserk to instantly grant you 6/12 rage.

Tier 10
Rend and Tear remains unchanged, but now has a followup talent called Pulverize. This teaches you the Pulverize ability which consumes all Lacerate stacks on the target, dealing weapon damage plus 786 per stack of Lacerate (unknown if this scales or has additional ranks). In addition, it will give you 2% crit for 10 seconds for each stack of Lacerate consumed. 20 rage, no cooldown. Another talent was added, currently called "Nom Nom Nom", but it's flagged to be renamed, sadly. Nom Nom Nom gives you a 50%/100% chance for a Ferocious Bite on a target with less than 25% health to refresh the Rip on that target. This should give Cats a bit of added "Execute"-style DPS as they can bring out the big FB burst without Rip dropping.

Tier 11
Berserk remains unchanged.

Resto talents that affect Feral
Blessing of the Grove replaces Imp MotW in Tier 1. BotG increases damage done by Claw and Shred by 2%/4%. Furor remains unchanged, as do Omen of Clarity, Natural Shapeshifter and Master Shapeshifter. Naturalist moves up from Tier 2 to Tier 3. A new Tier 2 talent is added, Perseverance, reducing spell damage taken by 2%/4%/6%/8%/10%.

Conclusions and summary
The changes are not world-changing. The largest changes are in the position of talents, alot of them were moved down and some were moved up. Moving down talents has made room for some new talents to be added. Of the new talents, I think Pulverize is the most interesting. Together with Maul no longer being an on-next-swing attack, we will have 2 new buttons to choose from for our global cooldowns. Pulverize will interact in interesting ways with Lacerate, as you have to rebuild your stack after Pulverizing, but you do quite a bit of damage and gain 10% crit if you consume a full stack.

In Resto, Perseverance looks pretty strong for some tanking purposes. I'd kill for such a talent on fights like Sindragosa hardmode. But on other fights it may be practically useless. Next up is trying to work out something of an ideal spec using this new information. But it may be a bit too early for that as we're still missing info on glyph changes and possible scaling changes (especially Maul!) and all this is not final.