Last week, under a non-disclosure agreement, Blizzard was briefing the press and major fansites on Mists of Pandaria, particularly teasing the new features and systems. Now that the NDA is over, that information has hit the internet in a big way. As usual, places like WoW Insider, MMO-Champion and Wowhead News have got mountains of information in one place, so those should be your main reference.
Obviously the blogosphere has been analysing this as well and rather than linking to every post, I’ll just refer you to MMO Melting Pot who have posted a couple of excellent round-ups with enough links to keep you going until the beta arrives.
Here are the things that jumped out at me most, and the reasons I’m looking forward to Mists.
There wasn’t a lot of focus on classes specifically at the press event, but they have recently been drip-feeding information in the form of talent “trees” and a recent update on the Priest class design.
When the trees were first released a lot of people noticed that Discipline had lost quite of few of the abilities we currently enjoy, and were understandably a bit apprehensive about losing some of our trademark flexibility. Originally they said:
Our intent is to make the healing styles between the two as different as possible, while cutting down on the number of rarely-used-yet-core spells that each spec has
A perfectly reasonable position; Discipline rarely uses Renew and neither spec uses Holy Nova much. As much as we like to talk about picking the right tool for the job, when one tool can do every job pretty well the others will tend to get left in the metaphorical shed to go rusty. In theory we can use Holy Nova while running as a group, but in practice it’s usually easier to just run first and then throw out an extra Prayer of Healing instead, and even heroic encounters generally aren’t tuned quite tightly enough that you need to heal that quickly to save a wipe.
As it turned out though the change, at least for Prayer of Healing, has been reverted. Quoting CM Kaivax again:
Prayer of Healing can be used by Holy and Discipline once again. We realized that the goal of making Holy Nova an effective AE healing tool was problematic. It meant that we would have to change Holy Nova so thoroughly, that it was becoming a second Prayer of Healing.
In the current spell design paradigm, instant-cast AoE tends to come with a cooldown or high mana cost as a penalty (see: Wild Growth and Circle of Healing or Healing Rain), and it also has to be flexible enough to be a staple AoE heal for Disc Priests instead of a situational ability (caster-centred counts as situational because it requires control over positioning and its value varies strongly from fight to fight). Put those constraints together and you’re left with either a Circle of Healing lookalike (instant but with a cooldown) or, well, Prayer of Healing. One alternative would be for Disc to only have a situational AoE heal; for a discussion of why that wouldn’t fit too well into the current game, see Holy Paladins in WotLK.
I applaud the aim of the developers to further distinguish Holy and Discipline. I love that each spec gets its own way of going about things and attacks the healing problem from a different direction, and on the whole I’m encouraged by what I’m hearing. I like the sound of Discipline swapping Heal for Spirit Shell (a single-target, medium cast-time, fairly small bubble; what I’ve taken so far is that Spirit Shell is to Power Word: Shield what Heal is to Flash Heal) and I’m looking forward to playing the beta and getting my hands on the talents and new abilities and seeing what I really make of them in practice, rather than just speculating based on tooltips.
Talents and Glyphs
The big news, which isn’t really news but is worth bringing up again, is the removal of the Prime glyph slot. Basically the job done by Prime glyphs is now done by talents instead. Apparently Blizzard intend to expand the range of cosmetic effects offered by the Minor glyphs to compensate.
In Mists, both glyphs and talents are changeable using a new reagent, the Tome of the Clear Mind. If you want to change a talent, you consume one reagent to ‘forget’ one row of the talent tree and you can make that selection again; you clear talents one row at a time, you don’t have to respec entirely just to swap one level of talents.
According to MMO-Champion, Blizzard will “also chang[e] major glyphs in a way they think will surprise and amaze players.” I stand prepared to be surprised and amazed…
Only dungeons since there wasn’t much about raids, except to tell us who the end boss of the final raid will be. I won’t spoil it, for the handful of people who haven’t already been spoiled.
They did also say that Tier 14 will feature 14 bosses split into three instances, which is a pretty good way to start the expansion. I’m actually OK with funnelling players down into one final raid at the end of the expansion, but at the start it’s important to have a good range of equivalent difficulty places to see, especially when you’re gearing up your raid team and you can’t assume a certain gear level like you can in later tiers. Getting stuck on an early gearcheck boss would be a real turn-off, but this way you can swap around and try each of the entry-level bosses and get some gear into the raid.
On the subject of gearing up, they’re talking about a revamp of Valor Points as well. Again, according to Wowhead News, the idea at the moment is to use them like the Crystallised Firestones from Firelands as a way to upgrade the item level of gear. Presumably, instead of saving up 2200 VP for some new legs, you just upgrade your old legs to the current item level. It’s not clear if you can get more than one tier of upgrade out of an item, or if any item will be upgradeable or if there will be limitations by slot (in the same way VP gear has not covered every slot thus far); either way, if the drop rates are kept similar to the current rate, gearing up this way will take a while so you’ll still want drops rather than just getting BiS T14 and waiting to upgrade it.
It’s an interesting change, although I don’t know if it’s as big a gain as it sounds. Under the Cataclysm system you might be looking at a new VP item with an inferior stat mix and that obviously won’t be the case under the Mists system, but on the other hand in Mists if you have a suboptimal piece you won’t be able to replace it with a better VP set, you’re stuck upgrading your existing item or waiting for a raid drop.
At the moment we know about three 5-man dungeons. Scholomance appears to have been given a revamp to bring it up to end-game level and streamline it a bit. Presumably like Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep it will have a low-level normal mode and a high level heroic mode, but it’s not clear. There’s also the Stormstout Brewery and the Temple of the Jade Serpent. For details on those, WoW Insider has a good preview.
Something that was promised to us a while ago is the Challenge Modes, which aim to give experienced players a reason to get back into the 5-man instances and challenge themselves, similarly to the way ZA bear runs were aimed. You are also ranked against your server and your guild, so you can get some friendly competition going (although Wowhead News says this only opens up once you’ve completed all the gold medals).
The “Challenge” in the name is all about speed. The faster you complete the run, the better the reward:
- Bronze – Is worth an achievement. Most decent groups with a bit of coordination and practice should be able to reach this level.
- Silver – Gets you transmoggable vanity items with no stats but with a vanity set bonus to encourage you to complete the set. This is new gear, not old sets, and you don’t (as far as I can tell) get a free choice. The fact that it’s stat-free stops this system feeling mandatory, something you have to do to get raiding gear.
- Gold – Gives you access to a nifty mount.
I quite like the idea of challenge modes and I’ll definitely be taking part in them and trying to grab a good haul of gold medals. The only thing that bothers me a bit about them is that the challenge is all about speed, rather than some other measure of skill. In theory speed is a measure of the whole group’s skill: you need a strong tank to chain-pull, an efficient healer to limit deaths and drinking time, and obviously good DPS to kill the packs quickly; in practice I find that the pressure tends to fall more heavily on the tank to keep the pace high. And if someone disconnects, there goes your gold medal.
I’d have preferred to see some sort of measure based on execution rather than pure speed, like the way some of the dungeon achievements work at the moment. Perhaps a combination score based on interrupts, damage taken (avoiding the bad), as well as the speed of the kill and probably other factors as well. Then again, if you’re pushing for Challenge Modes then I guess it’s assumed you already know those things and don’t need the extra training.
Something I’d not really heard much about before is the Scenario system. These sound like expanded versions of events like the Flamegate area in Hyjal where you get to defeat Ragnaros while questing, the Wrathgate event or the Crucible of Carnage, but with a stronger group focus and with the tasty carrot of Valor Points. They’re also level 90 only, and not quest based. Given that they reward Valor Points, will they become effectively lightweight instances with a different focus or will they be limited to once-through special events?
An example is described by Wowhead News:
Players are tasked to help a Brewmaster find a spice that’s only useful when it rains. At first, players save some villages and buildings. You then help the Brewmaster create the lager as it’s raining, while she’s besieged by Sauroc. In the final phase, you defend the brewery while putting out fires – a giant Sauroc with a huge sword is trying to destroy the building.
Unlike old-style group quests where you had to ask the zone for help; this time there’s a Scenario Finder tool to help you automatically get a group together for a Scenario. The group you make does not depend on having a tank and healer so you can tackle them with whatever players are queueing for the Scenario at that time. I wonder how flexible the group size is, because the numbers of people can vary massively at different times. It’s also not clear if this system is cross-realm, but since it uses instancing there’s no reason why it couldn’t be.
If they can be differentiated sufficiently from dungeons I think this is quite a neat approach to group questing, although I think that not scattering them throughout the levelling process misses an opportunity to get some handy practice at group interaction before the level cap.
I’m quite a fan of professions, and I’m always interested in seeing what we’re getting in the future. Unfortunately the main professions weren’t really covered at this recent event, although there were some interesting teasers for the secondary professions.
Archaeology is getting new items, but it is also getting a faction associated with it, the Lorewalkers. When you turn in Pandaren artefacts you get snippets of lore and cut-scenes. The point, apparently, is to provide a stronger grounding for the profession within the game. Personally I’d also like to see the items either be upgradeable (maybe even through archaeology itself) or new items added as tiers are added to the game. In Cataclysm the equippable items stopped at level 359.
For the chefs, there are four specialisations to work on, and you’re able to work on all of them eventually. Each specialisation is related to a primary stat and presumably opens up recipes that grant that stat. Priests would probably go down the Intellect or Spirit route, depending on what’s available.
On a related note, Fox van Allen at WoW Insider recently penned an open letter to Blizzard describing his views on professions in Cataclysm and what improvements he’d like to see in Mists. It’s an excellent read but way too long to discuss in detail here so I’ll just recommend you read it instead.)
Odds and Ends
On the quality of life front, we’re apparently getting AoE looting. This is something that we’ve been waiting patiently for for quite some time. Apparently Star Wars included it, and magically it turns up in Mists. Still, I shouldn’t complain, it’s a handy feature whatever prompted its inclusion.
There will not be any revisiting of item levels in 5.x. In the past the developers talked about a possible “item squish” because numbers were beginning to grow a little too big to be easily handled: six-figure damage numbers popping up, four-figure stat values on gear and so on. Instead, they’re going with compressing numbers of five or more figures using “k” or “M”. For example, a 120 000 healing crit would display as 120k instead. Similarly a boss might have 435M health.
Something that has a lot of people relieved is the addition of an extra character slot. For some it still won’t be enough, but for the rest of us the eleventh slot is a nice gesture, letting us have a new Pandaren or a new Monk without having to select an existing character to let go.
Obviously at this point it’s impossible to call the expansion a hit or a miss. I’ve skipped over quite a few of the more well-known new features because they don’t interest me much; but just like I don’t feel threatened by the game’s inclusion of Arena, I doubt “my WoW” will be ruined by the addition of Pet Battles. I will say that the addition of challenge modes should give me something new to do outside raiding, and multiple raids per tier along with the possible return of world bosses could provide some well-needed variety to the raiding scene.
Blizzard also hinted that the beta is pretty close, so hopefully I’ll be able to get stuck in very soon and help them make the game as polished as we expect, and of course to report back on how I feel the features are working.