Monday, June 7, 2010

The Impending Apocalypse

Two interesting tidbits about being a theology student. One, you learn how to spell "apocalypse" correctly. Two, when you're emailing your co-worker Chris, you really need to watch your muscle memory, otherwise that extra 't' will sneak in at the end and you'll deserve the snark you get in response. Just sayin'.

Anyways, where was I? Oh, yes - the anticipated apocalypse. The coming cataclysm. The doom of Deathwing. Blizzard announced a 24 hours downtime for a big bunch of servers tomorrow, time required to upgrade them to handle the Cataclysm release. There's been some noise about the beta, some news trickling out from behind the iron walls of NDAs... but, so far, nothing about the one thing I'm really interested in:

Why such an interest? Degrees of freedom.

Let's be honest, here: WoW really doesn't have a whole lot of degrees of freedom. If you're an arcane mage, what stats are most important to you? That's going to drive your talent choices, your gear choices, how you gem and enchant, what buff foods you use and what flasks you stock. Same story, different stats for rogues, tanks, priests, druids, or what have you... it's all a question of "what stat is most important."

Now, how you get to that point involves a lot of choice. Talent for more hit? Easy enough for an Arcane mage. What if all your gear has hit on it, and you're over the cap? Ah, now you can shift around talent points. Or maybe swap out that +hit enchant for a +damage enchant. Or do both, and start scarfing +hit food before raids. Still, the basic game doesn't change. "Get to the hit cap," or defense cap, or whatever... "then start stacking X. If you can't get X, then get Y. Otherwise you really don't care."

In Wrath, Blizzard kind of dangled their toes just a leeetle bit into the DoF waters. The introduction of inscription gave them the leeway to allow a player to make some minor changes to the basics of how their character works. This was always the realm of talents, which were much more core to the character. If you were a fire mage, you were a fire mage, period. There weren't a whole lot of ways to make yourself something different and still stay a fire mage.

Glyphs (in some instances) allow for a little bit of freedom. Not a whole lot, but some. Unlike some racial and professional bonuses, they're not as immediately noticeable. They do have an effect on play style, though, and depending on your profession, there may be equally valid choices for any particular glyph or combinations of glyphs for your character. Choices that really will affect the way you play... kind of.

It's almost a real degree of freedom.

In Cataclysm, we're getting archaeology: a new profession, which at level 85 will allow you to progress down the Path of the Titans, and discover and use "Ancient" glyphs. Presumably, up until max skill, you'll still get some benefit from archaeology - maybe some bonuses that vary depending on what discoveries you make, or what your current primary professions are. Or maybe they'll take the easy way out, and just give role X +1 Y per 5 points, call it a day, and be done with it.

There's an opportunity here, though, to really give players an additional degree of freedom, or even two. To help make this fire mage different from that fire mage. Choices that involve tradeoffs that affect play style, or allow for different play styles, without giving an obvious advantage to one or another. I think that's going to come, in part, by making the talent trees less "+hit +crit +dmg" centric, and giving us more interesting abilities to play with.

What I'd really like to see is for Blizzard to overhaul the glyph system, and give us more interesting glyphs. I mean, if +1% damage talents are booooor-ing, then +1% damage glyphs are, too. Now, a glyph that fundamentally changes a talent or skill, that's fun. Glyphs that alter spell cooldowns - changing rotations - that's interesting. Glyphs that give an ability, rather than a bonus - that's neat. Glyphs that let an existing ability proc a slightly different effect (replenishment, haste buff, whatever) - those are exciting and fun.

Glyphs that give you +1% damage vs. Undead? Booooor-ing. But... a warrior glyph, "Rage Against Death" that adds a Holy damage component to your Sunder Armor ability when used against undead?

Oh, yeah. Now that could be fun.

Continuing that thought: on the Path of the Titans, I'd really like to see some class-changing ancient glyphs. Glyphs that really give you a fundamental change in how a class performs. I'm not sure how they would best work, though. Some could be special abilities, a la Lifebloom - skills that add a dimension to a class that otherwise wouldn't be there; the mage that can heal in a pinch, or the warrior that can capture a spell and then unleash it later. Others could be proc-based, more powerful abilities that only manifest some of the time, but when they do, they change how you play; a glyph that lets an arcane mage proc a fire spell buff that lets them shift rotations and use double damage fire spells for 30 seconds or so.

We don't know yet what archaeology and the Path of the Titans will look like. I'm hoping, though, that they'll both really interesting, and not just +1% better than nothing.

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