Monday, January 31, 2011

Now what?

As some of you may recall, I managed to pull my dad into Azeroth a little over a year ago. I set him up with a trial account, helped him with some of the basics, and then sent him on his merry way.

He ended up enjoying the game enough to stick with it. Though his playtime is limited to a few hours on the weekends, he still managed to get enough out of playing to continue his subscription.

He solo'd the whole way, with Norf or I occasionally running out to help him through some group quests, especially in Outland. Often that just meant running around behind him and keeping him healed up as he fought some of the bigger bads. Or tanking the ones that would have just killed him too quickly.

He enjoys taking the game at his own pace, and is very tunnel-visioned when he plays. A lot of times I have to call him on the phone when trying to help him out because he's just not watching his chat window. For this reason I didn't even bother inviting him into my guild. I just didn't feel it would add anything to the game for him. (I did discuss it with him at one point, and while he didn't say no, I got the impression he just didn't see why he would want to be part of one.)

Yesterday he logged on and I noticed he'd hit 85. (He was 79 when Cata dropped, so this was the first time he'd hit the cap.) I was halfway through sending him a congratulatory message, when I got a message from him instead. After exchanging greetings he said this:

"I hit level 85. Now what do I do?"

I started to type a response, stopped, started again, stopped again...and then sat there for a couple minutes just thinking about what I could say.

I've never approached the end-game from the perspective of someone who wasn't interested in raiding, or any other forms of multiplayer play. You know...that second M in MMORPG. From the very first time I hit level-cap in BC, group play was my goal.

We have a few uber-casual soloers in my guild, so I posed the question in gchat. Specifically asking for ideas on what someone could do with a max-level character that was perfectly happy playing unguilded and solo.

The first response was "start gearing for dungeons." *headdesk*

A few more minutes of conversation led to the conclusion that none of our uber-casuals were online. Everyone was in the same boat as me...they just didn't approach the game from the right perspective, so they had no clue.

I mean, there is stuff to do solo. Reputation grinds, AH PvP, Achievement hunting. But I had a hard time imagining any of that appealing to my dad. They don't have rewards that are easily quantifiable.

My dad can spend hours and hours and hours playing games that have loose definitions of winning. Civilization, for example, is one of his favorite series of all time. He's been playing since the very first one. But from the start of the game, there's still a quantifiable end-state.

Ultimately I told him to finish questing out Twilight Highlands if he hadn't. Then he could roll a new character and start over to see things from a different perspective. I also told him how to browse his Achievements and that he could pick some of those to go after. And, finally, that it may be an easier conversation to have in person.

I also apologized and said, "There's just not a ton of stuff to do on your own once you hit the level cap."

Oddly appropriate that this morning, Ardol announced his cold-turkey resignation from all things WoW for almost those same reasons. As someone who enjoyed just being on his own while playing the game, he found that the game really stopped offering things for him to do.

It's possible this is the end of my dad's adventures in Azeroth. Which doesn't entirely surprise me. I even told Norf a long time ago that I kind of envisioned my dad playing until he hit the level cap and then calling it good. He's the type of guy that doesn't watch movies twice because he's "already seen it." So I have a hard time envisioning him rerolling (even though he did ask about other classes before). And I just can't think of anything at level cap that will really hold his interest.

Even if this is the end of his WoW days, I can't say it's a bad thing. He certainly enjoyed his time. He enjoyed playing a game "with" me and a lot of the time I was at home we spent talking about the game. And it was nice for me to finally be able to share one of my games with him. I'm the gamer I am today because of all the games he shared with me while I was growing up. So, in a way, the cycle is complete.

Now I just need to wait for my niece to get a little older and I can start corrupting her. Not that I'm going to be alone in that endeavor. She's a total grandpa's girl. I'm sure he's already planted the seed...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Level up!

Holy carp! I got linked by WoW Insider!



(Shhh. Don't speak. Just let me have my moment.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

The curtain is set to rise

Tonight's a bit of a big deal for me and my guild. Tonight is our first official guild raid night of Cataclysm. We've been working towards this for a while now. Obviously ever since Cata dropped. But the last 2 or 3 weeks we took it a step further, spending our usual raid nights (Friday/Saturday) grouping up and splitting off into Heroic groups for gear and practice.

Last Sunday we had a 10-man kill of Argaloth (who dropped nothing useful, the jerk) and a couple nights ago a 10-man team went in to give the Bastion of Twilight a shot. I think it was a good learning night (I didn't participate, but listened to the latter half of the run on vent while they went) that ultimately ended without getting Halfus down.

Tonight, though, is the big one. 25-man BWD. The invite has been on the calendar for 2 weeks. As of right now we have 27 Accepted and 13 Tentative. Somehow we're going to have to pare that down to 25.

(Matticus' post today mentioned streaming raids. His is for recruitment purposes, but I may try and set up a stream before our raid so those who don't get to go can still watch if they want to. I still say raids need an "observer" mode.)

Unlike in the past, where we've mostly gone with a "the first 25 to show up get in" method (with the caveat that we need X tanks and Y healers), we'll be doing some gear checks. Not so much who is the most geared, but who put in the effort. Did they gem and enchant everything. Are those gems and enchants appropriate for the class? How's their First Aid skill? Do they have food/flasks/bandages?

During the Heroic runs over the past few weeks, we've also been keeping some notes on how people play. Not necessarily how good they are, but more how they work in a team. Do they help with CC (including refreshing when needed)? Do they interrupt? Do they help throw emergency heals? Do they do any of this without necessarily being reminded to or told when?

To be fair, as a raid leader, it's also a big night for me. We haven't raided as a guild in a long time now. A lot of our newer members (and there are quite a few of them) haven't raided with me at all. I worry about how I'm going to perform in that role and how well I'm going to be received. (Despite the frequent and flowery sentiments to the contrary from my guildies, I still don't think I'm that amazing of a raid lead.)

I'm also woefully unprepared. I took a quick look at a Magmaw guide earlier this morning, but still haven't researched anything else about the instance. Hell...I couldn't even tell you how to get there.

I didn't sleep well last night. Seriously. That's how neurotic I get about these things sometimes.

At the same time, I'm really, really excited. I love to raid. It's the pinnacle experience of an MMO, IMO. And as Captain Lore (as Cheres has named me) I get geeked out because raids are where a lot of the lore happens. It's the reason I got into raiding in BC in the first place.

I'm also excited that, at least for now, we're able to make good on our goal of being a 25-man raid guild. I know it's the less-desirable option right now. But we're in a place where we may be able to pull it off.

So we'll see how things go.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Is (low) leveling really too fast?

To people who frequently read my blog or that I interact with on a somewhat constant basis, it may seem kind of odd that I'm asking that question.

I've stated on more than one occasion that, yes, I feel low leveling is too quick. And up until this past weekend, I wholly believed that.

So what changed?

My Worgen Hunter dinged 40 this weekend. So far he's gone through Gilneas, Westfall, Duskwood, Northern and Southern Stranglethorn and he's started on Dustwallow Marsh. He's specifically abandoned breadcrumbs leading to Redridge and WPL. He has one going to EPL right now that I'm pretty sure will be green, if not grey by the time he's through Dustwallow. I'm sure he'll have picked up another one to somewhere else by then.

(That paragraph is making my spellchecker go nuts.)

So by my best estimates he'll have gone through 7 or 8 zones by the time he heads out to Outland. And if they continue like they have been, each one is going to be fully self-contained and give me enough levels to cleanly move on to the next without worry.

I also haven't hit a single dungeon (which people are complaining completely rockets them past zones).

Let's compare this to the old leveling experience.

I never really quantified it the way I just did above. But I have leveled 5 toons through pre-4.01 Azeroth. And I remember how it felt. The first 2 felt fresh and interesting, but they hit a lot of zones, and there was definite overlap. By the time I got to the third, there were only a couple zones I still hadn't been through. And I feel like if I had picked completely disparate paths, I would have had fewer, if any. Which means I was hitting around 45% of the zones.

There were definite dead zones in leveling where I was scrounging zones for quests of an appropriate level, or just any quests at all. I often spent so much time traveling from end-to-end of/between continents that I definitely felt I was leaving things undone. And I dreaded the 30-45 range when my choices were doing STV again or slagging through a hodge-podge of dreadful zones that included Desolace.

Some amount of dungeoning was almost required.

Leveling got to the point where it felt like a chore and I just wanted to get through it.

Now I already have a mental list of 4 zones I've completely skipped that I want to make sure I see on a future playthrough. And that doesn't include any of pre-40 Kalimdor or the new Elwynn and Dun Morogh.

Blizz is leaving ample content for me to explore on future playthoughs. And I'm actually excited to explore it.

I think I, like a lot a people, got wrapped up in the fact that it was different. I was expecting one thing, even though it was something I didn't actually enjoy, and when I didn't get it I made brash claims about it: it's too easy and too fast.

The old leveling slog through Azeroth felt like a chore. It was undesirable. But it felt like an accomplishment getting through it.

Now the sense of accomplishment is somewhat removed. But in its place?

You know...these new zones...

They're kinda fun.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A simple observation

It's kinda sad when a minor character like Glop has the best voice acting in the game, superior to more important and significant characters like, say, Alexstrasza, Varian, and Sylvanas.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Feral Enchants (4.03)

I have a confession to make, and it's not something I'm entirely proud to admit.

I've been really, really lazy with enchanting my gear so far this expansion.

That's not to say I haven't done it. I have. All my enchantable gear has something on it, but I'm not entirely sure any of them have the best option on there.

Mostly because I haven't really checked to see what all the options are.

As our guild started those early weeks of Cataclysm, we pushed for people to put their BoE greens in the guild bank to get DE'd, or send them directly to an enchanter. We figured we'd have some success with that method, but I don't think we were really prepared for just how successful we'd be. The bank tab we were using to hold the greens kept filling up faster than our enchanters could pull stuff out and DE it. We had 3/4 of a tab filled with materials in no time, and another 1/2 tab filled with enchants.

And so my method for enchanting my gear became to scan that half tab and pick the most useful looking thing I saw for each slot.

Now my guild is ready to start (25-man) raiding. Or at least ready to assemble a raid and see how ready we really are.

Guess it's time to really start paying attention to enchants, eh?

Bear Enchants:
Head (requires Revered with the respective factions)
WristIf you feel you're in a spot where some extra mitigation/avoidance is going to help you more than the Stam, then go
Rings (Enchanters only)

Cat Enchants:
Head (requires Revered with the respective factions)
Rings (Enchanters only)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Some Feral Macros

Over the holidays I picked up a Razer Naga. I have a full post coming in regards to how I feel about it, but suffice to say that it's been quite a shift in my play style. Among many other things, it's put me in a position where I'm using macros much more frequently than I used to.

On that note, I figured I could go over some of the macros I use.

Bear Form Macro
#showtooltip Bear Form
/cancelform [noform:1]
/dismount [mounted]
/cast [noform] Bear Form
This macro does 3 things. If I'm in any form except Bear form, I cancel out of it. If I'm mounted, I dismount. Finally, if I'm in caster form (no form) I shift to Bear. Where this macro differs from the standard Bear form button is if I'm already in Bear form, it won't get canceled. It also lets me shift out of flight form into the others when I'm not on the ground, which the game doesn't typically let you do. (Or at least used to not let you do...I don't know if that's true anymore since I always use this.)

I have a similar macro for Cat form. Just change the 1 in the second line to a 3. Then cast Cat Form on the last line.

Power Shift Macro
/cancelform [modifier:shift]
/cast [form:3] !Cat Form
/cast [form:1] !Bear Form
Powershifting is a powerful mechanic. Any debuffs that impair your movement (or, when 4.06 drops, just those that slow it) can be cleared without losing form. One easy example is the poison the Empyrean Assassins in Vortex Pinnacle apply.) If you're Rage starved and have speced 3/3 into Furor, you can powershift for 10 free Rage.

The PvP applications should be obvious.

I also included a way to shift out of my Cat and Bear forms in this macro since I removed that from the buttons I use for those abilities and it was an occasional annoyance having to cast a spell to get out of form.

Interrupt/Stun Macro
/cast [form:3] Skull Bash(Cat Form);[form:1,modifier:shift] Bash(Bear Form); [form:1] Skull Bash(Bear Form)
There's two things going on here. The first is that I can bind Skull Bash to the same button and have it work in both Cat and Bear forms. The second is that, when in Bear form, I can hold down shift and cast Bash instead for a quick stun.

I could also add [form:3,modifier:shift] Maim if I wanted to add my Cat form stun to this macro as well. But for now I've been keeping my combo finishers separate.

Cat DPS Macro
/cast [modifier:shift] Swipe(Cat Form); Shred
As a Cat your main attack is going to be Shred on a single target (often) and Swipe on large mob packs with low health (not so often). With this macro, I can bind both "main" attacks to the same button and just switch by holding the Shift key when fighting packs.

Stampeding Roar Macro
/cast [form:3] Stampeding Roar(Cat Form)
/cast [form:1] Stampeding Roar(Bear Form)
Pretty basic. Allows me to use the proper Stampeding Roar regardless of form.

Stealth Macro (NElfs only)
/cast [form:3, modifier:shift] Shadowmeld; [form:3] Prowl; [noform:3] Shadowmeld
With this Macro, I've bound both my stealth abilities to one button. In any form but Cat, I Shadowmeld. In Cat form, I Prowl by default, but Shadowmeld if I use the Shift key.

Taunt Macro
/cast [modifier:shift] Challenging Roar; Growl
Similar to the Cat DPS Macro above, this one lets me put a frequently used and a lesser used taunt on the same button.

Speedy Travel Macro
/cast [swimming] Aquatic Form; Travel Form
Another one that's pretty simple. It puts my non-flight travel forms on one button. If I'm in swimmable water, I'll shift into mutant seal form. Otherwise, cheetah.

As time goes on, I'm finding a few of these are less useful than I originally anticipated (I don't need the Skull Bash macro to handle both forms in my current setup). I'm also finding others that would be useful, like combining Rip and Ferocious Bite, or binding my defensive cooldowns (which I haven't done, but really should).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cataclysm Bear "Rotations" (4.03)

I put "rotations" in the title (and then again put "rotations" in the first few words of this post) in hopes that it will help people searching for that keyword find this post. But this isn't really a post about Bear rotations. Because Bears don't really have true rotations the way some other classes do.

Can I stop typing "rotations" now?

I lieu of talking about a specific rota--set of abilities hit in a specific order, I'm going to go over the tools we have as a bear when when you should be looking to use them. I'll also try and give an idea of something that might somewhat resemble that "r" word. But don't get yourself locked into that. Tanking is much more situational than strict rotations allow for.

Say rotations again! I dare you!

I'll stop now.

There are 4 main direct damage abilities in the Bear arsenal. These are our primary threat-building tools and the ones you'll be spending more time than not hitting.

Mangle - Mangle won't be the attack you're hitting most often (probably), but it's probably the most important one in your arsenal. It has a 6 second cooldown, but with your Lacerate stacks proccing Berserk, you rarely have to wait the full time. Absolutely use this every time you have the free one.

Maul - Maul is one of the most misunderstood abilities for Bears. It's a powerful attack, and glyphed it's a very effective way to hold threat on a secondary target. But it's a complete Rage hog. You have to be careful using it, or you'll find yourself Rage starved and unable to do anything else.

In Wrath, the idea was to spam Maul, or at least bind it to every other attack on your bar. It used to replace your auto-attack with a much more powerful one. Blizz didn't like that design, so it's gone now. Instead Maul is an instant attack that's off the global cool down. That's an important distinction. You can hit Maul at any time. Any time you're sitting there with a near-full Rage bar (75+), you should be using Maul to dump some of that Rage.

Lacerate - This is probably the one attack you'll be hitting more than any other. The general strategy with Lacerate is to apply a full 3 stacks, then consume them when your Pulverize buff expires. At the start of a boss fight this means you'll be spending 7 GCDs stacking, consuming, and restacking Lacerate in rapid order.

Lacerate is also one of the few abilities we use that doesn't have a cooldown, so it fits that "I need a button to push" niche when everything else is still locked out.

Also, Feral Druids, Rogues, and Warriors all have abilities that do increased damage on bleeding targets. When a Bear tank is in the raid, Lacerate is the primary source of that bleed since it's a pretty standard part of our rotation. That means that you want to keep its uptime as high as possible.

Pulverize - Pulverize is one of the new toys Bears got in Cataclysm and it seems to be the one a lot of Bears are having the hardest time fitting into their rotation. It definitely complicates things a bit. The model of stacking, consuming, and restacking Lacerate added a new dimension to a rotation that used to be sleep-inducingly simple.

Even with 2/2 Endless Carnage, your Pulverize buff only lasts 18 seconds, and you'll be spending a minimum of 4.5 seconds of that restacking Lacerate. A full third of your attack rotation (excluding Maul) is consumed by this pattern.

The crit buff is a big deal, though. Crits give us extra rage and a temporary shield that we would like to have on near-100% uptime. Not to mention the increased threat generation and damage.

Also, you can see in this post how I user PowerAuras to help track the Lacerate/Pulverize synergy.

AoE tanking is a lot harder than it was in Wrath. Gone are the days of Swipe-spam. We did gain a second AoE tanking ability, Thrash. But both abilities are on a 6 second cooldown, which makes management very important.

In an ideal situation, you'll be hitting these 3 seconds apart to minimize any long waits for cooldowns to expire, lest you lose control of a bunch of mobs and are forced to wait until you can get them back.

Swipe - While it's your main AoE tanking ability through most of leveling content, once you hit 81 and get Thrash, this becomes secondary. It still needs to be in your AoE tanking rotation to help offset the 6-second cooldown of Thrash. But it's just not as good.

Thrash - Thrash has two components. Cast-time damage for snap threat (that's higher than Swipe's damage) and then a bleed that lasts the full duration of of the 6 second cooldown. For AoE tanking, this is going to be your primary threat building ability.

The other very nice way to use Thrash is on single-target fights just before using Pulverize. This ensures that you will have a 100% bleed uptime by bridging that gap between the time you consume Lacerate and subsequently start reapplying it.

Taunts are a major part of any Tank's arsenal. They're what allow us to quickly regain aggro on a target, regardless of how much more threat someone may have than us. Of course, in an ideal world, we'd never need them (except for boss fights that require Tank swapping). But we don't tank in an ideal world.

Growl - Growl is our primary taunt. It makes a target focus on us and puts our threat level even with the highest person on the threat table. It's important that you don't let this lull you into a false sense of security. It's fairly easy (especially early in a fight and/or when a mob you taunted has to run back to you from range) for someone else to jump back past the threat threshold and gain aggro. More often than not, you're going to want to immediately cast F3 after a Growl to give yourself a little extra lead on the threat list.

Challenging Roar - While not a true taunt, Challenging Roar can be very useful in emergency situations. I've used this more so far in Cata than I have in the preceding 4.5 years combined. CR makes all enemies within 10 yards attack you for 6 seconds, but it does not modify any threat tables. At the end of that 6 seconds they'll go back to attacking someone else if you haven't managed to gain aggro.

CR is most often used when a large pack of mobs gets out of your control and is attacking the party/raid. Use CR to gain temporary aggro, then get off a quick Thrash and Swipe. Hopefully you can pick most of them up that way and deal with any individual stragglers appropriately.

It's also useful in raids if another tank is taking too much damage and is about to die. You can give your healers 6 seconds to get the other tank back to reasonable health. Just be sure you're in a position to take the hits for 6 seconds so you don't die instead.

For the sake of simplicity, I'm not going to mention Entangling Roots, Cyclone, or Hibernate here. They are CC abilities that we do have as Bears, but they're rarely abilities we use while actively tanking. I have a different post for another day that will include those spells.

Skull Bash - Skull Bash is my new favorite Druid toy in Cataclysm, by a long shot. I absolutely hated tanking fights that required interrupts and not having a reliable one on a reasonable cooldown to use.

Speccing 2/2 into Brutal Impact lowers the cooldown of Skull Bash to 10 seconds, which is enough for you to handle nearly every must-interrupt situation on your own.

It's also worth noting that SB is not tied to the GCD, so you're able to use this instantly at any time, as long as you have the Rage to do so. If you're not the key-binding sort, I still recommend you bind this one ability to a key that you can reach quickly and easily and get used to using it that way.

Bash - With the interrupt component of this ability moved to Skull Bash, it's seen a significantly reduced role in the Bear toolkit. But it shouldn't be ignored. It's still a very powerful ability that's actually been improved with the addition of Skull Bash. Now you don't have to save this for some kind of emergency interrupt situation. You can use it every time the cooldown is up...and I suggest you do.

While most bosses will be immune to the stun, it's very effective against trash. It gives you a 5 second reprieve from damage from a single mob. Additionally, a mob that's stunned cannot Block, Parry, or Dodge, meaning it's going to take full damage from anyone attacking it. If you need to burn something down quickly, this is a very effective tool.

Nature's Grasp - I debated on whether or not to include Nature's Grasp in this post, but I think it's finding enough use that it may be worth mentioning.

NG is an ability you're going to be using on occasion when you need a pack of mobs to stop attacking you for a time. You're able to cast this in Bear form, which makes it particularly helpful. The next 3 physical attacks you receive over the next 45 seconds will temporarily root the attacker in place. Damage done has a chance to break those roots, though. So you want to be careful not to attack (including Swipe or Thrash) rooted targets.

Normally you're going to use this in fights where you have to kite something. Or multiple somethings. The Setesh encounter in HoO is a good example of when NG becomes very handy.

Another use is when you have too many mobs attacking you. Pop this, let a few of them get rooted, and then run off a short distance to continue tanking the rest. It'll give you a short reprieve from massive incoming damage.

Faerie Fire (Feral) - The primary debuff used by Bears if Faerie Fire (Feral) (or F3, as I commonly refer to it). Not only does this reduce the target's armor, but in Bear form it does damage and a hefty bit of threat. It's the only ranged ability we have.

Most pulls are going to be done with F3, even if it's as you're running up to or Charging the eventual target. Using F3 to pull from range and then ducking out of line of sight is also a key way to round up mob groups with casters.

As I stated above, you'll also want to use F3 immediately following Growl on any target that you're trying to get aggro on.

Demoralizing Roar - All tanks have some ability that mirrors Demoralizing Roar. Paladins and DKs don't even have to hit an extra button for it like Druids and Warriors do, (although Druids and Warriors have an easier time applying it to a whole group of mobs). So if you're raid tanking, you may not have to worry about this, particularly against bosses. But in Dungeon situations, you'll want to try and keep DR up as mush as possible. Your healers will appreciate it.

While you'll generally want to use these cooldowns on a rotation, using all 3 at the same time can make you nearly invincible and fill your health bar significantly for a short period of time.

Using Survival Instincts and Frenzied Regeneration together is also a fairly common tactic, as they're on a mirrored cooldown and have great synergy. However, if you're in a fight where you need to roll defensive cooldowns fairly frequently, it may be better to use them separately.

Barkskin - With its relatively short cooldown, you should pretty much be hitting Barkskin every time it's available unless you know there's something specific coming up that you should be saving it for.

Barkskin is particularly helpful right at the beginning of a pull when your healers may be focusing on getting in position more than healing you or when you'll have a large number of trash mobs hitting you.

Survival Instincts - SI has a much longer cooldown, so it should be used with more caution. The damage reduction can save your life and, ultimately, a wipe. But if you use it haphazardly you may not have it when you really need it.

At the same time, don't be too gun shy. If you always "save it for later," then you may never get the chance.

I generally use SI any time my health drops below 20% for more than a few seconds, or if I know some big damage ability is incoming that I won't be able to survive otherwise.

Frenzied Regeneration - FR is an interesting ability in that there's two different ways you can use it. There's the base state, where you can convert extra Rage into a fairly powerful self-heal. Then there's the glyphed state, which removed the self-heal but increases all healing done to you by 30%.

Either way, you get the bump to your current and total health.

Which one you use is probably a matter of personal preference. Right now I'm mostly running with the unglyphed version. I like being able to tell my healers "don't worry about me for the next 20 seconds, heal the group." It's also an excellent survival tool for when your healer dies and you need just a little more time to down that boss.

I have a feeling that once I start raiding more and running dungeons less, I might find the glyphed version more useful. The jury is still out on that one, though. If any regular Bear raiders have some insight on this, feel free to share. :-)

Enrage - Enrage is generally used before a pull to give you an initial pool of Rage to work with. Usually you'll want to pull just as the 10 seconds expires to make sure you have maximum rage to work with, but don't start taking damage while you still have Enrage active.

Depending on how you're specced, there's also some in-combat advantage to be gained from Enrage. However it's up to you and your healers whether or not the additional damage you'll be taking while it's active is worth the trade-off.

Feral Charge - Many pulls will start with Charge, especially those where you don't want the boss/mobs moving very far from their pre-pull locations.

You'll also want to use this to quickly close the gap on any enemies that have gone out of range.

Berserk - Besides the free and regular Mangle procs, the actual Berserk button can be very helpful in certain situations. Hitting this button will give you virtually unlimited 3-target Mangles for 15 seconds as long as you have the rage to support them (which, between getting hit and generating a high number of crits, you should). It's great for getting a high level of threat on multiple targets or for those "blow all your cooldowns" moments for high damage. Adding Maul to the mix every time it's off cooldown (again, if have the rage to support it) can send your damage through the roof.

Stampeding Roar - One of the new Druid toys in Cata. I debated whether or not to include this in this post, but ended up going with it for one main's a mini-Dash for Bears. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to run a long way to get to a safe zone (Erudax, Asaad), quickly get to the other of some void zone, get out of the way of a super damaging ability, or need some extra kiting distance, this is a great ability to use.

Also handy for those times your whole group/raid needs to move somewhere quickly. You know...those other guys.

Thorns - Thorns has seen a very decreased role in Bear tanking since Cata. It has a short duration now (where it used to be a set-it-and-forget-it 1 hour) and cannot be applied while in forms. You'll have to shift to use it, which is dangerous when you're actively tanking. Additionally, the damage done by Thorns is now based on the target's spell power, not the caster's. So we can still have Boomkins and Trees cast this on us so we can stay in form, but it doesn't do extra damage like it used to.

Still if you're going to be tanking a large group of mobs, it can be useful to apply this just before the pull for some additional initial threat. Ditto with bosses. Obviously it works better on mobs that hit faster.

Savage Defense - I want to take a moment to specifically mention Savage Defense because a lot of Bears seem to forget it. Since we can't Block or Parry, we needed something to smooth out our incoming damage. Because of our previously outrageous Dodge percentage, bosses had to hit very fast or very hard to compensate. It put other tanks at a disadvantage, and it meant incoming damage against Bears was very spiky as it was dependent on the RNG.

The SD mechanic works very similar to a shield for blocking. Our crits have a 50% chance to proc this, and with most boss attack speeds, we should be able to have it up near 100%. That's the idea, anyway. We're balanced around that goal.

Additionally, our mastery increases the effectiveness of Savage Defense.

Just to give you an idea of the power of Savage Defense, just before Beta ended they nerfed it significantly. In order to not make boss damage against Bears inconsequential, they were hitting unfairly hard against all other tanks.

Single/Double Target Priorities:
As I said at the top of the post, Bears don't really have Rotations. It's more of a priority list. Each time you do something, go back to the top of the list and start over.
  1. If Mangle is available, Mangle.
  2. If there are no stacks of Lacerate on the mob, Lacerate.
  3. If the mob does not have Demoralizing Roar or a similar debuff, Demoralizing Roar.
  4. If Thrash is off cooldown, Thrash.
  5. If the mob does not have 3 stacks of Lacerate, Lacerate.
  6. If your Pulverize buff has dropped off, Pulverize.
  7. Refresh F3
There are two assumptions this list is making.
  • You pulled with F3.
  • You're using Maul any time you have the Rage available. (Since it's off the GCD, it doesn't really fit inside the priority order.)

Multi-Target (3+) Priorities:
  1. If Thrash is off cooldown and you can hit all/most of the targets, Thrash.
  2. If Swipe is off cooldown, Swipe.
  3. If there are mobs that do not have the Demoralizing Roar debuff, Demoralizing Roar.
  4. If Mangle is available, Mangle current target
  5. Lacerate current target
Again, there's a few things to note here.
  • Maul any time you have the Rage to spare.
  • Your current target doesn't always mean the first kill target. Once you have enough of a threat lead over your DPS that Thrash and Swipe will maintain it, start tab-cycling through the remaining mobs and applying Mangles and Lacerates.

So there you have it. Simple, right?

Keeping all of your abilities in mind, knowing when you use them, tracking cooldowns, de/buff durations, on top of just keeping an eye on your health and the overall tanking situation can be tough.

Not just can be. It is.

Don't let yourself get overwhelmed. In time you'll get more comfortable and you'll be able to do everything while thinking about it less than before. After time, certain things will become automatic. But don't expect there to not be growing pains. And don't fret even when you find yourself messing up a rotation long after you think you're comfortable with it. It's not uncommon, especially when learning new fights.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cataclysm Bear Raiding Spec (4.03)

The following an overview of a dungeon/raid talent build for Bear tanking. In this build I pass over abilities that are nice during solo or PvP play and focus strictly on what's useful for group play. This is also not meant to be a hybrid build of any kind. It's optimized strictly for running as a Bear.

The Base Build

These are the 34 talent points that I would consider to be at the heart of any Bear build. Your mileage may vary, of course. But this is as good of a starting place as any.

Restoration - 3 points
Heart of the Wild - 3/3
A pretty key talent here that I don't think any Druid build (of any spec) is going to pass over. For Bears, this jumps our Stam a cool 6%. If you've been playing around in Cata so far, I don't think I have to explain why more health is a good thing.

Feral - 31 points
Feral Swiftness - 2/2
Being that Bears can't Parry or Block (technically), Dodge becomes incredibly important for our overall damage reduction. We get a lot of it through the Agility on our gear, but 4% for a couple talent points is also a good bargain.

Furor - 3/3
Not really an essential talent, but the guaranteed 10 rage on shift is nice. It gives us some breathing room when we're called to help out with CC. Throw an Entangling Roots or a Hibernate and then shift and you're not completely Rage starved.

Infected Wounds - 2/2
There are a lot of abilities and talents that reduce enemy attack speed, but I generally don't like to depend on other people for my own survivability where I don't have to. As a tank, that's my job. Plus, as a tank, I'm the most likely to be attacking the boss 100% of the time. So it makes sense for me to be the one responsible for applying these types of debuffs.

Fury Swipes - 3/3
There's room for debate on this talent. I like, it though. With my current weapon this equates to a 15% chance of getting a free hit for 3.2K - 5K damage. And that's if this can't crit (I'd have to look at some parses to see if I could even determine that). Over a long fight, that can really add up, both in terms of damage and threat. (Edit: Thanks to Ampzilla for confirming that this does, indeed, crit. That makes it a little more valuable as a 3-point talent.)

Primal Fury - 2/2
Rage is what we use to do what we do. A rage starved bear might as well be holding a big neon arrow that says "go attack him." With all the agility we stack as Bears, we crit. A lot. So getting Rage for something we do a lot...hey, that sounds like a good deal. (Plus, the more Rage we generate, the more we can Maul. And Mauling is fun.)

Feral Aggression - 2/2
This is another one of those not-entirely-critical talents. But there some points you need to put in arbitrary places to unlock lower tiers and this gets my vote for one of them. The only-needing-one-application-of-F3-to-get-full-stacks is kinda nice, though.

Feral Charge - 1/1
This is just one of those essential Feral talents I could never imagine being without. Great for those I-need-to-get-there-and-hit-that-now moments.

Thick Hide - 3/3
An absolutely essential talent for Bears. Without this, you're no less squishy than a Cat. And the whole crit-immunity thing, too. Just a little important.

Leader of the Pack - 1/1
Another one of those essential Druid talents. A passive crit buff to your whole raid is a good thing. So is the 4% self-heal every 6 (or so) seconds.

Brutal Impact - 2/2
I can't tell you how giddy it makes me to have this talent available to us. Skull Bash is my favorite new Druid ability in Cataclysm, bar none. I no longer have to depend on other people to interrupt that boss ability that's going to kill me. But Skull Bash on a cooldown of 1 minute, or even 35 seconds just isn't good enough. 10 second cooldown? <Insert George Takei "Oh my" here>.

Survival Instincts - 1/1
A super-charged Barkskin on a longer cooldown. Every Bear needs this button on their bars for emergency situations.

Endless Carnage - 2/2
Pulverize is already a tough ability to really get a feel for. It doesn't hit incredibly hard and it consumes our stacks of Lacerate, meaning we lose the damage/threat from the bleed and have to spend 3 GCDs stacking it back up again. That said, the 9% crit bonus is very good, since Crit actives Savage Defense, our version of Block. With Pulverize in the game, Blizz is going to continue trying to balance us having it in our rotation, so it makes sense that it really is something we're going to want to be using. And without the extra 8 second duration from this talent, it goes from a debatable ability to a less-than-useless one.

Natural Reaction - 2/2
Less damage, extra dodge, and more Rage. Easiest 2 points on the tree.

Rend and Tear - 3/3
Another talent of somewhat debatable value. For 3 points we get a 20% increase in Maul damage to any bleeding target. If you have a Cat, Rogue, or Warrior in your raids, this is pretty good, as the bleed uptime will be just about 100%. If you have none of those, you're completely dependent on having Lacerate up...which you'll occasionally be consuming with Pulverize. But you do need 3/3 here to get Pulverize...

Pulverize - 1/1
As you can see from having discussed Endless Carnage and Rend and Tear, there's a lot of debate going on over the relative value of Pulverize. I think it's a good idea and an interesting ability. I just don't think it's quite where it needs to be yet. Hopefully Blizz is getting a lot more data from current play than they were during Beta and are tweaking it appropriately to get it to line up with where they want it to be. Still, like I said earlier, we are at least partially balanced around having that crit buff up. So get cozy with it.

Berserk - 1/1
Not as good for Bears as for Cats, but still a very nice talent to have. Especially when you need to get snap threat on a group of (up to 3) targets or need to help burn them down very quickly. Unlimited Mangles for 15 seconds can do a LOT of damage. When your raid leader tells the DPS to blow all their cooldowns, you want to be using this to help out (and to keep up, if it's early in the fight).

The zero pointers
Predatory Strikes, Nuturing Instinct, and Blood in the Water provide no benefit to Druids in Bear form. They're good for hybrid builds or if you really, really want to put some points there for those times when you may be going cat. But if your goal is to be a primary tank, you'll be wanting to skip these.

The rest
At this point you're left with 7 talent points to spend and a few places you can choose to spend them. Where you do will largely depend on your personal play style and needs.

King of the Jungle (Feral, 3 points)
I'm pretty much against ever using Enrage in combat. I'm not saying there's never a reason to do it. But the times when you are willing to take an additional 10% damage should be very few and far between. That said, maybe towards the end of the encounter when your healers are going all out and you've popped Barkskin and Survival Instincts (and maybe Frenzied Regeneration, too) you can afford the extra damage output 3/3 here will get you. Maybe you need it to beat that enrage timer. Or maybe your healers are awesome enough that they're okay with you taking the extra damage for 15 seconds every so often. I'd be hard pressed to personally spend points here. But to each his own.

Primal Madness (Feral, 2 points)
I could have grouped this KotJ because...if you're going to go that deep, you may as well go all the way. Still, there might be some reason you want the occasional damage buff but don't feel the pressing need for extra Rage at the same time. So this is still hanging out on its own as a take-it-or-leave-it option.

Stampede (Feral, 2 points)
The value of melee haste for Bears is pretty questionable right now. It doesn't feel like it's all that great. And 2 points for 8 seconds of it only after having Charged doesn't feel like a great bargain. That said, if you're charging something as a Bear, there's more than a 90% chance that you're trying to gain aggro on it--whether that means you're pulling it off one of your other raid members, or just pulling it cold. A little extra attack speed is a little extra threat you can generate in that 8 seconds.

Natural Shapeshifter/Master Shapeshifter (Resto, 3 points)
I lump these together because no PvE Druid would take Natural Shapeshifter on its own. The goal here is to get Master Shapeshifter, and you're going to have to spend 3 points to do it. Is 4% increased damage (threat) worth 3 points? Tough call.

Perseverance (Resto, 3* points)
Tanks in general, but Bears especially, don't have a lot of defense against spell damage. Whatever amount of damage a spell does, that's what we're going to take. Perseverance is one defense against that. 6% isn't a huge gain, though. And it's costly. Not only do you have to spend 3 points here to get it, but you'll need at least 2 more (beyond the 3 in Heart of the Wild) in the first tier of the Resto tree to even unlock this talent. Blessing of the Grove and Naturalist don't really do anything for us, so you'd probably be putting the points into NS, at which point you'd also be putting one in MS just to justify it. That's 6 total points for a 6% spell damage reduction. If your healers need the help keeping you up, or you're already going for the threat increase of MS, it might be worth it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The New Old Azeroth (So Far)

I still have a lot of Druidy stuff to talk about...not the least of which is getting some tanking guides and such up for the Cata era. But I've been lazy about prepping posts at home and I have a lot of work to get done today, so I need to keep today's post somewhat short.

I spent a lot of my time this past weekend devoted to my Hunter, Grevioux. (Anyone who can figure out the reference gets bonus points.) After devoting most of an afternoon to him when I started him, getting him through and out of Gilneas, I pretty much left him alone while focusing on my current-content toons.

In the past week (mostly Saturday and Sunday) I've taken him through Westfall, Duskwood, and most of STV (all of Northern and most of the Cape).

I'll tell you what...I enjoyed all of the level 80-85 zones that came with Cata. I thought they were fun, varied, and told excellent stories.

They don't hold a candle to the new old-world content.

Yes, leveling is way too fast and easy now. But this isn't a leveling post, it's a zone post.

If you haven't run the new Deadmines yet (Heroic or otherwise), I suggest you try and get a character (even if it's your 85 main) through Westfall before you do. It sets up the story amazingly. I ended up doing H DM on Saniel after having quested out the zone on Grevioux and it was a total thrill to see the story of Westfall come to fruition there.

Even if you have already done DM, run Westfall anyway. You'll know the end of the story already, but at least you'll get the rest.

Duskwood is basically split into two halves now. There's the Darkshire half, which hasn't changed a whole lot since Vanilla but is a lot more streamlined now (including having moved Abercrombe over to that half of the zone). And then there's the Raven Hill half, which is almost all new. In particular, the story of Sven Yorgen and Jitters gets moved forward from its previous incarnation and had one of those (somewhat) subtle moments in it that, as a lore-whore, I am all about.

And then, there's the craziest of crazies. Never in my life did I think I'd utter these words.

I love STV.

I used to do everything I could to avoid this zone. It was the nightmare marathon from 30-45. The only reason you went there is because your alternatives were Desolace and the Badlands...which were, somehow, inexplicably, worse. But good lord, I hated STV.

Now, it's amazing. I actually ended up staying at my computer well past my bedtime last night because I didn't want to stop. It's so streamlined. And the story...oh man. The story.

The highlight of the zone (so far) has to have been trying to guide the little raptor out of ZG. Cute overload. If you're the squee type, you have to quest through the zone. It will become one of your favorites.

The story of what's going on in ZG dominates the zone. I love Troll lore. I think it's some of the most fascinating in the game. Has been for a long time.

Also, I'm way too geeked out to finally figure out what the hell that blue rock is. I just got down to Booty Bay (the last hub down there) so I haven't figured it out yet. But seriously, so excited.

And one of the first quests you pick up in BB alludes to something a little bit mysterious about the little Goblin port. I want to see where that goes...

I've heard the new Redridge is equally amazing, but I leveled straight past it while doing everything else. I'll have to save it for another time.

Now I'm all anxious to start taking Shaetano through Kalimdor to see what's new over there.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Leveling Feral 80-85

I saw a lot of theory posts coming out in the weeks and months leading up to Cata regarding this. A few of them were written by people that were actually in the Beta, and so they had first hand knowledge of what things would be like. A lot of the rest were pure conjecture though.

Now that I've taken San (and two other characters) up to 85 I think I have a good feel on what it's like. So I'm going to offer my own advice on how to level from 80 to 85 through Cataclysm.

So you just dinged 80 and you're ready to head home from Northrend and start exploring the world that Deathwing (un)made. Cool.

From a pure solo-play, quest-grinding perspective, I would suggest you have your spec set up something like this 0/33/3 spec. It's a little mish-mashed and it's missing some of the key Druid cooldowns/abilities, but you'll only miss them while in dungeons. And even then...not too much. Once you hit the level cap, you can respec and optimize for group-play.

As you get leveling talent points, it's really not too important where you put them. Fill out Fury Swipes and then spend the other 4 wherever you want.

  1. Prime
    • Mangle: This will be your primary attack while leveling. Get everything out of it that you can.
    • Savage Roar: Kill things faster.
    • Tiger's Fury or Lifebloom, depending on how often you end up HoTing yourself.
  2. Major
    • Faerie Fire: Increasing your pull range is always useful.
    • Feral Charge: You want this available as often as possible for the free Ravage.
    • Rake or Thorns: I didn't notice many mobs that try to flee, but Glyph of Rake would stop any that do. Thorns is nice for tougher mobs or when you get stuck in a crowd.
  3. Minor

You're going to be spending almost all your time in Cat form, so get cozy with it. While you're running around, you're going to have two basic attack patters:
  1. If Feral Charge is available
  2. If Feral Charge in unavailable (on cooldown or the enemy is too close)
    • F3
    • Mangle
    • Rake
    • Mangle spam to 5 CPs
    • Tiger's Fury
    • Ferocious Bite (if you still have Savage Roar active, otherwise Savage Roar)
    • Mangle Spam

Through all the zones, mobs are spaced just far enough apart and take just long enough to kill that you'll be rotating through those lists on a 1-2-1-2-1-2 basis pretty regularly.

For tougher solo mobs, you can throw a Rip in there as long as you already have Savage Roar up already, but most mobs are going to die long before Rip becomes more effective than Ferocious Bite.

Unfortunately, Cats don't really get any new and exciting (useful) tools from 80-85. So your attack pattern in the first quests of Hyjal and Vashj'ir is going to stay steady all the way through your last quest in Twilight Highlands.

Other abilities
Keep Skull Bash handy. There's a lot of stuff to interrupt while you're questing through the new zones that will make your life 100 times easier. A lot of caster mobs will die without ever getting a spell off if you manage this right.

I got a lot more use out of Maim while leveling than I did through most of Wrath. If you're getting low on health, that 5 second reprieve can be invaluable. You won't need to use this regularly, but using it at the right times can save you a corpse run.

Also, keep Nature's Grasp handy for those times when you start to get overwhelmed. Pop it and hightail. Anything chasing you will get rooted in place, giving you plenty of open space to run away.

Stay healthy
Quite frequently, you're going to find that you're at 4 or 5 CPs when a mob dies. If so, pop off a Savage Roar (you can use this to consume the leftover combo points from a dead mob now, as long as you don't go too far away or attack something else) and then use the ensuing Predator's Swiftness buff to pop off a quick Healing Touch, shift back to cat, and go back to the grind. (The buff comes from having specced 2/2 into Predatory Strikes.)

If you need a little more of a boost, stack up Lifebloom. It used to be way too mana-intensive for Ferals, but with the change of only allowing it to stack on one player at a time, the mana costs have been lowered significantly. This is a great spell to use while on your own now, only hindered by the fact that it takes 3 GCDs to fully apply. The bloom at the end is amazing in Cat form, though, with the aid of Nuturing Instincts.

Pull with care
While we have a number of tools at our disposal (including Bear form) to help out our survivability, Cats are still kinda squishy. The idea is for us to be able to nuke something down before it has much time to do real damage to us. One- and two-pulls usually aren't much of a problem. Three-pulls start to feel fairly dangerous, especially once you get out into Uldum and Twilight Highlands.

Four-pulls end up being pretty deadly.

Keep an eye on your surroundings, pull mobs to safe places to kill them, and be aware of OoC and Predator's Swiftness procs for emergency heals.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Not so fast, kitty!

True to form, I've been spending most of my group time in Cata so far tanking. You'd think people trust the bear or something...I dunno.

That said, I've had a few opportunities to go cat and shred some heels and it's taught me something that, inexcusably, I never seemed to know before. It's taught me that I need to slow down my attacks.

The cat rotation, even with the recent simplifications, is still pretty hectic and chaotic. There's a lot going on and a lot for you to keep track of. That, compared with the nature of the Energy mechanic, can lead to a certain degree of button mashing. Hell, the very nature of being a DPS can lead to a certain degree of button mashing.

It makes sense, right? If you're a caster and you're not casting a spell the moment your GCD is up, you're losing DPS. Not just casters, either...Ret Pallies, Enhancement Shamans, and (to a lesser degree) DPS Warriors should all be hitting that next ability as soon as they can.

But the Cat (and Rogue and Hunter) playstyle require a little more finesse and, ironically given our hyper-fast attack speed, patience. Why? What's the difference?

Energy, unlike Mana or Rage, is a time-based resource. It empties fast and regenerates slowly and steadily. More often than not, we're not working with a surplus.* The only time you're truly wasting energy and limiting your DPS is if you're sitting with a full Energy bar, doing nothing.

Let's take Shred, for example. On most boss encounters, Shred is going to be your primary attack. And at 40 Energy, it's a costly. Since Energy regenerates at 1 per decasecond (or 10 per second)** if one Shred takes you down to 0 energy, you're going to be waiting a full 4 seconds until you can use it again. If you sit there (like I used to) and mash your Shred button until it can go off again, you're back at 0 Energy and waiting for your next special attack.

This is bad, mmkay?


Many, many bosses in Cata require interrupts. And, conveniently, Cata gave us the ability to ram our noggin into something hard enough to interrupt it. But you need Energy to do it. 25 Energy, to be exact. That's 2.5 seconds of Energy-time. So what happens if an attack takes you down to 0 energy and suddenly the boss starts casting something that needs to be interrupted? You can't help. Not if it's not a very long cast-time spell.

"But Saniel," you say. "So many classes have interrupts now. Who cares if I can't use mine?"

First, I generally dislike depending on someone else to do something that I could. Second, some bosses require more interrupts than one, or even two people can handle on their own. But mostly, this is just a crappy attitude and shows that you're not a team player and are only interested in the size of your Recount-peen. Shame on you.

But okay, let's work with that attitude. Let's say we want to keep our DPS numbers as high as possible, even at the expense of being a team player.

A big, big part of kitty DPS is having 100% uptime on our bleeds, Rake and Rip. Let's say you've just Shredded yourself down to 0 Energy and then suddenly realize that both are about to expire. Uh oh! Now it's going to take you 7.5 seconds to get them both back up. And I really hope you're at 5 combo points before you apply that Rip, or you've wasted even more DPS! Bad kitty!

And if your Mangle debuff is at risk of dropping off in the same time frame...tsk tsk.

So slow down those special attacks! Try to keep some Energy in the bank.

In a completely ideal situation, you'll spend most of your time hovering between 70 and 30 Energy. This will just about let you rip off any special ability you need to as long as you're not locked out by the global cooldown. Ideally your energy will never top out. Ideally it will never bottom out either.

There are, of course, exceptions.

If you're fighting Baron Ashbury and you know he's about to Asphyxiate everyone...go ahead and burn through your Energy. You'll be back at 60 by the time you hit the ground.

Breaking Rom'ogg's chains? Burn away. You want them down quickly and you're going to be running away as soon as they're broken anyway.

Need to empty yourself to interrupt Rajh's Sun Orb? Do it.

Are you approaching 90 or even 100 energy for some reason? Then fire off two fast attacks to get yourself back down into the safe range.

Reapplying bleeds and debuffs is another good reason to burn through some extra energy fast.

Overall, it's just about knowing the encounters, knowing your timers and rotations, and playing smart.

Please, do us all a favor and play smart.

* - For the sake of simplicity, I'm ignoring Tiger's Fury, Berserk, and OoC procs.

** - Also for the sake of simplicity, I'm using the base rate. Haste now affects how fast our Energy regens and can change these numbers, but the basic idea remains the same.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

1 Year Blogoversary!

Yep, that's right. One year ago today I made my very first post to this blog.

It's been a interesting adventure so far, but since I already made the post detailing it, I'm going to keep this one short and simple.

I didn't make my goal of 200 posts in the 2010 calendar year. As it came to a close I was primed and ready to do it. I figured out that if I posted every weekday except for a single one over the last two weeks, I'd make it.

I make a lot of arbitrary goals while playing WoW of the exact same variety. And usually I put in the time and effort to see them through. This time, though...this time I decided to let one slide. Partially because it would have taken time out of a shiny, new expansion I've been enjoying the hell out of. Partially because I felt that taking off two weeks of work to close out the year should mean all work. I worked my butt off the other 352 days, the last 13 could be about relaxing. But mostly I took the time off blogging because it would have taken that much more time that I wanted to spend with friends and family, enjoying the company. I already feel that, despite my efforts, WoW takes up too much of the time I might spend doing that. I wanted to make sure that trend didn't hold through the holidays.

So now I'm back, ready for a new year of blogging. I've got a ton of skele-posts saved up in my drafts and a few more ideas stuck in the back of my head, so I should be good on material for at least the next few weeks.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and I wish you all a great start to 2011. Are you excited? I know I am.