Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Down, But Not Out

It's been a busy two months for me between wrapping up my current job and doing a bunch of work on a 1900's-era house I bought recently, so I haven't had much time for blogging. I do plan on getting back into it, but it'll be a couple more weeks before I can get back to regular posting. I've been working intermittently on updating the gear calculator spreadsheet, so should hopefully have an improved version when I start posting again, and I'm looking forward to delving into how the 2.4 changes (once they're fully announced) will affect our class. So stay tuned, but it'll be a few more weeks, I'm afraid.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How would I fix us?

Image from WorldofWarcraft.comWhen Blizzard asked for class feedback, they asked posters to highlight class issues they felt need improvement, but did not want suggestions on how to fix these percieved deficiencies. I can certainly understand why they wouldn't want to clutter the thread with suggestions (especially as many forum posters have a rather short-sighted view of the game — "ZOMG, give us a 'Kill Warlock' instant spell! K Thx Bai!"), but that doesn't keep each of us from wondering "Just what would I do to 'fix' our class?"

I came up with my own list of shaman issues and have had ideas for improvements percolating through my brain since then. The biggest problem when coming up with solutions is to ensure that they're balanced, remain true to the class concept (much as some would argue Blizzard doesn't have one for shaman), and aren't simply going to generate more issues. Not an easy task and one that I've had a lot of fun mulling over the last few days.

Totems are clearly the biggest issue for shaman, but are also our most defining characteristic. I've seen all sorts of suggestions ranging from providing zone-wide buffs, to having their effect centered on the shaman, to having a chance to stun players and mobs when attacked. For the most part, I've found these suggestions to either be overpowered (can you imagine the forest of totems deep in the AV starting caves if they were zone-wide?) or completely abandoning the current system altogether. Although no solution is perfect, I have a couple thoughts for improvements that would help make the system less cumbersome while still maintaining balance for both PvE and PvP.

  • Totem UI: Some sort of basic UI tool is needed to avoid cluttering up our action bars. I think user-created mods will still be used for their additional features, but some sort of bar like the Druid's forms buttons would be very helpful for newer players.
  • Longer duration: One of the major complaints for PvE raiding is the frequency with which we have to recast totems, with the global cooldown forcing us to stop healing/DPSing for up to six seconds every two minutes to drop them. One easy solution is to increase the duration of the raid-buffing totems (Windfury, Wrath of Air, etc.) to 10 minutes. Although you'd still need to recast them for each new fight, they would last for the majority of boss fights and remove the amount of required downtime to keep these buffs up. I wouldn't change the duration of some of the more PvP or DPS-oriented totems (Earthbind, elementals, Magma/Searing totems, etc.), however, to prevent them from becoming overpowered in PvP.
  • Increased range: With the increased focus on mobility for PvE (and the obvious need for it in PvP), the 20 yard base range is no longer sufficient and Totemic Mastery has basically become a "must have" talent for all specs. The effect range needs to small enough to allow opponents to eliminate them in PvP, but something on the order of 40 yards wouldn't be unreasonable and would greatly improve their use in raids. I'd also eliminate the Totemic Mastery talent at the same time.
  • Increased health: "A level 1 can remove our buffs" is usually thrown around when discussing totems. A reasonable change would be to have totems' health scale with the shaman's. 5% of total health would seem to be just about right to me (giving them about 500 health for a PvP-geared player — easily taken down by a level 70 DPS class, while perhaps taking two hits from a healer or pet). In addition, the various totem-buffing talents (Call of Flame, Enhancing Totems, Imp. Weapon Totems, Restorative Totems) could have an added effect of increasing the health of their respective totems by some additional percentage.
  • Faster pulses: The five second pulses of Poison/Disease Cleansing and Tremor Totems feel like an eternity and sometimes even make them useless (although the increased range would help somewhat). Dropping the pulse frequency down to every two seconds would make them much more viable and their increased utility could be compensated by a corresponding reduction in the length of time before they're destroyed.
  • Reduced global cooldown: I don't think eliminating the global cooldown for totems would be balanced since the totems are fairly powerful (especially with the other buffs I'm proposing), but reducing the GCD for casting totems to 1 second would make dropping them a little less painful without giving us a bunch of instant-cast buffs.
  • Consider totems as 'physical': The majority of totems are considered Nature spells and therefore are particularly vulnerable to spell locks and silences. Having totems be considered physical actions (much like a hunter's Arcane Shot) would allow us to still have some utility when silenced, even if we're not able to cast the majority of our other healing/DPS spells.
  • A few other totem-specific changes that I would make are:

    • Earthbind Totem: Rather than pulsing, this totem should have effects similar to the Hunter's Frost Trap. I'd also add a talent in the Enhancement tree to add in an Entrapment-like effect as well. I'd keep the radius at 10 yards, but improve the Earth's Grasp talent to increase the radius by 25% per talent point.
    • Sentry Totem: Dump this totem's effects. Instead, have it increase the Stealth detection of party members in a 40 yard range.
    • Stoneskin Totem: Non-scaling effects are quickly marginalized, and this is one of the most glaring examples. A more reasonable effect would be to reduce melee damage by 5% to return the totem's viability for raiding.
    • Windwall Totem: Like Stoneskin, this totem should scale as a percentage to increase its viability.
  • Crowd Control/Anti-Crowd Control: A lot of shaman feel that some form of CC is necessary to make the class more viable for 5-man and PvP, but I find the lack of CC somewhat refreshing (and the insistence on crowd control a bit overblown in general). Instead, I would suggest a few enhancement-specific talents below as ways of reducing their susceptibility to CC (it's much less of an issue for restoration or elemental), which I'll mention in the next section. In addition, I would allow the Ghost Wolf spell to remove all movement-impairing effects, much like the druids' shifting abilities. Ghost Wolf would still be dispellable, however, so it wouldn't be quite as good as druids' forms. I would also reduce the casting time to 2 seconds (with talents making it instant).
  • Windfury: (talking about the shaman's weapon buff here, not the totem) Right now, the mechanics of WF make the speed of your off-hand when dual-wielding much more important than the actual DPS of that weapon, which doesn't make intuitive sense. There are three potential fixes that I can see:

    • Unlink the WF procs for each hand. In order to maintain the same level of benefit, increase the proc cooldown to 4.5 seconds.
    • Keep the WF cooldowns linked, but have WF do two attacks for each weapon. Again, the cooldown would have to be increased to compensate for the increased damage. This would probably create too large a burst capacity, however, so is probably the weakest option.
    • Make the WF proc for off-hands equal to its full damage rather than using the ½ off-hand penalty. This would once again make the OH's damage important rather than just the speed.
  • Elementals: I'm rather mixed on whether the cooldown for elementals should be reduced to allow their use in arenas. On the one hand, both mages and druids can use theirs and, at least with the mage's, they're pretty effective. On the other hand, reducing the cooldown would also require reducing their effectiveness to keep them balanced. That's not a big issue with the fire elemental, but the earth elemental's ability to be used as an emergency tank would be greatly reduced without as many health points. I think I'd generally be in favor of it, however, for consistency if nothing else. It'd be nice to have some control over the elementals via a pet bar, but I suspect that's some of the tradeoff for their increased power.
In general, I think the shaman talents are pretty good, but there's definitely a few issues with them, much like many other classes. Several talents are "must haves" while others are nearly worthless. In addition, the enhancement and elemental trees have very few talents desired by anyone not going deep into them, reducing the synergy that you ideally want in hybrid classes.

  • Earth's Grasp: I would move this talent to the Enhancement tree, increase the radius bonus to Earth Bind by 25% per talent point, and add in a 5% chance of Entrapment per talent point (keeping it as a 2-point talent).
  • Elemental Devastation: Although this talent is vaguely useful to enhancement shaman, it's so deep into the tree with so few other talents before it that are useful for enhancement that it's a waste here. I'd drop this down to Tier 2 in place of Earth's Grasp to improve the synergy.
  • Unrelenting Storm: I would drop this talent down a Tier to make it available to restoration-primary shaman, once again improving synergy.
  • Tier 1: Both talents are wastes. Approximately 500 mana for 5 talent points is a joke and most shaman either dual-wield or are casters (who can't block while casting). Ditch them both and instead take a page from the paladin's Holy tree: A 2% increase in Strength and a 2% increase in Intellect. Suddenly you have useful talents, and at least one that elemental and restoration shaman want.
  • Guardian Totems: I already suggested making these two totems reduce damage by a percentage rather than a fixed number. This talent could then improve that percentage.
  • Ghost Wolf: The full talent should make the spell instant cast.
  • Toughness: Shaman aren't built to tank, so this talent is rarely worthwhile (especially considering Anticipation is more effective). I would instead create a talent to increase run speed by 3% and increase the chance to resist movement-impairing effects by 5%.
  • Dual-wield: I'd eliminate the talent and make it trainable at level 40. Yes, it means healers and casters can put enchants on both weapons (much like hunters have done), but because most healing and casting weapons are two-handed or main-hand only, it wouldn't outweigh the benefit of using a shield. Instead, I would include an Intercept-like ability that allows enhancement shaman to close quickly.
  • Shamanistic rage: This effect should be undispellable. Alternately, I would add in the ability to use this spell to immediately remove all debuffs that cause loss of control of your character (and to be able to be cast while feared, etc.).
  • Totemic Mastery: Drop it and increase the base range of totems across the board. In its place, I would add in a new spell: either a heal over time or an instant spell (or an instant HoT), which would significantly improve shaman's ability to heal in PvP and manage burst damage without using a 3m cooldown ability.
  • Earth Shield: Its vulnerability to purges, especially considering how expensive it is, makes this talent much less effective then it should be. An inate dispell resistance would help, but Blizzard seems leery of such things since it could then be used to 'protect' other buffs. Simply reducing the mana cost is probably the easiest answer so that even though it's still as vulnerable, it's not painful to reapply aside from using a global cooldown.

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Friday, December 7, 2007

Blizzard: Class Feedback Requested

Blizzard has posted on all of the class-specific forums asking where each class is most in need of improvement - both in general and for specific spells, abilities and talents. They've asked responders to limit themselves to three general comments (of one to two sentences) and five specific abilities, and also specifically asked for responders to not provide suggestions. If you're interested, please take a moment to respond on either the American or European forum. Of course a good portion of the posts I've read have completely ignored these requests, but reading comprehension was never a strong suit on the official forums anyhow.

From my perspective, the major issues with the shaman class are:

  • Totems: The totem system is a mess right now - it requires too much micro-management and too much time reapplying, especially in light of how much mobility is required in the game at present. Although the basic premise is great, they need a little more sustainability (both in terms of health for PvP and length of benefit for PvE) and better general utility.
  • Talents: With the exception of Enhancement and Elemental shaman taking points in Restoration and arena players taking skills in the second tiers of Enh/Elem, there's very little synergy between the talent trees. In addition, there are many underwhelming talents at the low end, with a preponderence of strong middle-tier and then weaker top-tier talents.
  • Inability to dictate the flow of battle in PvP: Without a reliable form of crowd control (something I personally don't feel we need) or way to escape CC (and close quickly, in the case of enhancement shaman), the pace of a PvP battle is largely controlled by the opponent. It certainly doesn't help that the majority of our abilities are reactive (Purge, Earth Shock) or are dependent on lengthy pulses (Poison Cleansing Totem, Tremor Totem).
As for specific abilities that need reevaluation, I think my choices would be:
  • Windfury: The mechanics of this ability strongly need to be reconsidered for dual-wielders — uncommon-quality weapons shouldn't out-DPS epics simply because of the difference in swing speed.
  • Totemic Mastery: The increased movement required in post-BC fights and PvP makes this an almost "must have" for all specs and should be reconsidered as a base totem range.
  • Totem of Wrath/Shamanistic Rage/Earth Shield: Although fairly strong abilities, all three are too easily invalidated in PvP (through 5 points of damage of dispelling). 41 pt talents shouldn't be that vulnerable.

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Gear Calculator Updated (*blush*)

I discovered an error in the macros that save and load profiles that crept in when I added a column. I've since uploaded a new version to FileFront with the corrected macros.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Gear Calculator

I'm always creating spreadsheets of gear available to my characters so that I know which items are worthwhile upgrades. They're generally pretty minimalistic and require a lot of manual modification, but after creating the spreadsheet for my Healing Gear Rankings, I realized that I had a great framework to create a more generic tool for restoration shaman gear. It took me a while to create a format I liked and to add all the features that I wanted, but I think it's finally ready for release!

File available via FileFront

Edit 12/5: Somewhere along the line, I added a column which messed up the profile saving and loading macros. I've uploaded a new version (dated 120507) with corrected macros.

Among the features of this spreadsheet are:
  • A (hopefully) complete listing of end-game healing gear available to a restoration shaman.
  • Calculates the "Healing Equivalent Points" (HEP) values based on your character's current gear, talents, buffs/consumables, and your playstyle.
  • Generates a customized, printable list of top upgrades available to your character based on your raid group's current progression.
  • Allows you to save and load two separate profiles for different characters or for different combat situations (e.g. PvE vs. PvP).

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly are "Healing Equivalent Points?"
HEP is defined as the improvement in overall healing output after raising the bonus healing stat by one. The theory behind the HEP calculations is explained in my Comparing Healing Gear series.

What are the "weights" used with the HEP values?
These values represent the relative importance of each stat. For example, I typically assign a weight of 20% to spell haste as I feel that a 5% increase in casting speed is roughly equivalent to a 1% increase in overall healing output. Likewise, I feel that improving my survivability by 10% is roughly as important as a 1% increase in healing output, so assign a weight of 10% (I further reduce Armor by half since it only reduces physical damage). These values are not hard-coded to allow you to assign your own preferences.

What is saved to a profile?
All user-defined variables (everything in blue text on a white background) are saved to the profile: gear, stat weightings, talents, gem selections, etc. The gear lists are not automatically sorted by HEP, however, so be certain to re-sort after loading a different profile.

What do you mean by "up" time and "use of on-use" items?
These refer to how much of the fight you're receiving the benefits of Water Shield and Mana Spring. A value of 100% means you're casting them as soon as they expire. If you're using Earth Shield on yourself for half the fight and then Water Shield for the second half, you would use a value of 50%.

The use of "on use" items gives an estimation of how consistently you use these items. For example, an item on a two minute cooldown could theoretically be used five times during a 10-minute fight. However, if you find yourself only using it two to three times a fight, your "use" would be closer to 50%. Unfortunately, this value applies to all on-use items at this time.

Are set bonuses included in the HEP values of items?
By default, they are not, but there is an option on the HEP tab to include it. The HEP value then has the effects of the set bonus added to each item, divided by the number of items required for the bonus. I chose not to include the bonuses by default as the value depends greatly on the situation (a third piece has a higher value only if you intend to get a fourth, for example).

What exactly does the "Upgrade" value mean?
The Upgrade value represents the raw improvement over your currently equipped item. This value includes all HEP values, including survivability stats, and is modified by the weightings assigned on the HEP tab. This means that if you assigned a 10% weight to Stamina and the item is a 1% upgrade to healing output and a 5% upgrade to your health, it would have a +1.5% Upgrade value (1% + 5%*10%).

What do the "Use?" columns mean?
This column indicates whether you receive a larger benefit by gemming for the socket bonus. A "Yes" indicates that you're better off going for the socket bonus. A "No" indicates that placing the highest-HEP gems will give you a better value. The difference in HEP value is displayed for all "No" answers to let you know just how close the difference is. In some cases, you may want to ignore the "best" combination, especially when trying to meet meta gem requirements.

I found an error! Something's not working! I have a suggestion!
I'm hoping this tool will be useful to as many players as possible, so if you find an error or have a suggestion, please let me know! You can either post a comment, or send me email (Draezele at gmail dot com).

Continue reading "Gear Calculator"