Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Hibernation of Style

One of my biggest complaints about playing a Druid is that when I tank, I have to have a gigantic furry bear ass filling my screen, and trust me, when you're backed into a corner while tanking, it really IS what you see.

At level 10, I was excited and pleased to be able to transform into my first animal, a bear. I was sturdier and it was a lot of fun and whetted my appetite for my panther form to come at 20.

On my way to 20, Bear form was really of limited use (I did this prior to the 1.8 feral overhaul), but I used it. I wasn't fond of the visual, but I figured, "I won't be spending all my time in that form!"

How wrong I was.

As it happens, I am only effective when in a form. The same applies to dps Druids (whether Cat or Moonkin) and healers (Tree of Life, to be sure). So when we play, we look like fat-assed bears, purple panthers, malnourished saplings or giant laser-chickens from space. In and of itself, this is not a problem. We're turning into something, after all. Animals or laser chickens or trees.

The problem comes, especially for Ferals, in that you spend all your playtime in this form. At least Balance and Restoration Druids have some of their leveling time able to see their character and that character's gear, but even they eventually find that all their time is spent in a single form in order to do their job.

Maybe that's the real reason for the popularity of a Dreamstate healing build.

Regardless, one of the fun things about all of the MMOs I've played is the ability to play dress up. I know that sounds silly but hear me out.

One of the draws of this sort of game for me and for many others, is the ability to take on this fantastic persona, to pretend to be a different person with pointy ears and massive swords and particle effects, maybe a different race or gender. As characters in these games progress, the gear they wear gets progressively more spectacular. It is used as a gauge of competence, bragging rights, and personal vanity. It is integral to the experience of the game.

Sadly, Druids largely miss out on this unless they want to spend a lot of time standing around posing for the masses. Aside from speccing Dreamstate Healer, though, Druids can - and typically do - spend the vast majority of their playtime looking just as they did at level 10. They look about enviously as their compatriots get neater and neater gear they get to adventure in while they wonder if some epic waterproofing gel will drop for their fur, feathers, or bark.

Are there solutions to this? Most likely.

First, find a way to display armor on a Druid in forms.

This is likely the most problematic. In spite of watching the Golden Compass and wondering why I can't have badass bear armor like that I understand that Malorne shoulders might be hard to skin onto the bear model and if a healer dropped into Bear while wearing the Panties of the Naaru* they might look a bit silly.

It would require the most effort from the art team and is hence the least likely option.

At least one friend of mine said that it would also put more strain on the systems running the game by bumping the models per zone...but I see so many effects and models and such that I have a hard time buying that.

So what about basing appearance on level, and at 70, changing appearance based on total iLevel of the gear worn by the Druid?

This enforces some standards while still allowing a form of progression.

Suppose every 10 levels, each form gets an overhaul with flashier effects or more accoutrements and so on. Who wouldn't want their bear to look something like this?

Then at 70, certain iLevel totals would be assigned a new look, allowing for Druids to continue progression of appearance just like other characters busily fighting for life and loot.

Additionally, this provides quick identification of a Druid's potential capability, something you can eyeball with any other class in Arenas and BGs.

A third option would be allowing Druids to, at the point of getting each new form, to select the animal they like from a list. While the least capable of fulfilling the request, it would be the easiest to implement. Beasts already have models and animations necessary for their use and it'd be easy to slap a Druid sigil on their shoulders for identification.

For example, Bear form could be re-described as Tank form with Dire Bear becoming Dire Tank. Players could select a Brown Bear, Polar Bear, Boar, Turtle or Crocolisk. At 40 with Dire Bear, they could again select from this list, but with larger and possibly slightly more ornate versions of those animals. True ambition might include a Worgen as an option...but that one could wear gear...and show weapon animations...gah, I'm getting sidetracked.

Cat form could be re-labeled Melee form. Options would include the standard panther, snow leopards (yay!), raptors, spiders, lions, wolves, or hyenas.

Travel form would include the standard cheetah, foreststriders, talbuks and so on.

Aquatic form seems pretty self explanatory.

Moonkin could be given the option of selecting a furbolg or maybe one of those big trolls from ST.

Trees of Life...treants or small ancients?

Sadly even this option would require a rather sizable code implementation that is unlikely to ever occur.

Until and unless we see a new form or WoW 2.0, I seriously doubt that Druids will look any different at 80 with Wrath of the Lich King than they do now at 70, or than they did at 60, or 50, or 40...you get the picture.

So there you have it. The real reason Druids whine...we don't get to look as cool as you.

*Not that there's anything wrong with the Panties of the Naaru.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Heresy in the Woods

So apparently the official forum search function blows today. Therefore you'll have to take my word on the following statement:

It is generally considered that the Wildfury Greatstaff is better than the Earthwarden for tanking.

When my guild went on their first trip into Serpentshrine Cavern, I wasn't able to go, but another Feral Druid did. While she was there, the Greatstaff dropped for her. She linked it and all were happy.

I checked it out (as I couldn't remember the stats on it at the time), and I came to the realization that I didn't really want it. For months and months I've been reading from other Druid tanks that this is the best tanking stick they've found and many claim to have vendored their Earthwarden within moments of leaving the Caverns.

People that speak in favor of the Earthwarden are frequently belittled and marginalized.

The thing I can't understand is: why?

I understand it brings significant dodge, that it has almost 500 more health than the Earthwarden, and that it's significantly more Feral AP. These are all good things for a tank.

When I considered what I'd lose, though, I couldn't bring myself to use it as my tanking stick.

First and foremost is the Defense rating. While a great many Druids are engaging in PvP for the Resilience gear with high armor and mitigation stats, not all do. I am doing some arenas for gear (as my Armory likely shows), but this really only reinforces my point. There just isn't enough other gear in the game to abandon a stick like the Earthwarden without very careful consideration. For a PvE-only Druid, there is no other viable option for this slot if you are using the Defense.

Before 2.3, there was Feral Combat Skill, but since that's no longer in place, we'll deal with its replacement, Expertise.

My GM is a tank and as such we occasionally lament tanking issues. One thing that both of us agreed was extremely high on our wishlist for tanking gear was +Hit. Now, with recent additions to the game via Heroic gear and Feral PvP-re-itemization, there's a lot more of that available than there has been in the past. That said, the Expertise on the Earthwarden is extremely appealing in spite of it.

Expertise provides a reduction of 0.25% per point to your target's chance to dodge or parry attacks. Earthwarden has an Expertise rating of 24, which becomes an Expertise of 6. -1.25% chance for all my targets to dodge or parry when I tank.

Best of all, it's immune to Defense skill. That's HUGE.

I'm not sure I can express how vital this is especially if you deal with undisciplined dps or run Heroics where healing aggro (due to the major heals required) can be fatal to your lifeline, your healer.

The Wildfury Greatstaff gives me none of that. There are times, no matter how rare they appear to various individuals, when that missed attack can mean the difference between keeping aggro and losing it to someone that can't survive the attention.

So in spite of the dodge and health buff, the rest of my gear isn't yet at the point where swapping out the Earthwarden for the Greatstaff makes any sense. Until I do some math with a gear list, I'm not sure that day will ever come. I'm incredibly durable as it is, and while I never scoff at mitigation stats, I've come to realize that there are some items that may - at first - look outdated, but that retain value due to factors often overlooked.

I tend to think back to when people were complaining in the early days of the Burning Crusade that the Kara epics were sidegrades rather than upgrades for the lion's share of gear. Back then I learned to realize some rares were better than epics and that's a philosophy I'm trying to hold to. Just because the iLevel is higher doesn't mean the item is necessarily statted appropriately.

Maybe I'll use the Greatstaff for a resist fight but I can't see any other place for it right now. For me, the Earthwarden has a continuing role as my primary tanking stick.