Thursday, October 15, 2009

The New PTR is Here! The New PTR is Here!

This year Blizzard has spit out patches faster than a haste-capped mage can spit out Arcane Missiles. Look at where we were a year ago at this time: waiting for the big pre-Wrath content patch that was going to rock our world, while clinging to every scrap of new information on the beta forums and from sources like MMO-Champion, WoWInsider, and all the various WoW-related blogs. Since 2008 turned into 2009, Blizzard has kept up a frenetic pace, particularly recently: Patch 3.2 dropped on August 4th. Just a week later, Blizzard announced the arrival of Patch 3.2.2, which came out on September 22nd. Now, with the paint barely dry on Onyxia’s Lair, the PTR for Patch 3.3 is up and running – less than two weeks after Onyxia returned. The World of the World of Warcraft is buzzing with news of the patch as PTR testers and data miners start spreading information. While I appreciate the efforts that these folks put forth, I have to wonder:

What the Hell happened to patch 3.2.1? And (seriously this time)…

What truly useful information will we learn from the PTR?

For the first question, who really knows? I’m not familiar enough with Blizzard’s naming conventions. Perhaps Onyxia had long been planned as a 3.2.2 release, and the designation of 3.2.1 was reserved for something that might have been needed in between. Maybe 3.2.1 was some sort of bug-fix patch, although since 3.2.2a got its own designation, I doubt it. Still, one wonders. Meanwhile, let’s consider the second question: What useful information will we learn from the PTR?

Well, from my first scan of the O-boards, I’m learning that:
-the PTR is glitched, buggy, and/or down
- a lot of people are having trouble logging in
- Jaina’s got a new model – and she is ‘hot’
- the PTR is still glitched, buggy and/or down
Strangely enough, there’s no complaining (yet) that we still don’t have new dances in place. I expect that will change.

Meanwhile, WoWInsider has a lot of Patch 3.3 goodness on it – most of it focuses on new UI features, achievements, dungeon/raid previews, tier 10 set bonuses, and Jaina’s makeover (and how ‘hot’ she is). Most of my favorite bloggers are giving pretty much the same info that WoWInsider is giving us, with a bit more info on how to fight the bosses and a little less (mercifully) on Jaina. In the coming weeks we’ll also get to see previews of loot, which is probably the most important thing to most people.

Personally I’m not really that interested in the new Jaina model (she looks too snobby), or where the best upgrade will be for me – I figure I’ll find out soon enough. What I really want to know from any PTR is How will the proposed changes to my class affect how my toon plays? To me it seems that this would be the most pressing concern of most people, yet it seems to be the least-reported aspect of any PTR cycle.

Granted, 3.3 isn’t necessarily bringing huge changes to most classes; it’s actually understandable that people are going to be more excited about finally breaking down the doors of the Citadel and squaring off with Arthas than they are about a change to a spell or two. However, even when there are big changes for classes, very little information about how it plays gets out to the outside world. Those of us who can’t or won’t go on the PTR are left to chew our nails and wonder.

A good example of this is with the Holy Paladin Illumination nerf that came in patch 3.2. The speculation leading up to release focused mostly on worst-case scenarios; the nerf sounded very, very bad indeed. In the end, the nerf didn’t turn out nearly as bad as the speculation and napkin math indicated, as I wrote in a guest post on World of Matticus. Some honest reporting from the PTR would have spared many a Holy Paladin an anxious month while testing was going on.

We’re seeing the same thing happening -- again with Paladins -- as 3.3 looks to be bringing a pretty big change to Divine Sacrifice and Divine Guardian. How big will these changes be? Right now there’s a great discussion happening on PlusHeal, complete with some substantial napkin math, but as of right now, nobody has stepped forward with any numbers or reports on how it’s actually working. This is not just a problem in the Paladin community, I might add. Most of the posts I read related to any class changes -- on the O-boards and elsewhere – focus on hypotheticals and gut reactions to new and revised abilities. This makes me ask a third question: Why do people sign up for the PTR?

Now I can hear my two readers asking ‘Hey Jeffo, if you want to know how this works so badly, why don’t you get your butt on the PTR and report for us?’ I should. I’ll also point out that as a beta tester for Wrath, I did in fact post hard numbers on the PlusHeal forums. I’m an educator at heart and I like to share news of this sort with my ‘colleagues’ where I can. Sadly, I find that I play too much as it is; joining the PTR means I’d either have to play even more than I do now, or I’d have to cut back on the amount of time I spend in the ‘real’ virtual world to participate in the virtual virtual world. I’d rather not do either, so I’m relying on others for my information. Maybe that’s a bit of a copout, but it is the reality of the situation. Perhaps in the future I’ll have more time to hit up the PTR’s and betas, or I’ll be more willing to forego ‘live’ time for the PTR. That day is just not here yet.

I realize that I will benefit from the work of those on the PTR on patch day, however, beyond the feedback they’re hopefully providing Blizzard as they go. On Patch night (should server stability allow it, that is), my guild is likely to send a group of brave travelers into the new 10-man raid. When we come to face-to-face with our first boss, we will have some idea of what’s about to happen because it will already be on Tankspot, or Bosskillers, or some other site – straight from the PTR to a Youtube video near you.

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