Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The End of an Era, Part II

Before my vacation I posited that Wrath of the Lich King was really The Golden Age of the Paladin. I pointed out in Part I how Paladins (living, dead, and somewhere in between) dominated most of the story-telling and lore of the expansion. While Horde players only see a bit of Bolvar's heroics at the Wrathgate, Tirion and Uther's presence are felt throughout the expansion (and Arthas, of course). Even the few backhand slaps at Paladins that Blizzard delivers -- Champions Isimode and Faesrol, and of course Eadric the Pure):

-- couldn't take the shine off of Paladins.

But Paladins didn't just rule the lore in this expansion. Among the playerbase, Paladins have never been more powerful or popular than they are now. Just three years ago, WoWInsider showed Paladins lagging behind all but shaman in popularity. Today, Warcraft Realms shows Paladins in a dead heat with Death Knights for most popular class, with Death Knights having a slight edge at level 80.

(Census data provided by WarcraftRealms.com)

WoW players are not that easily influenced by storylines. That is to say, having Tirion running around kicking ass is not going to cause such a large increase in Paladin representation. Instead, it's due to the fact that we now have three viable, powerful specs to choose from.

Back in the days when I started playing (around the same time those numbers were published by WoWInsider), people looked to Paladins mainly for two things: tank healing, and trash tanking. If you wanted to run heroic Shattered Halls, or needed someone to pick up Hyjal trash, you looked for a Paladin. Bosses were tanked by the warrior or the druid. Paladin healers were fine, as long as you only had one, by and large, and I don’t think anyone wanted to take one into heroic Magisters’ Terrace, at least not on release. Ret? Generally dismissed as Retardins, lolret, or Retnoob, they might find themselves parked outside the raid in case someone else D/C’d or had to leave early, and to maybe throw some buffs.

With the arrival of Wrath, however, all that changed. Ret was so strong coming out of the chute that Ghostcrawler felt compelled to make his infamous ‘to the ground, baby!’ comment within a week or so of Patch 3.0. Seems that folks were pretty upset about being absolutely destroyed by a class they used to laugh at. Despite the nerfs, Ret is pretty well-represented at this point, and can do some pretty good damage, while bringing important buffs, including secondary healing through Judgment of Light and Divine Storm; oodles of mana regeneration through replenishment and Judgment of Wisdom, and, depending on subspec, can provide damage mitigation through either Divine Sacrifice or Aura Mastery. While you won’t usually see Retadins topping the damage charts over the course of the night, they can definitely hold their own, and it shows in the numbers of Paladins raiding today.

Tankadins were concerned heading into Wrath that they might be supplanted not only by a new tanking class, but by changes to threat mechanics and buffs to warrior and druid AoE threat. It hasn’t seemed to happen that way at all. While Warriors and Druids in particular are better now at large-pack tanking, Paladins are still very strong in this department, have gotten better at single-target tanking and boss tanking, and have been given an insanely good life-saver. Palatank threat generation may have been boosted a bit by the bucketloads of undead we’ve faced throughout the expansion, but they’ve also done quite well against mechanical monsters, tentacled Old Gods, beasts and dragons. No problems here at all.

And finally we have Holy Paladins. While still ‘relegated’ largely to tank healing, it’s safe to say that Holy Paladins are the current Kings of Tank Healing. Like our damage-dealing and meat-shielding brothers-in-arms, the healers of the class were concerned coming into the expansion. Holydins quickly got their feet under them in the new landscape of Sacred Shields, Beacons and splashy glyphs. Initially powered by stacking Intellect and Crit out the wazoo, Illumination provided a nearly-limitless mana supply as early as Naxxramas and, even after it was nerfed massively, mana was still not an issue. When Beacon of Light was buffed to work off of total healing, Paladins were able to easily keep up two targets at once (which still drives meter-hounds crazy, either with delight or jealousy, depending on what class you are). While Holy Paladins are still not the best at healing on the run, or dealing with mass party/raid damage, they’re far better at it now than ever, and you’re not crippling your raid if you have to throw a Holydin on raid damage.

Will it last? Sadly, it cannot. As Terenas said to Arthas, ‘No king can rule forever’, and surely the reign of the Paladin is about to end. Cataclysm’s just around the corner, with a new paradigm for everything: tanking, healing, damage dealing; the whole world is going to change. And while another class will rise to the top of the 'most played' charts, I doubt we’ll see the kind of complete domination of any class moving forward as we've seen with Paladins. And if I'm wrong and we do? That's fine by me -- let someone else have their day in the Light. Just don't nerf me 'to the ground, baby'.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Those of you who are waiting for my follow-up to End of an Era -- it's coming. Really. As I mentioned last week, it's written, but needs a bit of an editing job and formatting. Unfortunately, my blogging time has been extremely limited this week, and to top it all off I'm going AFK for a week starting tomorrow. So it was much easier to drop this off the top of my head than spend the kind of time needed for Part II. But it will be here.

A couple of other things are popping around in my brain lately too, and if I can sort out my thoughts those will hit this blog in August. I think it's always good to examine why we play the game the way we do. Some recent events (I finally got myself a new shield, woohoo!), some soon-to-be events (I may well come back from vacation and find 10 guildies sporting nice new Kingslayer titles. It's like those broken ribs all over again!), and the expected reaction of those in and out of the group to that soon-to-be event are definite fodder for thought.

And then there's the Betaclysm. As I see the end in sight for Arthas I find I can pay more attention to this. Maybe I'll jump in the beta and blog about it. Maybe I won't. Maybe I'll just speculate on the sweeping changes that are in store for all of us. I've come a long way since Whiny Post Day, that's for sure. We'll see. For now, there's a vacation to pack for. Have a nice week, see you soon. Enjoy the summer, enjoy the game!

Friday, July 9, 2010

The End of an Era, Part 1

Two years ago at this time the World of the World of Warcraft was abuzz with talk of the coming expansion. The beta was open, talents were previewed, many of the games systems were being consolidated, and classes were being overhauled. Much of the buzz centered on the new ‘hero’ class, the Death Knights, and everyone and his uncle was going to roll one. Wrath of the Lich King was going to be all about the Death Knights.

As Wrath winds down, we find ourselves in a very similar situation. Arthas has been killed by many (though not my guild, not yet, though we did finally kill Sindragosa and took Arthas down to 70% in our one and only half-assed attempt on him the other night. I suspect that the 70% to 10% is going to be much, much harder), the last raid of the expansion is finally open, and Bizzard has been dropping all kinds of bombshells of late. As much as we look forward to the expansion and speculate on what it will bring, we also can’t help but take a look back and reflect on what has been.

And what has it been? As much as Wrath *seemed* to be about Death Knights, the fact is, if you had to put a subtitle on it (which would be pretty silly, when you consider the fact that Wrath of the Lich King is itself a subtitle, and it wouldn’t be good form to have two subtitles for one title), I think that Wrath’s would be The Golden Age of Paladins. The closing of the GAP (see what I did there?) and the overhaul coming with Cataclysm makes me a bit sad, as it will mean the end of the dominance of Paladins, in all likelihood, but it was one hell of a run.

No class, not even Death Knights, dominated in Wrath in terms of lore and gameplay like Paladins. From a lore perspective, the four most dominant figures (in terms of screen time and game importance) were Paladins. Who are they?

Arthas. Before he was the Lich King, before he was a Death Knight, he was a Paladin. Arthas is of course the reason why we’re in Northrend in the first place, and his presence was felt throughout. While we saw him mainly in his current, evil guise, we also got to see Arthas the Paladin in Caverns of Time and in some really cool flashback quests, and even met what was likely the remnant of the innocent child that he once was. The expansion was all about Arthas.

The World’s Greatest (Dead) Paladin, Uther the Lightbringer, makes several appearances in Wrath, two that are critical to the story. Previously seen in WoW as a ghost in the Western Plaguelands (the result of a quest that will be gone come Cataclysm, go get it now if you haven’t done it yet), we get to see the living Uther at his best, and worst, moment in a pivotal scene in Old Stratholme: refusing to carry out Arthas’ order to kill every living man, woman and child in the city, and being sent home in disgrace. This is a pivotal moment in the game’s lore. We later meet up with Uther’s ghost in Halls of Reflection, where he reveals a terrible secret that is then fulfilled by – surprise, surprise -- another Paladin (see further down).

Tirion Fordring quickly took up the mantle of World’s Greatest (Living) Paladin in Wrath, which represents a big step up from where we first meet him: as a lonely hermit living hard by the Thondroril River in the Eastern Plaguelands (this is another questline that will disappear with Cataclysm; grab it now while you can. It starts off slowly, but is well-worth it in the end, and provides a glimpse of how kick-ass Tiron can be when angry). When I say ‘big step up’ I’m not just talking about his height. Evidently, getting off the diet of worm meat did him some good. Tirion has more key moments in the game than anyone, with the exception of Arthas. Not only is Tirion a great fighter, he’s also a visionary, recognizing the importance of uniting Alliance and Horde in the fight against Arthas, and welcoming the Death Knights into the fold after chasing Arthas from Light’s Hope Chapel. Like Dumbledore and Voldemort, Tirion is the only one Arthas fears, and with good reason. Tirion is so cool I can even forgive him for the mess that was the Argent Tournament – even Dumbledore made mistakes -- though that gives him one of the best-delivered voice lines in the game following the Jaraxxus encounter (sorry, can’t find the sound file or I’d link it here).

Finally, there’s the World’s Greatest (Not Quite Dead) Paladin, Bolvar Fordragon. I never did the old Onyxia questlines, so Bolvar was just a guy standing next to the Anduin all that time. Yet Bolvar was central to three of the greatest story-telling moments in an expansion that has been full of them (this is something that I think Blizzard has done exceptionally well in this expansion, and I hope they can keep it up moving forward): Showing up to rally the troops and save the day against Thel’zan in Wintergarde (which I guess Horde players do not get to see); the absolutely epic event at Wrathgate: his ultimate fate atop the Frozen Throne. While the Horde’s hero ultimately became A boss, the Alliance hero ultimately becomes THE Boss, the one who is strong enough to keep a lid on the Scourge (until two expansions or so down the road when we have The Return of the Wrath of the Lich King).

So there are three Paladins and one former Paladin who played key roles in Wrath. But it wasn’t just the NPC section that Paladins ruled. In my next post on the subject, I'll cover briefly where Paladins have excelled as player characters. This was just getting a little too long to survive as one post. The rest will go up early this week. Thanks for reading!