Arcane Brilliance: What Cataclysm will mean to Mages, part 2

Christian Belt
C. Belt|08.30.09

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Arcane Brilliance: What Cataclysm will mean to Mages, part 2

Welcome to the latest edition of Arcane Brilliance, the weekly Mage column and internet meeting place for IHATEWARLOCKS. If you can't remember what that acronym stands for, you can check last week's column, about two paragraphs from the end. If you can't be bothered, it doesn't matter. The name says it all, really.

When I was growing up, way back at the dawn of time, in the late eighties, I didn't have access to a lot of games. It wasn't like it is now, where I have an unplayed backlog of quality electronic entertainment so deep my house reeks of shrinkwrap and unfulfilled potential. No, back then, I remember saving my pennies for an entire summer with an eye on getting a new game, then going to the game store and having a choice between Lufia and 7th Saga. I chose 7th Saga (mostly because you could be a robot in that one), and even though time hasn't been particularly kind to that game, it still holds a special place in my heart. You know why? Because I played it. I played the crap out of it, and when I finished it, I started over and played it again. And the next time I saved up enough money for another game, or tricked a relative into buying one for me, I snagged Lufia, and repeated the process.

With the really great games--the Chrono Triggers, the Secrets of Mana, the Shining Forces--I played them so many times I came to the point where my fondest wish was that I could discover a way to excise them from my selectively forget I'd ever played them so I could plug them back in and experience their unique joys afresh. Yes, back in the late eighties and early nineties, we were pretty starved for games. But the ones we had, we loved.

What does this have to do with anything? Nothing really, just thought I'd share. Ok fine. Read on, I promise I'll find a flimsy way to tie it in to the actual subject of this week's column.

Here goes:

In many ways, this is precisely what Cataclysm seems poised to do with World of Warcraft. It has the potential to hit that reset button in our brains--the one that manages the part of our minds devoted to WoW--and allow those of us who wish to do so the opportunity to experience it from the beginning, anew. Many of us have already spent so much time with this game that we know it inside and out. Barring new content in a patch or an expansion, almost nothing seems new, and the game has very nearly run out of surprises for us. Cataclysm offers us the chance to time travel a bit, to start up a level one character and see mostly fresh, new things as we level (well, at least until Outland. Sigh.). It'll be just like it was with our very first know, except for the part where we have a billion gold and heirloom items and can get mounts at level 2 and whatnot. Still.

Last week we talked about how disgustingly excited I am about all the new race options for Mages, and how awesome Worgen and Goblins are going to look wearing robes and pointy hats. This week we'll look at some of the other ways this new expansion will alter the landscape of Mageland.

Five more levels

This is about five less levels than I think most of us would have expected, but I don't feel slighted in the least. Five levels is plenty of new content for our already well-traveled Mages to blast through on their way to a new end-game that already promises to be more robust than any we've yet encountered. We've already been told that those five levels won't be extending our talent trees at all, but will give us five new talent points, and will provide new spells for us to learn. And those spells will be actual new spells, as spell ranks are going to be done away with. Once we learn Frostbolt, it will simply scale with level, meaning that the various Mage trainers around Azeroth owe me a lot of money.

The main advantage to only getting five new levels, of course, is that I will have five fewer levels through which to drag the approximately fourty-seven new alts I plan on making. This is a wise design decision on Blizzard's part. The more incentive we have to create new characters, the more time (and thus money) we will invest. As a professed altoholic, I wholeheartedly back this idea.

Path of the Titans/Archaeology

Of course, that sense of continued progress has to come from somewhere, and this new system looks to be the solution to that particular problem. Amanda Miller's got a great writeup of everything we know so far about how this will work, so if you're still sketchy on the details, go check her post out and then come back.

I don't know about you, but the idea of an archaeologist Mage, traversing the broken world in search of ancient artifacts, Blinking across booby-trapped floors, conjuring a mana pie to replace the weight of said ancient artifact on its trapped pedestal, then turning the boulder that tries to crush us into a sheep...I'm stoked, guys.

The way it sounds to me, the idea Blizzard's going for with this new system, and the changes to the talent system that we'll get to in just a moment, is something I've wanted for a very long time: true character customization. Sure, the game allows us the illusion of character customization as it currently exists, but that illusion is shattered the moment you try something unorthodox, like taking a Frost Mage into high-level raiding content. It doesn't matter how much you love playing a Frost Mage or how skilled you are; there is only one truly optimal spec out there at any given point in the game's lifespan, and you simply didn't pick it. Now summon us a table, buff everybody, and get out.

If Blizzard accomplishes what they've set out to do here...if they can truly make passive, DPS increasing progression available to every Mage spec, I will applaud them until my arms fall, still clapping, from their sockets. The possibilities here are mind-boggling.

Mastery system/revamped talent trees

Which brings us to this next bit of craziness. The idea behind the Mastery system seems to be to eliminate the need for an ideal spec, instead providing the passive bonuses--the one we're all currently forced to take a specific path through the talent trees to obtain--something you get simply by moving deeper in the tree, however you choose to do it. The actual talents you'll be selecting on the way there are supposedly becoming entirely optional. You can choose the ones that suit your playstyle instead of the ones that up your crit damage.

I really can't wait to see how Blizzard implements this. It will require a full and total reworking of the talent system. Few, if any, of the talents we have now will make it through intact. Of all of the announced changes, I have to admit that this is the one about which I am the most skeptical. Call me small-minded, but I simply cannot envision a talent system that the hardcore theorycrafters won't be able to spend five minutes with and come up with a so-called "optimal" path. In a game where your worth as a Mage is determined by how much damage you can put out per second of a fight, is true customization even possible? I'm interested to see Blizzard try.

If it works, though, at least none of us will be able to complain about the bloated Arcane tree anymore. Post-expansion, it won't be "bloated" anymore; it'll just have more "options" than the other two trees.

Stat simplification

Perhaps the most mind-blowing change announced at BlizzCon, at least for me, was this one. Here's what we know at this point:
  • Spellpower will be gone.
Extra damage from our spells will now come from Intellect. I love this change. From a purely traditionalist point of view, I'm glad Intellect, the most Magey statistic going back to Dungeons & Dragons (and none of this 16th edition nonsense...I mean D&D back when my parents still thought it was satan's game), will finally come back into prominence. I was tired of skipping over it for spellpower, and crit, and haste, and whatever else elitist jerks said was a better stat that week.
  • No more Mp5 (at all), and no more spirit (on DPS gear).
Now let us all join hands and sing the song of joy. According to the powers that be, healers will use spirit as their mana regen stat, and DPS casters won't need to worry about it at all. I'll believe that when I see it. If it happens, though, yippee? Yes, yippee. Yippee's what I'm going to go with here.
  • Haste is going to be very confusing.
I think it's still going to be increasing casting speed. But for other classes, it'll increase resource regen. I'm not sure, but as far as Mages are concerned, it'll still work similarly to how it works now. Maybe? This wasn't made very clear at BlizzCon, and I'm easily confused, so if you guys have it all figured out, let me know.
  • Crit is being left alone.
Or at least, they never said it would be going away, so this is the assumption.

So as it stands now, come expansion time, Mages will want the following stats: intellect, haste, and crit. No more fighting off healers for our gear. Their stuff will have spirit on it.

I'm all in favor of this whole stat-consolidation thing. I hated the redundant stats, and I hated the fact that sometimes a robe would drop called something like "Healer Dress of Holy Healerificness," and it would be an upgrade for my Mage.

Now...I have a million questions. Here are just a few:
  1. No mention of hit rating. Please...can it go away?
  2. Ditto for spell penetration. Kill it, please?
  3. How exactly are DPS casters going to no longer need mana regen? This sounds like a lot of running out of mana all the time to me.
  4. Is crit going to be left alone?
  5. Can I wear plate in the expansion? Also...I want a pony.
So that's about the size of it, at least so far. The expansion, so far, looks to be all kinds of pretty much everything I ever wanted. I'm excited beyond reason, and we still have what will probably be at least 6-10 months of information leaks to get all frothy about. No single event, in the history of WoW, has ever changed the game in as significant a way as this expansion promises to. What do you think, fellow Mages?

Every week Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of Mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent three-part guide to PvP for each Mage spec, or our look at what hit rating means to Mages. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.

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