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As the dust begins to settle in the wake of the great patch-aclysm of 2010, it's time to look back with a little perspective and see exactly what we've been left with. The most immediately visible effects revolve around the drastic changes to many of our favorite classes, but frankly, a bit too much hubbub has been made over these already. The WoW community is -- to put it delicately -- a rather passionate bunch, so we tend to react strongly to the need to relearn our classes. Realistically, though, it's just a matter of figuring out which playstyles suit us the most, adapting to them and hoping we don't lose any friends and guildies as casualties of evolution.
Damage numbers are also relatively meaningless at this stage in the game. While we're sure to see some frustratingly unviable specs in Cataclysm like we have in the past (*cough* PvE subtlety), for the most part, the developers can tweak code through patches and hotfixes to ensure that we all eventually see appropriately-sized numbers flashing before our eyes.
Since the order of buttons we press to succeed is in a constant state of flux anyway, we'll eventually forget that X skill or Y talent even existed. But some things will stick with us longer. I believe Patch 4.0.1's legacy depends more on permanent game changes that we'll one day take for granted.
As far as general system mechanics go, I'll start with the move to flexible raid locks. Personally, I'm still in disagreement with the decision to combine lockouts for 10 and 25-man raids in Cataclysm. Pugging, after all, is a great way to make new connections in Azeroth, but this new system eliminates one's ability to join a 25-man while saving a 10-man lockout for the guild (or vice versa). It continues the trend started by the dungeon finder -- an admittedly wonderful tool -- in making the social aspect of the game much less organic.
Currency is a much less controversial topic, as its new system is pretty widely recognized as being pretty great. In reality, currency hasn't actually changed at all. The names and numbers are unfamiliar, but when you look at the conversions, it's clear that killing bosses still has the same inherent value in the end. The real boon here is the elimination of the old annoying process of trading emblems down.
Service with a smile
Convenience is the name of the game in patch 4.0.1. The ability to track multiple nodes on the minimap is a godsend for folks with both mining and herbalism. Also related to professions, being able to check out your guild's combined recipe books has made crafting a much more user-friendly process.
This philosophy of convenience has repercussions on raiding as well, due to Blizzard's usual manner of "borrowing" from popular addons. The game finally supports in-game raid frames as well as its own version of Power Auras. Even the ability for raid leaders to place positioning flares without carrying stacks of the old engineered versions seems to be a tiny concession to previous users of AVR, which allowed raid leaders to draw on the in-game world for purposes of planning and positioning. (The flares still lack the complexity required to create crudely drawn, obscene pictures, but then Blizzard has to save a few ideas for the next major patch, right?)
Gearing has also had some drastic changes that will stick with us for a long time to come. The removal of ArP, MP5 and defense rating has changed the way we look at gear. The loss of these stats is no surprise to me because they were -- in their respective orders -- confusing, underutilized and boring. In their place comes the most innovative stat yet: mastery, a super-stat intended to be desirable to each and every character.
There are definitely problems with the current balance of mastery's usefulness from spec to spec, but again, numbers are easily changed. The exciting part about mastery is that it helps reinforce the different flavor behind each class. Instead of simply upping the standard, boring ol' numbers, mastery allows Blizzard to alter our output in slightly more interesting ways. Similarly, trainable glyphs give us the option to change our abilities on a per-boss basis without the inconvenience and cost of purchasing multiple stacks of glyphs. Between all this and the new reforging NPCs, customizing our characters is all at once both simpler and more interesting. More independent-minded players who might have previously feared theorycrafting may finally be able to enjoy making their own choices without screwing things up too terribly.
While we're still waiting for the bulk of the graphical updates, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the new water and sunshafts. If you haven't spent some time fully appreciating these yet, might I recommend flying over the lake in Nagrand and just taking a look around?
Finally, like every patch, there are some stealth changes that are sure to please at least a few folks. Making Anzu a standard boss instead of a druid quest summon is a fantastic gift to mount collectors, as is the fact that Champion's Caches always drop a guaranteed Champion's Seal now. Hell ... someone, somewhere out there is probably even excited about the ability to unsheathe weapons while /dancing.
The bottom line is that this patch was so much more than just class changes when you look at it on the whole. Sometimes we're blinded by what seems to affect us the most, but eventually our new rotations will become second nature and we'll be able to look back on patch 4.0.1 as one that streamlined a lot of functions in rather nice ways. Until then, we just need to remain positive and enjoy the learning process.
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