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Lichborne: Further reflections on death knights in Pandaria


Every week, WoW Insider brings you Lichborne for blood, frost, and unholy death knights. In the post-Cataclysm era, death knights are no longer the new kids on the block. Let's show the other classes how a hero class gets things done.

Now that we've all had a couple of weeks to absorb the latest updates to the Mists of Pandaria talent calculator, it's worth going back and taking a second to look to see if we can dredge up anything else. I've been keeping track of various errata, as well as discussions among the death knight community, and I feel it's worth taking another week to take a second look at a few skills and talents and see where we lie as we wait for a new update, the Mists beta, or both.

Those annoying rune costs

You remember that Death Siphon and Soul Reaper have no rune cost in the current calculator, right? Alas, it's not that simple, and I must make a mea culpa here for not noticing this sooner: Blue posts have clarified that those two skills do cost a single death rune each.

This, of course, throws their proper use into a little more question. Is it worth it to use Soul Reaper when you could be spending that rune on a Scourge Strike or half of an Obliterate? Is the healing of Death Siphon worth giving up the extra damage from one of those weapon strikes? This is, again, where we'll need solid numbers to make that choice. At the least, though, I'd say it makes Death Pact an even more tempting choice for unholy death knights on the level 60 talent tier. As beta progresses, we'll definitely want to keep a close eye on these type of talents and try to answer that question. Are they worth the rune they're spending? If not, how do we fix them?

Magdalena also makes a good point in her article on the Son of a Lich blog. A lot of these updated talents, from Vile Spew to Soul Reaper, make use of shadow damage. Could this be an issue? It's difficult to tell without real numbers, but if frost death knights suddenly find that so many new abilities they're expected to use for damage or utility use shadow damage, it could open a gap between the two specs.

On the other hand, given that unholy still has inferior damage when not using a very specific sword, it could be this will simply cause a needed closing of that gap without depending on tentacles. Unfortunately, that question probably can't be answered with any certainty until we get into the beta, get more solid numbers, and get some real testing going.

The First Talent Tier: Cooldown panic and eruption vs. destruction

In discussing the first tier of death knight talents, two issue come up that may change the whole game when it comes to choosing your talent. First, there's the exact meaning of Vile Spew. It says your ghoul "erupts," which I interpreted to mean that the ghoul explodes and ceases to exist, causing you to summon another one. As some people have rightly pointed out, erupt doesn't have to mean the ghoul dies, and that means the talent becomes much more viable. The second issue is that Unholy Blight, far from being the semi-permanent aura of old, actually has a 90-second cooldown.

Now, a useful one- to two-minute minute cooldown certainly isn't alien to the game or even to death knights. See Summon Gargoyle for just one example. At the same time, though, it becomes obvious this isn't a complete return to the days of old. At the same time, if Vile Spew doesn't destroy the ghoul, suddenly unholy death knights have an on-demand disease spreader that, while it does cost runic power, is also available at a moment's notice and certainly easier to spread than Outbreak plus Pestilence. Certainly Unholy Blight instantly becomes a lot less glamorous, especially for unholy death knights. With that cooldown, even frost death knights might be tempted to choose Roiling Blood so they can spread Blood Plague as quickly as easily as they can Frost Fever.

Personally, that 1.5-minute cooldown makes me think Unholy Blight is either going need some high AoE damage (it currently lists none) or a much, much lower cooldown to be a viable choice for any reason other than nostalgia.

Why won't Blizzard fix Army of the Dead?

In looking at the latest iteration of the Mists of Pandaria skills, one thing did come to mind: Army of the Dead is still there, and it still has ghouls that taunt. Army of the Dead is sort of both an awesome, fun little piece of flavor for the death knight and a constant thorn in our side. It vies with Death Grip for the most hated death knight ability, blamed for wipes and near-wipes, keeping us vying with hunters as most hated class. All this, though, doesn't mean Army of the Dead isn't a useful tool. I've written multiple columns on how to use it effectively. Yet I still get mail about it, and it still remains an issue.

That said, there is one pretty easy way to make this all go away. If you take away the ability for Army of the Dead to taunt, its main bother goes away. There's still the chance that it could aggro extra mobs, of course, but it at least won't taunt the wrong thing, forcing tanks off their game and putting healers and DPS in danger of AoE or frontal cone attacks. Yet with all this, Blizzard still hasn't changed it and has made no sign that it plans to.

Weirdly enough, I was sort of thinking about this relation to Anne's recent musings on how much Blizzard should "force" us into good behavior. Even before Cataclysm, Blizzard did go through a lot of trouble to make the game a bit more newbie- and casual-friendly, creating a new tutorial system, making tooltips clearer, and removing or simplifying a lot of mechanics, stats, and buffs. Even grouping is easier thanks to the Dungeon Finder and the Raid Finder. With this in mind, will simplifying rampant or hard-to-use mechanics like Army of the Dead's taunt be next?

The most popular argument for keeping it the way it is would probably be that Army of the Dead is a precision tool, not just another button to mash, and that taking away its downsides is another step in the dumbing down of the game. The opposite argument would be that Army of the Dead, as it is, is so specialized that it stays inactive for far too long, too poorly designed to be of any real use to a death knight except in a handful of situations ... which then leads to another question: Should every single ability a class uses be immediately useful, or is it OK to have once-in-a-blue-moon type utility?

Me, I think the best choice is, as always, to let the player choose. We've already heard hints that glyphs will be used in Mists to bring back or change abilities on a very base level. So, let's put the removal of Army of the Dead's taunt on a glyph. That way, it's now up to the choice of the user. If you blindly use Army of the Dead, you still cause issues. But if you do your research and understand the choices, you can slap on the glyph and use it in a wider variety of situations to your heart's content. It may even be a great way to introduce new death knight players to whole concept of glyphs and their proper usage.

Learn the ropes of endgame play with WoW Insider's DK 101 guide. Make yourself invaluable to your raid group with Mind Freeze and other interrupts, gear up with pre-heroic DPS gear or pre-heroic tank gear, and plot your path to tier 11/valor point DPS gear.

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