Jul 20 2013

Proving Yourself in Proving Grounds

This PTR build of patch 5.4 introduced a long-awaited feature to the game: Proving Grounds!  Proving Grounds are solo scenarios where a level 90 player can test their skill in their chosen role against wave after wave of enemies that get progressively harder.

•  As a DPS, your job is to kill the mobs before the next wave spawns.  It’s just you and your toolbox of spells and abilities to burn them down, interrupt their heals, and keep yourself alive.

•  As a tank, your job is to protect your NPC healer by picking up the mobs as best you can, interrupting them, and using your own cooldowns to survive.

•  As a healer, your job is to keep your party alive.  Your party is a team of NPCs – a warrior tank, an assassination rogue, a hunter and a mage.  The AI is pretty smart — they are good about interrupting and focus firing — while still being realistic in the sense that they are occasionally being slow to get out of fire or meandering out of your healing range.  You’ll need to do a lot of healing and dispelling here.

If you fail in your role objective, you get a failure message and the mobs despawn and you have to talk to the NPC to start again at wave 1.  If you get “killed,” you are actually just reduced to 1 healthpoint – so no death repair bills!  You do take wear-and-tear durability damage, though, and there is an NPC inside the instance who can repair you.

Healer PG

Goals

Proving Grounds can serve several useful functions:

  • First and foremost: it is something fun to do!
  • It gives new players a safe but real-time environment to practice their skills and improve their play.  Whether you’re new to the game or just new to a role, PGs are a wonderful place to hone your skills without worrying about irritating or — worse — killing four other players in the process.
  • If gives players a place to test out particular talents, glyphs, as well as fiddle with their addons and keybinds.

Gear Scaling

To make sure Proving Grounds are a challenge of skill and not of who simply has the best gear, all equipment is scaled down in a similar fashion to Challenge Modes.

  • Gear scales to 463
  • Gems do not scale
  • Set bonuses do not count

Unlike Brawler’s Guild where players can hit a ceiling on their success because their gear is subpar (or get further because great gear gives them more margin for error), the equalised equipment means ranking accurately reflects true skill.  Of course, if you’re exclusively a tank or healer, you can’t do Brawler’s Guild at all!

You can use flasks and foods, but not potions; they didn’t want you to have to bring stacks and stacks of pots just to make it through.  There is a soulwell for health cookies, though!

There is also a reforger NPC in case you need to make any gear tweaks, and a vendor who sells  Tomes of the Clear Mind so you can tweak your talents and glyphs as much as you need.

Tuning

First the obligatory disclaimer – All of this can change!  Proving Grounds are a brand new feature and it’s possible Blizzard may shift their goals with what they want with them.  Additionally, right now the tuning on the PTR is really easy — far below what I was told was intended (and what I outlined below). It is likely untuned right now, but being the PTR I imagine they will be tweaking them quiet a bit over the next month or so.  Give them a try, leave feedback on the tuning whether you prefer it harder or easier!

You begin with bronze mode.  The plan is for bronze to be tuned to a player ready to step into heroic 5-mans, so this should be easy for just about everyone.

After you beat bronze, you can step into Silver.  If you’re a normal mode raider, you should be able to make it through this level, with maybe some difficulties in the final waves.

After that comes Gold.  Beating gold is intended to reflect comparable skills to a player that is ready to raid heroics.  Expect to use your whole toolbox to make it through Gold.

After you beat Gold, you are eligible to try Endless mode.  Endless mode, as the name implies, has unlimited waves of increasing difficulty.  Each wave does a percentage more damage and has an equal percentage more health than the one before it.

Your furthest wave will be tracked so you can come back try to beat your high score later, and so you can compete with your friends.  Although there are no in-game leaderboards like for Challenge modes, this information is tracked in your character statistics and can be pulled up in the armory, so expect third party sites to run rankings eventually.

Rewards

There are achievements for reaching each rank in each role, as well as surviving 20 waves into Endless.  There will be titles, as well.  “[Name] the Proven [Healer / Tank / Damage Dealer]” probably earned by completing Gold for a given role.

Perhaps later other rewards will be implemented, but that’s it for now.

I got the opportunity to test Proving Grounds a couple weeks early thanks to an awesome dev, but now they are a little more polished and available for everyone to try.  Just speak to your class trainer* or the NPC in the Temple of the White Tiger in Kun Lai Summit to be sent in.

 

* NYI this build – go to Kun Lai

Outside Resources

 

Apr 14 2011

The Problem With [not] Healing PuGs

As Blizzard scrambles to bribe healers and tanks back into the LFG Randoms using pets and mounts, I would like to talk a little bit about one reason why we’re struggling to find people to fill these needed roles. More specifically, I’d like to talk about what it is like as a healer using the LFG tool this expansion.

The shortage of healers is due to many factors. It is true that some players just prefer DPSing. It is equally true that many people don’t like the additional responsibility that comes with playing a tank or a healer. It may also be the case that some healers were dissuaded from healing this expansion due to the increased difficulty. However, it is also because many healers have started queuing for heroics as DPS (or forgoing randoms entirely) because they are tired of being the punching bag for other players who can’t handle the increased difficulty. Of these points, only the latter one is a legitimate problem, and it is the one I am going to address.

Choosing Pew Pew Over Heals

I consider myself a decent healer on my restoration shaman. I have healed extensively since classic WoW, both in PvP and PvE, in hard modes and regular content, and doing so has been some of the most fun I have in the game. I like the increased challenge in heroic dungeons in theory, but I hate the indirect consequence that has turned every bad PuG into a nightmare of finger pointing and name calling. Healing for LFG PuGs has gone from something that was mildly frustrating on occasion to being completely unbearable anytime there is a bad player or two in the group. As a result, I just will not heal heroic PuGs anymore. If I need to random, I will take a queue that is 45 minutes instead of 5 minutes to do something I enjoy far less, just because I don’t want to deal with being the scapegoat for every other poor player in the game.

This is not an issue unique to me; I have multiple friends in the same circumstances: great healers who just don’t want to put themselves through the torture and abuse of healing PuGs anymore. I have spoken with many more who feel the same, both in-game and on the forums. Players like this may not be the majority but there are obviously enough of us to merit discussion. And while this is our choice, it does impact your LFG queue times by aggravating the existing healer shortage, which is an issue Blizzard is trying to fix as I write this very post.

LFG Heroic Dungeon Climate

In Cataclysm, heroics are designed to be more challenging than Wrath on several levels. Crowd control is more desirable and often mandatory if the team is not overgeared. Avoidable damage is far less forgiving than before, often one-shotting or severely injuring players who don’t pay attention. Healers are no longer responsible, as some like to put it, for “healing stupid.” Although design has shifted, player mentality about how heroics are “supposed” to go has not. Players still expect to be kept alive and at full health regardless of how they play. I would have thought this would have improved as the months passed and more and more players experienced the new content, but it hasn’t.

Of course, it is no surprise to anyone that there are a lot of bad players in heroic randoms because we’ve all encountered them. There are players who take the same nonchalant attitude towards heroics on their grossly-undergeared, fresh 85 tank as they might on their raid-geared main. There are tanks who refuse to use CC because their “threat is fine” even though they take massive amounts of unnecessary damage, or who are incapable of doing a pull without breaking what CC was used. There are tanks who don’t know how to kite, who are trying to tank in DPS or PvP gear, who don’t use their defensive cooldowns, or who chain pull without watching mana or waiting for the rest of the group. There are players of all varieties who stand in void zones, get cleaved by the boss, are terrible at interrupting, or who ignore the adds that need to be killed. There are lots of players that don’t run away from insta-gib mechanics, pull aggro by attacking the wrong mob or laying in too early, players who often suck at positioning, break CC or have no idea how to apply it in the first place. And of course, there are the garden-variety-bad DPSers who put out about half the amount of damage they should be, making the fights far too long.

Dual Spec:  Healer/Scapegoat

Healers have always had increased responsibility by nature of their job. They are also used to fingers being pointed at them when things go wrong (both with and without merit). Unfortunately the difficulty level of this expansion has made things far, far worse. In the past, healers could cover for people’s mistakes. And while PuGs have always full of jerks, before they were appeased by how smoothly runs went no matter how badly people played. All those stupid mistakes before really didn’t matter. Now they do. Now the people who play poorly will die. If they don’t die immediately, they run the healer out of mana later. And when that happens, the player who gets berated or booted isn’t a DPS or tank. The player who is punished the most for mistakes isn’t the person that made them: it is the healer.

It is no consolation to a healer to know that they were not at fault when booted from a group after already investing 45 minutes in a dungeon; knowing it was someone else’s mistake does not give back time lost. The fact that it is the DPS who fails at a mechanic does not make the healer feel better when they have to spend an entire dungeon being berated every time that lousy player dies. The knowledge that healing is designed so healers can’t always keep everyone topped constantly does not filter out the players demanding heals, cursing or name calling when they don’t get them immediately. It doesn’t console the healer to know that after they leave the party (either by choice or by force), the party is going to have the same problem with the replacement since the issue is the group itself. The healer is not comforted through the scapegoating just because they know that the reason they ran out of mana wasn’t because they were using improper spells but because the DPS was so bad that the fight lasted twice as long as it was supposed to. It doesn’t matter who is really to blame when a dungeoning experience has ceased to be fun and started to be legitimately stressful and draining any time a healer gets a group that is less than stellar.

Now What?

To clarify for people who tend to skim articles: this is not a complaint about Cataclysm heroics being more challenging. While I understand that some healers don’t like the new design, I’m not concerned with those players; you can’t please everyone. Overall, most healers — myself included — seem to enjoy actually having things to do in heroics, unlike Wrath heroics where we were barely needed. And the reality is, healing is not really that much harder once you learn how to manage the new playstyle assuming people aren’t taking excessive damage.  However, it seems like a design failure when an indirect result of the difficulty level is that players who like healing and prefer to heal refuse to do so because being brutalised by other players — who regularly do take excessive damage — has made a job they previously loved into a miserable experience.

Blizzard obviously can’t control the actions of their players, but their design does influence the environment and attitude, and one could argue it is precisely that design that is encouraging players to act poorly. As long as the punishment for failing at a mechanic is damage to a player, healers will be blamed regardless of whose fault it actually is. Between this and the fact that you need addons for tracking fails or discerning death reports (the default combat log is too incomprehensible for the average players), it far too easy to shift the blame towards the healer because the punishment for every mistake is damage, the very thing healers are tasked with solving.

I don’t know of an elegant solution to these circumstances without reverting heroics to super easy and giving healers godmode again, which I don’t think anyone wants. However, I think the issue is worth discussion. There has to be some other way to keep the challenge level while keeping individual player responsibility from drifting to other players. Perhaps possible alternative solutions should be explored, whether it is changing the consequences for failing at mechanics to something that gimps DPS or threat (like Putricide’s slime debuff) rather than damage or deaths, or making it easy to see why someone died or why things went wrong within the default UI.

What do you think?  Have you had similar experiences?  Have you been kicked from a PuG you were healing for someone else’s mistake, or seen it happen to another?  Do you still heal in LFG PuGs?