December 24, 2008

Howling Blast and other patch 3.0.8 follies

Yeah, I definitely have to put out a mea culpa here. Alas, Lichborne is a little bit late again. I have a valid excuse, I swear. It involved a flaming plum pudding, a flailing geist, and a sudden snowstorm at the Shadow Vault over in Icecrown. But after an emergency eye transplant by a Forsaken Death Knight who used to be a member of the RAS, I'm back in the saddle and this week's column is only a few days late.

Anyhow, this week I thought I'd take a look at the deeper implications and meanings behind some of the Death Knight changes coming our way in 3.0.8. Our newest Mike has summarized and analysed quite a few of them, but I have just a few more things I want to say, especially about a new change that was added in a recent PTR update.

The "New Skins"

First off, though, we've been getting a few questions about this here at WoW Insider's Ebon Hold division news desk, so I thought I'd set the record straight. That line about new skins and looks for Death Knights was a mistake. There are new skins for Death Knights, but, as you know since you saw our gallery back during beta, those have been in for a while, and were available for all new Death Knights when Wrath released.

The note went in because Blizzard has been fiddling around with ways to make the skins easier to find and use. Right now, some of the skins refuse to show up all the time or only show up if paired with a specific skin color, so it's harder to get to them. But until they get a more elegant solution or find a better way to express it in the patch notes, they've already removed it from the newest version of the notes.

So no, Blizzard doesn't really owe you 15 bucks to change your skin, the options were there all along. Still, if you want to see what you might have missed (I've done this myself), you should be able to head to the character creation screen, choose a Death Knight of your race and class, and play around with skins to decide whether it's worth it to drop 15 bucks just to look a bit deader or meaner. Honestly, in the case of some of the skins, like those of the Human female or either gender of Blood Elf (the first person who says "but Blood Elves only have one gender" is going to get smacked, I'm warning you now), I do think it may be worth it. They get some awesome looks.

Defense Weapons

So coming our way in 3.0.8, we have 2-handed tanking weapons made with Blacksmithing. Unfortunately, they're also bind on pickup. This has quite a few serious tank Death Knights already scrambling to level their smithing so that they can grab these babies come 3.0.8 and kiss their defense woes goodbye.

Me, I'm sticking with Inscription, not only because I am pretty sure the 540 defense cap is reachable without the weapons, especially once the +25 defense skill +2% stamina Runeforging enchant goes live, but because I am also sure that Blizzard will make them BoE. Blizzard's been all about making a tank's life easier. Warriors, Druids, Paladins, and Death Knights have been getting tools all through the Wrath beta and into live designed to reduce the need for crowd control, make threat easier to get and manage, and so on, all to fix that dreaded tank shortage. Even changes that look like nerfs, such as the Bone Shield and Icebound Fortitude changes, are offset by the Frost Presence buff, which should make us overall take more consistent damage and be easier to heal when we tank.

In addition, they've also been about making professions less about the BoP reward you get at the end and more about personal preference. While you do have a couple BoP holdovers such as engineering goggles, the good stuff is now all BoE, such as the tailoring armor, and blacksmithing DPS weapons such as the Titansteel Destroyer, which back in BC surely would have been an macesmith only weapon. For both of these reasons, suddenly introducing such an effective and near mandatory weapon for Death Knight tanks and making it require grinding what is, in my experience, one of the most labor-intensive and time-consuming professions to level, would go against the loot and gameplay philosophies they seem to have espoused so far.

So the other question is, is Blizzard going back on their word with this? I suppose, in the strictest, most nitpicky definition, they sort of are backpedaling, since they have gone on record as saying they had no plans to implement tanking 2-handed weapons. But honestly, saying that you have no plans or don't intend do something isn't the same as saying you'll never do it. Blizzard, after some thought, saw that getting to 540 defense skill for a Death Knight was more difficult than it should be, and chose an outlay of options to ease that path.

What will be interesting to me is to see if they continue this trend. Come Ulduar and later dungeons, will we see +defense and +parry type two-handers dropping, ready for Death Knights and the odd Fury Warrior offtank who refuses to use their second spec for tanking? Or is this purely a stopgap measure to allow a new 80 Death Knight a way to close the defense skill gap until they can get some heroic and raid level gear? I'm leaning toward it being the latter, but we'll see.

Howling Blast and Dual Wielding

So here, to me, is the biggest change that's come along in 3.0.8 is simple: Howling Blast no longer has a cooldown. This change, if it goes live, may single-handedly vault dual wielding to the top of the Death Knight charts, with builds designed to churn out Howling Blasts as quickly as possible dwarfing the damage potential of all other builds.

To get an idea of how this works, check out this Frost-heavy build, or this build which is more Unholy biased. The main point with both these builds is to grab Howling Blast, Killing Machine, either Reaping or Blood of the North for the Death Runes, and as many other skills as you can grab to up your magic damage and/or Howling Blast damage.

With these builds and the new instant cooldown Howling Blast, you can, in theory, unload Frost Fever, spread it with Pestilence, then keep unloading Howling Blasts as fast you can proc Rime and convert Death Runes. You specifically want this build to be dual wielding in order to maximize your number of Killing Machine procs, which is also why you want Unholy as your secondary tree, since Necrosis and Blood Caked Blade are considered essentially mandatory for decent dual wielding DPS.

Now, I don't think this change will last, and Howling Blast will see a cooldown again. Either that, or Killing Machine or Blood Caked Blade will get some sort of internal cooldown nerf just to make sure dual wield Howling Blast builds don't get a smidge on the overpowered side. Blizzard has said very recently that they understand that making Death Knight talents and skills too dual wield friendly would simply result in the complete marginalization of the two-handed playing style (Just as it did for Enhancement Shamans, in fact). Thus, we won't see this build dominate for too long without some adjustments. Admittedly, this may be my strong pro two-hander bias speaking.

If this change does go live though, any serious Death Knight DPSer is going to want to find 2 decent 1-handed weapons and spec into some Frost talents, I'm pretty positive.

Waiting for 3.0.8

Now, mind you, I could be wrong. The defense weapons could go in bind on pickup, and Howling Blast could stay on instant cooldown. My prophecies have been off a bit lately, so it's possible. But for now, I'm not panicking too much about the Death Knight changes, major though they may be. There's still time to see how they shake down. The expansion and the class are still young, and I'm just enjoying the ride. I hope you'll all keep on riding with me, and we'll see where we are on the other side of the patch

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