Darkest Dungeon

Been playing this a lot for the past few days. Into the latter half of my first playthrough. Various thoughts:

Overall it’s great. The writing and atmosphere are very cool, and consistently build on the themes of exploring the mental effect of being in a gothic horror setting. Very immersive throughout.

The game systems are well setup to hit all the standard roguelike patterns for people who like XCOM et al. Making the choice not to have a failure state (no game over) is a very significant one. It enables a slightly different direction from a lot of similar games–more drawn-out pacing, and you do all your learning within one playthrough. And the gameplay is carefully set up to reinforce the themes: right as you start out, buildup of stress and other afflictions is too high to deal with efficiently, so you have to give in to treating your adventurers disposably.

Design-y criticisms:

1) It’s missing any sense of intermediate progression targets to keep you motivated. In XCOM, you were always looking forward to the next “new” thing you were getting right after the next mission or two–new guns, new research, new building, etc. A lot of times when a mission popped you didn’t exactly feel like doing it, because you were actually hoping time run on until your next little progression rush from finishing a project. But you’d focus and get into the mission, and would often enjoy playing with whatever your latest new toy was. Then you go back to look forward to the strategy progress aside. DD just doesn’t have those progression beats on the strategy side. You want to farm up deeds etc. so your character upgrades go to higher numbers and are cheaper. Once you get a sense of how it all works, it’s too transparent that you can just say “okay, after I get X hundred deeds I’ll have the strongest characters and can work on the endgame.” XCOM _never_ made me think (even though I theoretically could), “okay, I just need Y scientist-days of total research to fill out the whole tree, so let’s grind out missions until I get there.”

The outcome I predict is that I’m going to plow on enthusiastically with my initial rush of enjoyment of the game’s systems, and curiosity about the final dungeon. But once I start suffering setbacks that cause me to redo any grind, the motivation will evaporate and I’ll stop playing, feeling like I saw all the gameplay it had to offer.

2) There’s a really bad progression snarl based on the rule that high-level soldiers won’t go on low-level missions. I get what they’re trying to do, but it’s not extremely well thought-out. Your adventurers’ strength is based not just on their level, but on their gear and trinkets (in fact, the latter two are a lot more important). So even if you’re trying to build up your party strength by improving your Blacksmith before going into higher-level areas, you might have many adventurers who refuse to go to any areas other than the higher-level ones. At minimum, you wind up leaving lots of adventurers at, say, freshly L3, while you use your L1-2s to farm up materials to upgrade the L3 guys further. In the extreme, this can lead to the bizarre case of wanting to fire mid-level characters to make room for lower-level characters who have the “advantage” of actually being willing to do the missions you want to do. Again, I get they’re trying to prod you to keep pressing on, but this is a very messy and aggravating way of doing it. A simple rule like “the adventurers don’t gain XP from too-low-level missions” would accomplish the goal of making you get into the higher ones to keep progressing.

3) There’s too much fiddly setup before a mission. Here’s my general routine between finishing a dungeon and starting the next:
–Check if I have mats to upgrade any buildings
–Check if anyone on the Stagecoach I want to recruit (can be a complicated decision since I have to fire someone if so)
–Check what missions are available, and which one I want to do
–Pick a party for that mission (also complicated, but no complaint here since it’s the interesting part)
–Go back to the town screen, and drop each of those party members into the Blacksmith to see if they have any gear upgrades I want to get them
–Then the same for the Guild Hall for skill upgrades, and also checking if I want to swap any skills in/out on the characters based on that particular party lineup and mission
–Same at the Survivalist, although at least you really only need it once per character
–Of all the characters that aren’t going, who needs disease treatment, who needs stress relief–put them in those buildings.
–Scroll through all the remaining characters and pick a few negative traits to remove–put those in the Sanatarium.
–Check the trinket shop for anything interesting
–Open the trinket box. Unequip all trinkets, then pick some out for this mission to equip to the planned party.
–Pick provisions (usually formulaic based on mission area and length) and go.

There’s just too much hassle here. You probably didn’t even read all that. Looking again to XCOM, it’s really worth thinking about the ways that it avoids burying you in a nonstop slew of really minor decisions–this is one of its important successes. Most things on the overworld take time, so you really only have to actively make choices in 1 or 2 buildings at any given point. Characters of the same class are the same other than talents, and can’t be respecced. Accessory slots have some more standard basic options so you’re not totally re-picking from a large complex list every mission.

Darkest does have interesting systems around characters/skills and trinkets, that allow for good customization and formation of a plan. But the lesson from XCOM would be to be more parsimonous about the different things that the player can constantly rearrange and juggle, while figuring out how to distill out only the important strategic decisions.

Healing Discussion Podcast #13

Back for one more extra-long podcast with Dayani, where we first catch up on a few ongoing 6.2 points.  Then we turn our attention to the state of healing overall and what we’re thinking about with the impending 7.0 announcement.  Finally, since this is our final show, we talk about how great it’s been to have everyone’s interest and discussion this whole time.

Thanks for listening!


0:00 Introduction & Catching Up

1:05 Etheralus, the Eternal Reward
> 1:15 Basic Etheralus mechanics (Dayani’s post)
> 3:45 How to use the ring CD

8:30 6.2 Trinket thoughts
> 9:15 Demonic Phylactery
> 10:45 Mark of Supreme Doom & the DPS/survivability tradeoff

18:40 Warlords of Draenor Healing Retrospective
>19:10 Our positive experiences in WoD
> 22:46 Mana management/Spirit in HFC (referenced Phylactery spreadsheet)
> 34:24 Smart healing/AoE healing/Targeted healing balance (and http://www.healergame.com/ )
> 47:30 Aesthetic feel & feedback from healing spells
> 53:30 Positioning/interacting with the game world/encounters

58:25 Healing gameplay derived from encounter mechanics/design
> 59:45 Healers’ role during damage lulls
> 66:00 Encounter comparison: Iron Maidens vs Gorefiend
> 69:50 Use of healing CDs – Gorefiend’s Feast of Souls vs Kromog’s Stone Breath, Mar’gok, Hellfire High Council
> 74:27 Role of healing CDs in WoD vs MoP;
> 78:10 CDs and unavoidable damage as a method of enforcing # of healers; the Mythic Tectus example
> 82:25 Healer-specific mechanics; an Iskar interlude

88:35 Summary of our WoD survey
90:00 Outro: Good-bye and good luck to Hamlet at Blizzard!

All episodes

Raid Awareness WeakAuras, Hellfire Citadel

I’ve been busy lately and not as much into theorycraft projects as usual.  But a lot of people have asked me during this first week of Hellfire Citadel whether I was going to reprise my Blackrock Foundry Weakaura project for the new zone.  Since this is something I wanted to do anyway to help my own raid group, I figured I’d try to get a basic version ready for people who were interested.  Note that a lot of these are untested; I’ve only seen about half the fights so far, so give me any feedback on how it works.

Once again, I got Dayani from Healiocentric to go over all these fights and mechanics with me, as she put a huge amount of work into learning them on the beta for the purpose of writing her guides.  If you want any explanation of the encounters/mechanics listed here, I recommend you take a look at those.

For I’m just going to include the WeakAura downloads and the list of abilities I used.  See the BRF post for more explanation of the setup if you need.

WeakAura Downloads

Addon: WeakAuras 2

Awareness Auras (debuff alert and standing-in-fire alert), v 0.9: WA String

Interrupt Bars (target/focus castbar showing important spells), v 0.9: WA String

So far, includes Heroic difficulty mechanics only.  These include all the bosses already, but I haven’t gotten to test the later ones, so please report anything odd on those ones especially.

Last time around, there was a bug, I think on the WA side, where the icon displayed wouldn’t always match up to the current debuff (I have the display set to “Automatic Icon”).  I worked around it by breaking a lot of debuffs into separate auras and setting the icon manually, but that was a pain and made the package a lot bigger.  So far I haven’t done that here; let me know if you see anything wrong (or are a WA expert who might know how to address this).

Continue reading

Healing Discussion Podcast #12

It’s been a while!  But here we are again, starting to ramp up thoughts for 6.2: both reviewing where we’ve gotten on some topics like Spirit and trinkets, and anticipating what the most important issues might be for potential class changes.


Topic List:
0:00 Intro
1:53 Spirit Growth in 6.2
> 2:35 Mana Economy and Spirit Acceleration in 6.1-6.2 (my recent post)
> 6:15 Mana inflation in previous expansions
> 8:20 Flattening the Spirit growth curve
> 14:45 Adjusting to a lower Spirit playstyle (Current 6.2 trinkets)
> 30:00 Design Principles: Constraining player ability to promote engaging choices
35:15 Raid comp balance for healers
> 35:40 Where we were at the end of MoP
> 37:55 The guaranteed Disc Priest raid spot
> 40:26 Interlude on using HPS meters to evaluate class balance
> 48:10 The guaranteed Holy Paladin raid spot
> 49:05 Interlude on Raid CDs, their role in healer balance, and Avenging Wrath
> 53:52 WoD Beacon : tank healing :: MoP smart heals : tank healing
> 56:28 Holy Light’s efficiency, and Holy Power’s diminished role
> 66:56 The tank healing “niche” & the value of Clarity of Will
> 69:15 Dayani’s rant about Resto Shaman perception
73:40 The TL;DR: Mana failed to matter, and this skews class balance
76:30 Outro

All episodes

Thoughts on the No-Flying Announcement

I was originally asked about my thoughts on ask.fm, and my reply was so long that part of it got cut off. The core of this post came from a reply I made to the Wowhead newspost as well as some Twitter discussions over the weekend.

The devs have a vision they want to implement and I respect that. Communication surrounding the decision could be smoothed out though and that’s not the fault of the devs–PR/community could also be involved. Since it’s a bold choice, blogs on the official site would be good that explain the decision and also help players see that even though the devs may disagree with feedback, they’re engaging with it.

If they want people to explore more, they need to get people out of the Garrison. Right now the Garrison provides a lazy way for me to get gear, gold, and profession materials. I could get more if I went out into the world, but…effort. I’d rather just log onto alts with Garrisons if I need ore, vs take a miner out into the world. You can gear up with Garrison Mission rewards vs treasures in outdoor zones or even heroic dungeons. This caused a problem for me at launch, I fell into a routine where I just checked my Garrison for gear upgrades and didn’t push myself to socialize by doing things like heroic dungeons.

And since I spend so much time in my Garrison, I get complacent and think less about cool stuff I want to collect to show off to others–mounts, pets, toys, transmog. When I go to Stormshield, which is rarely, I’m reminded that I should farm mounts more, or that I should put a cool title on to show off. But inside my Garrison with just followers for company, I’m not reminded to socialize or go out in the world.

There’s also the issue where max-level content could encourage exploration/travel more vs the leveling treasures. I did grind out some WoD reputations, but all I had to do was travel to one area, use group finder, and grind mobs in exactly the same place for a few hours–flying wouldn’t have enhanced that. An exception is Steamwheedle–this felt the most memorable because it emphasized some travel and exploration with the rares and treasures scattered about.

I do think that flying could be added to zones when they’re no longer current (I thought most of Draenor would have flying in 6.2 tbh), but I also need that motivation to want to leave my Garrison in the first place. I can’t really think of a place I’d want to go to, but decided against it because it couldn’t fly. I just think about mainly staying in my Garrison and clicking on the latest Work Order/Mission that’s done. Maybe it would be neat if you could get flying after opening X amount of treasures, or doing Loremaster–demonstrating that you’ve participated in the actual content.

Cool Shop Mounts and reward mounts should be geared more towards ground areas–don’t have the fancy details shine in flying-only areas if we’ll be mostly showing them off in current no-flying zones. I liked the Runesaber’s wings, but you could really appreciate them only in flying zones. The new Apexis Crystal mount has awesome wings, but it’s a bit bulky on the ground as well. In contrast, the Infernal Direwolf is a ground mount from Hellfire Citadel with lots of awesome fel effects–that’s an example of a ground mount done well. In addition, many of my old mounts I’m proud of are flying mounts, and they just don’t translate well in Draenor, like a waddling Mimiron’s Head.

I’ve seen some criticism that recent interviews have been done on general gaming sites vs fansites. It’s good to have a mix and Blizzard can reach new audiences via general sites. It can also help them get new feedback–a Polygon audience may latch onto something unexpected in an interview, and that’s useful for Blizzard to see. However, the recent interview trend on top of the dev Twitter consolidation/Warcraft Devs transition does leave players hungry for more detail-focused conversations. It would be good if could move towards the 2014 twitter setup where that section of the playerbase felt like they had questions answered more. For example, a long-time player may ask specific follow-up questions about flying, such as what the devs thought were successful areas that worked without flying in WoD, the Garrison’s thorny content role in WoD, or potential no-flying improvements to make the travel experience smoother.

Warlords Spirit, 6.2 Update

Continuing my discussion on projecting Spirit and mana growth in Warlords

The last time we checked on Warlords mana and projecting how far it would go was after the general raid trinket buffs and the reveal of the BRF raid loot (including two high-Spirit trinkets).  Those two changes had severely accelerated potential Spirit growth from what I initially projected.  Because of that, I went from saying that Spirit was looking to be fine (at launch) to saying that the growth had to be arrested, and that an easy and effective approach would be to simply put less Spirit on trinkets.

Since all that, there have been two more developments:

  • Blizzard, going directly counter to my opinion, further increased the Spirit on BRF trinkets.  Not only through the global 5-ilvl buff, but through a significant Spirit-only buff to the two trinkets I linked above.  The reasons for that have to do with the trinket itemization dilemma I touched on here; I won’t go into them now.
  • Completely reversing course, the datamined 6.2 healer trinkets now have low amounts of Spirit again.  379 at ilvl 695 (or equivalent) on all of them, far less than Autoclave and Talisman.  This is now in line with exactly what I recommended.

So of course the question is, after all this, where did we land?

A Somewhat Convenient Truth

By now you’re probably familiar with the bar graphs from the previous versions of this analysis.  If you’re not, the framework I use is to compute how much total mana a healer will have available to spend, in an encounter of fixed length (I use 6 minutes).  This is to give a more practical and in-context comparison than simply looking at Spirit numbers, although in the Warlords system, Spirit on gear is the only part that varies.  Without further ado:

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 1.50.41 AM

Continue reading

Quick Notes on Blackrock Mountain Wing 4: Blackwing Lair

I’ve been noting down my experience with, and strategy for, the Hearthstone Adventure encounters each week on the EJ forum.  I just realized there’s no reason not to put them here for people working on the fights now.  I know they’re mostly over, but I’ll put in this week’s anyway, and maybe paste in the old ones sometime for people trying to do them later.

Descriptions of the bosses and their decks can be found here.


Razorgore: Probably lots of easy ways to do this.  I went with typical Freeze Mage-ish board clears.  His only value advantage over you is creating 4-5 HP worth of stuff to beat down every turn, which is not hard to overcome just by establishing board control in conventional ways.  An early Doomsayer and a late Flamestrike help you lock it down though.  He Corruptions big threats, so typical midrange creatures to own the board work great.

Continue reading

Healing Discussion Podcast #11

After a bit of a break, suddenly a huge heap of new information from 6.2 patch notes and data (and items) gives us no shortage of things to talk about.  As soon as it all started coming out, we got together to discuss our immediate reaction upon reading it, recording 2 segments over the course of the evening.  So, an extra long show today (or 2 shows, however you want to listen!) with everything that healers should be interested in in the initial 6.2 information.

Part 1


0:00 Intro
0:25 Patch 6.2 Notes
> 1:50 Losing Aspect of the Fox
> 6:25 Losing Amplify Magic
> 10:32 Mistweaver Monk changes – DPS nerfs and Crane stance
> 12:50 Resto Shaman changes – Riptide/CH spell interaction is gone!
(Dayani’s older post on High Tide math)
19:10 Patch 6.2 Speculation
> 21:00 Addressing mechanical balance concerns
> 22:45 Discipline Priest speculation
> 26:38 Holy Paladin mobility and utility
31:16 Mythic Dungeon thoughts & Challenge Mode comparison
42:06 Outro & Good night

Part 2

0:00 Intro
1:10 Legendary Ring procs (examples discussed: HealerCasterTank)
6:45 The Archimonde Class Trinket
> 9:45 Druid (TrinketFlourish)
> 13:40 Monk (TrinketSoothing Breeze)
> 15:40 Paladin (Trinket; Magnifying Light)
> 17:52 Priest (Disc) (Trinket; Naaru’s Discipline)
> 22:20 Priest (Holy) (Trinket; Complete Healing)
> 25:35 Shaman (TrinketLow Tide)
29:35 Healer Trinkets & Spirit Balance (Previous podcast about Spirit Balance in 6.2)
> 31:55 Healer Trinket 1
> 32:37 Healer Trinket 2
> 34:50 Healer Trinket 4
> 38:34 Healer Trinket 3
42:18 Tier 18 Set Bonuses
> 43:05 Druid (2pc 4pc)
> 45:01 Monk (2pc 4pc)
> 48:00 Paladin (2pc 4pc)
> 48:20 Priest (Disc) (2pc 4pc)
> 50:51 Priest (Holy) (2pc 4pc)
> 51:40 Shaman (2pc 4pc)
55:50 Outro & Good night (again)

Previous episodes

The Guiding Hand of Dark Souls

Dark Souls is widely regarded as an outstanding game for a variety of reasons, such as the “hard but fair” ethos in which its only demand is that you prove your growth as a player at each step.  The world is similarly praised for its clever interconnectedness.  I want to illustrate the level of thought that went into the level design, using a series of highlights progressing through the game.  This is somewhat inspired by this analysis of Super Metroid, a game which itself is clearly an element of the Dark Souls pedigree.  Many of the concepts described in that article apply to this game as well, but Souls has to maintain a special focus on one particular element: quietly helping the player endure the intense difficulty that the game itself created.

One of my goals is to refine the image that both fans and non-fans have of Dark Souls, as being defined solely by difficulty.  Perhaps its best-hidden secret is that it does not actually leave the player lost in the wilderness with no direction and death awaiting at every turn, but rather guides and supports them in subtle ways.  The game fulfills two roles at once: presenting a seemingly crushing challenge, but also, behind the scenes, doing what it can to make it more likely that each player finds a way through.  The defining emotion of Dark Souls is the thrill of both facing the challenge and then eventually surpassing it, and the game succeeds because it does everything it can to provide both of those experiences.

This post will take us through ringing the Bells of Awakening.  Many of the themes of the level design are shown most strongly in this first segment, when it’s critical to give a player an understanding of how this game works, and most importantly, to give them the tools to succeed in what comes after it.

Undead Asylum

The game opens with one of the very few moments that I’m going to question.  Before its threadbare tutorial is even complete, it throws the player into a boss fight, the Asylum Demon, where the solution is not to fight, but to escape through an open door elsewhere in the room.  I’m not sure what this is intended to teach, since nowhere else in the game is there a boss fight that you can run away from; you’re always sealed in (there are occasional large non-boss enemies you can run from, such as the Bridge Hellkite or the Hydra, but they’re in open outdoor spaces that make it obvious anyway).  These opening minutes are precious for hooking the player and starting to teach them, and adding a potential sticking point with no teaching utility is not parsimonious.  Arguably, one hint is that the boss fight is completely unfair (you don’t have a real weapon yet, so no non-expert player has a chance), but it’s too early to rely on the player’s trust that Dark Souls is never unfair.  Building that trust is a key goal of the early levels.

The escape door is behind the pillars on the left.

The escape door is behind the pillars on the left.

Continue reading