Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Diaries of a Ganker, Part X - Recceing Warspear

Can't very well call this series Diaries of a Ganker and not gank, so therefore, given that all my toons are fully Conquest geared and require no further grinding for the remainder of the season, I've decided to sally forth into the world and cause some mischief. This was far easier said than done though, as I would soon find out. In sharp contrast to Archeage, where players till non-instanced fields, tend livestock. build houses and populate the roads and sea lanes with trading traffic, the primary purpose of the world in WoW is to provide a zone for levelling. The WoW experience is now perfectly compartmentalised. It's like one of those beautiful specialty cookie stores, where you grab a bag at one end, and walk past the beautifully appointed rows of cookies, each separated and clearly labelled, and pick up the ones that look appetizing with a pair of stainless steel tongs. No rough edges, or stray crumbs to ruin your snacking experience.

Travelling through the lands of Draenor I am struck by how empty the virtual world is. I am on the Gundrak server, which is connected to Jubei'thos. Both servers are supposedly full, but you would never know it by travelling through the zones of Shadowmoon Valley, Gorgrond, or Nagrand. Even at peak Oceanic times these zones are empty, save for the occasional toon puttering away to 100. I have no desire to attack people below 100 - what I am looking for is a zone similar to either Halfhill or the Timeless Isle in MoP, where 100s congregate to do dailies, farming, mining, herbing or whatever. The most obvious choice is Ashran, the new PvP zone introduced in WoD. The problem with this idea is that Ashran, despite its nominal designation as a "world" PvP zone, is actually an instance with a limit of 100 players on each side. Waiting times on my server is about an hour on average, which nixes that idea. Playing on Oceanic servers gives us better ping, but I do miss my old US servers because I never had to wait for anything. Queues were non-existent. In Gundrak I have to cool my heels in the Alliance stronghold of Stormshield while waiting for the queue to pop. It was at this juncture a few nights ago when I realised that the Horde were doing the same thing at the opposite end of the island at the Horde base of Warspear, and that gave me an idea. Back in Cataclysm, my feral druid used to haunt the streets of Orgrimmar and provoke unflagged Hordies into fighting me on their own streets. In the Mists expansion I transferred my rogue to Illidan and ganked around the village of Halfhill with my rogue. This expansion I really didn't know where to go - as far as I knew every player in WoD now just live in the hermetic bubble of their garrison. There's no reason to leave - most content is instanced now, and only require you to join a queue to partake. Dailies have fallen out of favour due to their negative Skinner overtones, and raw crafting materials are produced in such abundance by each player's garrison that there is no point going out into the world for them. Aside from levelling and a few side things here and there like pet battles and rep grinds, there is really no purpose to the greater world of Azeroth. After seeing the bustling and organic lands of Archeage I now know how sterile and lifeless the WoW virtual world is in comparison. There is literally no one left in the world to fight - except in Warspear.


The world PvP zone of Ashran.

Warspear is the Horde "capital" for the WoD expansion. During the Burning Crusade it was Shattrath, in Wrath it was Dalaran, in Cataclysm it reverted back to Stormwind and Orgrimmar, and in Mists it was the Shrine of the Seven Stars and the Shrine of Two Moons for Alliance and Horde respectively. Warspear is situated on the northern end of the island of Ashran, Blizzard's designated world PvP zone. It stands in opposition to the Alliance stronghold of Stormshield at the southern tip of the island. There's only one way to get to Warspear, and that's to swim there. Actually, there's two, but the second one entails being able to enter the Ashran battle itself, and as stated earlier, that requires queuing up for an hour to become eligible. An invisible boundary surrounds Ashran, and once you cross that border you are automatically queued for the battle. If you stay within this boundary you will be automatically ejected back to Stormshield if you have not yet been called in.

A direct approach is therefore unfeasible, which means it's time to don my goggles and swimwear. Fortunately I'm a druid, and one of our class perks is our ability to shift into an aquatic travel form. The trip to Warspear is straightforward but is somewhat long - it takes about five minutes to swim all the way there as a baby orca. There are no hazards in the water to worry about - the only concern is making sure that I stay well away from the invisible Ashran boundary so as not to be queued accidentally. If I'm queued and within the boundary I will be summarily booted back to Stormshield after about 30 seconds, so it was simply a case of swimming further out whenever the queue popped. After an uneventful journey I soon arrived at the western approaches of Warspear, and there I paused to consider my next move.


Bjørn considers his next move as he surveys the Horde stronghold of Warspear from the jagged outcrops of the west coast.

Surveying the stronghold from the jagged rocks at the western side Warspear didn't look so formidable, but looks were deceiving. My first attempts to penetrate the interior were foiled by the cramped architecture and the numerous NPC patrols guarding the approaches. These NPC guards are almost invisible when they're your own faction, but as an intruder in my enemy's capital they were a formidable hazard to be overcome. They have a fairly large aggro range, they respawn quickly, and some of them are able to see characters in stealth. If you've never prowled around in your enemy's capital before you will not have seen these patrolling NPCs with "eyes" above their heads doing the rounds. I find it helpful to raid mark these scouts with symbols so as to see them coming more easily. Despite my best attempts, however, I found the western side to be very difficult to penetrate. The guard placement and patrol routes were just too densely packed, and I found myself being "made" and having to flee into the sea to escape. As a druid I no longer have the luxury of a rogue's Vanishes - as soon as I am caught I am stuck in combat until either my assailant or I am dead. I'm also a Worgen druid, which means no Shadowmeld - on the upside, however, I do have the extra sprint, which gives me some extra mobility. If I get "made" my only option is to finish the fight quickly, or run into the sea, shift into orca form and swim away until I shake the aggroer.

Having no luck at the western approaches I decided to try to infiltrate from the northern side. I found more success here - there were larger gaps between the patrols, and much to my surprise I found an enemy shadow priest AFK by himself near the bluffs overlooking the ocean. I quickly dispatched the priest, and displaced to the eastern side immediately. My goal was to conduct reconnaissance, so I didn't want to get into a protracted fight. Once the priest returned from being AFK he would alert the garrison to my presence, and I had no wish to be around that area when the Horde started to sweep for me. Death mechanics on Ashran are different to those of Azeroth - when you die you rez at the graveyard at your faction's base. There is no corpse running involved, which means you can't just die, run back to your corpse, and resurrect back at the scene of the fight. In Ashran, much like in BGs, once you die you have to start again from the graveyard all the way back in Stormshield. This made dying an expensive business in terms of time, and as a consequence I was much more wary and risk-averse.

Moving to the eastern side I found more space to manoeuvre, but again penetrating into Warspear's interior proved difficult. There was space to move here, but it appeared to be a locale not frequented by the Horde, which made it useless for ganking purposes. I really wanted to get into the interior, and wreak havoc amongst the folk who thought themselves "safe" in the heart of their stronghold. While I was ruminating, however, a Horde hunter suddenly appeared at the east side and began talking to one of the NPCs. I didn't like the match-up - good hunters are impossible to beat one versus one, at least in Rated play, but I had surprise on my side and there is always that better than even chance that the player isn't that good anyway. So I thought, why not, I'll have a go.

When you open on people in Arenas and Rated BGs they already have a plan in mind, and their response is automatic and honed over hundreds and hundreds of games. They may sit your opener, trinket immediately or use some kind of class escape, or holler for their team mate to peel immediately. In world PvP however, it may take a second or two for what is happening to register, and this is what I was counting on when I opened. Kitty burst is also fearsome - the combination of Incarnation of Ursoc, Berserk and burst trinket allows you to put out ridiculous amounts of damage. Before the hunter knew what was happening he was almost dead. He popped Deterrence, but it was too late - he had both my bleeds (Rip and Rake) already ticking, and as soon as Deterrence went down I simply charged him and finished him with a pair of Shreds.

Once the hunter went down I displaced immediately to avoid reprisals. I kept moving south along the eastern edge of Warspear, probing for a path inside. I found a promising route atop a crumbling wall, but it terminated in a drop into the heart of Warspear. This was a one way ticket - I would be in, but I would also be trapped inside. The removal of flying in Draenor has once again made terrain relevant - penetrating Orgrimmar was a cakewalk by comparison, as all I had to do was fly in. I also recall having to watch the skies back in Cataclysm - once people in Orgrimmar were alerted to my presence the Horde used to sweep back and forth overhead on their mounts while my druid tried to tippy toe away and move to another area. No need for Z-axis considerations in Draenor - here the threats were in front, behind, and to my left and to my right. No paladin hot drops or death from above by mages or shadow priests.

I decided to drop down, and try to work my way from the inside out. If things went south and I was found then my plan was to simply bolt for the sea while shrieking in abject terror. Mouthing a silent hail Mary my druid landed inside, right in the middle of the Horde's training dummy area. Pulse racing I padded away as fast as possible from the Hordies practising their rotations on the mechanical dummies. I felt like I was playing a 3D version of the game Frogger - like the protagonist of that ancient arcade game I was frantically weaving back and forth to dodge passing traffic. I finally found a spot where I could rest and catch my breath, which oddly enough happened to be the exact centre of Warspear.


Bjørn in the heart of Warspear, apparently checking his inventory. Where the hell are those agility flasks?

Now the problem was going to be to figure out how the hell to get out of here without being detected. After a moment's reflection I realised that this was not a problem at all. I could literally just run away in any direction I wanted and my druid's fleet of foot would ensure that I would outstrip any pursuit. Once I was in the ocean I would shift into aquatic form and only other druids would be able to catch me. My druid can breathe underwater - non-druids could choose to chase me into the depths and drown if they liked. With entry point and escape plan now determined I began looking around for chances to make a nuisance of myself. The crowd around the training dummies had thinned down to one solitary warlock, and so I picked him as my next target. I crept behind, looked around one more time and determined my escape route, then pounced.

This fight was tough. The dude reacted immediately, and used Blood Horror to shake me. I trinketed and got back on him, trying to do as much damage as I could. The lock started casting Fear to get some distance, and I reacted by using my Skull Bash interrupt. Too quickly - the lock had juked me. Juking is the practice of fake casting in order to draw out interrupts by casting a spell and then quickly cancelling it. Healers use it, as do spellcasters, and it is the difference between life and death in tight matches in Rated play. In this case the lock had drawn out my impetuous interrupt, and started casting Fear again. Fear is the worst CC for me in this environment, because my character would flee and start aggroing NPCs and guards all over the place. Worse still, it would be a full duration Fear of 8 seconds, because Blood Horror (Incapacitate) and Fear (Disorient) have separate diminishing return (DR) categories. In WoW CCs of the same family diminish the duration of each subsequent CC by half if cast within 15-19 seconds of a previous one. Thus three Fears back to back would last 8, then 4, then 2 seconds respectively, with further Fears being completely ineffective for 15-19 seconds after the final cast. CCs belonging to separate categories however, do not DR each other, which is why Arena compositions are so heavily determined by the type of CC each class brings to the table. A team of three druids, for example, would be sub-optimal because every Cyclone cast by any of the team mates would DR the others. A perennially strong composition has always been RMP - rogue, mage, priest - and one of the reasons is because this team brings every class of CC to the fight and consequently have a lot of non-DRing control to set up kills.
 
The lock didn't need all those Fears to kill me. He just needed one, and my trinket was already down, having used it to break the Blood Horror. In hindsight it would have been better to sit the Horror, as it only lasts 4 seconds, try to interrupt Fears, and then use the trinket if I did get caught. As they say though, hindsight is always 20/20, and now here I was in a position where I really needed to stop this Fear. I used Mighty Bash to stun him, only to have him trinket that immediately, and resume his Fear cast. He knew I couldn't interrupt him, because interrupts have a base 15 second CD, and my Mighty Bash was gone.

Crap, this guy was good.

There was only one option left, and that was to use my combo points to Maim him instead of landing a Rip. Doing this sacrificed damage for control - instead of landing a vicious bleed, I had to settle for a much smaller bleed and a stun. Even worse this stun was DRed by my previous Mighty Bash, which is also a stun, so instead of landing a 5 second stun, it would last a paltry 2.5 seconds. Nonetheless, it stopped the cast, so in effect I bought myself 2.5 seconds plus the time it would take the lock to cast a Fear once out of the stun. Approximately four seconds to lay into this guy, and four seconds closer to having my interrupt come off CD. I piled into the guy, trying to get as much damage as I could before I became Feared.
 
When the Fear came all my "fears" came true - my druid started aggroing guards and NPCs as he ran hither and tither. The lock placed a portal down and dotted me up (i.e. cast a bunch of damage over time spells on me), and my druid began to melt in that slow agonizing way affliction locks dispatch their victims. But it also meant I had some time. The DoT damage broke the Fear prematurely after about 6 seconds. It was now or never. I popped Survival Instincts to mitigate the combined damage from the DoTs and NPCs, hit my burst button and went HAAM (Arena speak for burst - "hard as a motherfucker") on the lock. The lock popped his defensives, which mitigated my damage somewhat, but kitty burst is vicious, and his only real chance would have been to either kite me with the portal, or get another Fear off. He bought himself a few seconds with a Shadowfury stun (3 second duration), and used that time to cast another Fear. Sitting in a stun I could only watch helplessly as the Fear came, but fate intervened. Instead of being sent fleeing to the hills in terror, the NPCS beating on my druid broke the Fear prematurely, and I was immediately able to get back on the lock. He used his portal to get some distance, but he didn't have the time to place it behind a line of sight obstacle (due to him being ambushed and all) and so it was easy to close the gap with a charge. He tried to juke another Fear, but I had learned my lesson. I didn't bother trying to interrupt until the casts were almost done, and so he wasted valuable seconds with two fake casts before finally trying to get the last cast off. This final cast was interrupted by a Skull Bash, and that sealed his doom.
 
With the lock down and me almost dead it was time to GTFO of Warspear. My druid cast Mass Entanglement to root the NPCS, popped Dash and ran for the coast, bolting past guards, NPCs and startled Hordies while trying to keep myself alive with instant Rejuvenations. A DK hit me with a Chains of Ice which slowed me down, but I just powershifted out of the snare and kept running. My health was so low that any number of finishers - Execute, Kill Shot, Shadow Word Death, or Hammer of Wrath - could have killed me. None were forthcoming however, and soon the blue waters of the coast were within reach. I dived off the cliff, shifted into orca form, and swam into the big blue. I had escaped.
 
It had been a very near run thing, and I was lucky to have made it this time. There will be times when I won't be as lucky, or when I will met players who are better than me and put me down. Nonetheless, I will be back - I have found my world PvP zone for this expansion, and I intend to make myself a regular nuisance on the streets of Warspear.

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