Blizzard announced today some changes to their raiding system, which basically boils down to the following:
  • There will be only one (1) raid lockout per raid instance per week, so if you get saved to a 10-man raid, you cannot then do the same raid with a 25-man group.
  • Heroic mode settings will be determined on a per-boss basis, similar to how Icecrown Citadel currently works (likely too that you will have to complete the entire instance before you can switch it to Heroic).
  • The discrepancy between 10-man and 25-man difficulty levels will be leveled out (this means that you won't end up having a boss that is incredibly easy on 25-man while being a raid killer on 10-man, or vice versa).
  • 10-man and 25-man raid bosses will share a loot table (meaning the 10-man version of a boss will drop the exact same items as the 25-man version of the same boss), however, to compensate, 25-man versions will drop a higher quantity of items.  In addition to 25-mans dropping a higher quantity of loot, they will also drop more badges and more gold.
  • When first entering raid content, there will be many raids with few raid bosses (instead of one raid with 11-15 bosses, we will see 3-4 raids with 4-6 bosses).
  • Raid content will again be gated (meaning you either have to complete a certain bit before progressing, or you have to wait until the additional wings of the instance are released).
  • Entry level raids will be tuned for players in leveling (blue) and crafted items.
With these changes in mind, let's take a look at how they will actually change gameplay:

Since players will only be able to progress through a raid instance once per week, they will have to first make a choice:  do 10-man and have an easier time of getting a group together, possibly sacrificing group cohesiveness or do 25-man, and deal with organizing a larger group, but getting a better chance at the item you want.

If you are in a guild, it will likely be a decision based on the size of your guild.  If you have a guild that is able to field enough people to put together a 25-man raid, it would definitely be in your best interest to do 25-man, simply because you have a better chance at the gear you are after.

Likewise, if you are in a smaller guild, the 10-man version will allow you to still complete the instance without feeling penalized for not doing 25-man content.

However, if you more often participate in Pick Up Groups (pugs), you may be at a disadvantage.  Let's say you are in a guild with 17 active raiders, do you try to pick up the remaining few to make it a 25-man?  Well, what if you cannot tell how good those other 8 players actually are?  If they are poor players, you may only make it through 50% of the content on 25-man, but what if you could have easily made it through 80% of the content on 10-man?  You would have made more progress, but lost out on gear.

This issue could be alleviated by allowing for the ability to switch between 10-man and 25-man modes (similar to switching between normal and heroic modes).  The major problem with doing this is that certain bosses, simply by the nature of the encounter, are going to be easier on 10-man, while others may be easier on 25-man.  So, to stop a raid from switching between the two modes on a whim, I would say a two (2) hour soft reset is required before the switch could be made (if you are not familiar, a soft reset usually takes 1-2 hours of nobody being inside the instance).

Whichever way you choose to raid will be up to you, but there are a few things that this will undoubtedly do:
  1. Reduce the overall amount of time that people are raiding.  This is because you won't have the option of spending 3 hours in 10-man followed by 4 hours in 25-man.
  2. Reduce gear inflation.  One major issue in Wrath of the Lich King was that gear inflated too quickly due to having 3-4 levels of gear per patch (10-man, 10-man heroic, 25-man, 25-man heroic).  Less gear inflation also has the added benefit of having smaller patches, and less time between patches (because fewer game files need to be added/programmed/designed).
  3. Less of a reliance of gear as a definition of skill.  If the gear is more accessible, then you will determine someone's ability by actually playing with them.  This will in turn make add-ons such as GearScore and ElitistGroup both less effective, and more effective at the same time (gear at levels A-B, skill will be indeterminate, but at level D-E, you may be able to say "you know, that guy has some impressive
Also, because bosses will share a loot table between 10-man and 25-man (coupled with the stat changes they are making), properly gearing your character will be more direct.  No more, I need XXX from this boss in 10-man, but YYY from this boss in 25-man.  You will be able to just say, I need XXX from this boss.

With regards to the complaints from the community, I think some people are overreacting a bit to these changes.  Will the changes be the "death of 25-man raiding", absolutely not, Blizzard does want people raiding 25-man content, but they don't have to if that is not their thing.  The idea is that the content is more accessible, not necessarily easier, and because some people equate accessible with easy, they have begun to present themselves in a way that makes them look like drama queens, which is rather unsightly.

Is Blizzard making things easier and less time consuming for the average player? Yes, absolutely.  Are they evolving their game to keep pace with their player base? Very much so.  Are these changes actually harming your gameplay? Umm...probably not.

Personally, I look forward to the day where I don't hear "We should be doing 25-mans so we can get better gear to do 10-mans", when we often don't have people showing up past the first night.  I would rather progress through the content with a smaller group that actually wants to play, learn the fights, and pick up gear along the way.

See you in the Shadows,
Blizzard recently announced the changes that they will be making to Shadow Priests in the Cataclysm expansion, and while I don't necessarily agree with all of the changes, I do see a benefit that many people may not recognize in some of the changes.  That being said, I am going to try to analyze some of the changes and how they will affect my shadowy brethren.

Mind Spike
Mind Spike is the new spammable Shadowfrost nuke spell for shadow priests.  The way it is going to work is that it places a debuff onto the target which improves subsequent Mind Spike damage, ultimately resulting in DPS about on par with a Shadow Word: Pain/Mind Flay combo.  Also, because this is not a Shadow spell, but rather Shadowfrost, it will not get locked when getting locked out of the Shadow school, giving priests an option other than Holy Fire and Smite.

Pros: Mind Spike will give shadow priests something to cast when locked out of the Shadow school of spells (
that won't take you out of Shadowform), and something to throw out during fights which require a higher amount of movement (where it may be detrimental to cast a Mind Blast).  It will also give Holy/Disc Priests (assuming it is a baseline spell) something to cast that might actually do some damage if necessary.

Cons: If the intent is that this will be used on trash, I think that Blizzard still doesn't have things quite right, unless they change significantly how trash is handled in the expansion (where you actually need to perform crowd control again).  I really only think that this will end up being useful in trash packs of 2-3 mobs; any more, and most priests will use Mind Sear; any less, and your normal spell priority will likely do more damage.

Other Thoughts: It perplexes me as to why the developers decided on a Shadow/Frost combination spell, because priests otherwise don't use frost spells at all.  A Shadow/Holy spell would have made more sense, but perhaps it was because of the whole dropping out of Shadowform when casting holy spells issue, or because the game doesn't allow for Holy Resistance that the developers decided against a Shadow/Holy combination.  In the end, I still feel that this is a much needed spell that will likely be beneficial for all shadow priests.

Grade: B+ (for finally making us able to do something when getting spell locked)
HoTs and DoTs and Death...Oh, My!
Another change that we can expect (assuming they don't change their mind once again) is that ALL HoTs and DoTs will be benefiting from Haste and Critical Strike.  While Vampiric Touch and Devouring Plague already do benefit from both stats, Shadow Word: Pain does not right now (it did at one time on the Public Test Realm). 

While this may seem like a pretty basic change on the cover, if you look more into what they stated with the change, it becomes more interesting.  Basically, hasted HoTs/DoTs will last for the same amount of time as a non-hasted HoT/DoT, but will tick faster (meaning you will "gain extra ticks to fill in the duration").  Along with that, re-casting a spell will no longer reset the ticks, but will simply refresh the HoT/DoT.  What this really means is that if you have to re-cast a HoT/DoT, it shouldn't significantly impact your DPS if you are early, but if you wait too long after, it may be detrimental to your DPS.

In the same section as the HoT/DoT changes, you will find that there are planned changes to Shadow Word: Death.  While they didn't go into much detail, they did mention that they want to bring it back as an "execute", or something that you are doing when the target is at or below 25% health.  Here's to hoping that they either reduce or eliminate the backlash from it (I know I am not the only one to accidentally kill my self by using it on Hodir).

Pros: Less restrictive HoT/DoT management may make shadow priests a bit easier to play and make DPS a bit more consistent for people at similar gear levels.

Cons: Bringing back SWD makes spell casting priority a bit more difficult than it has been in Wrath, but from previous experience, it still shouldn't be that bad, as long as the backlash is less likely to kill people on gimmick fights.

Other Thoughts: The HoT/DoT changes should make spell casting priority choosing a bit easier, perhaps allowing for a "rotation" instead, which should make casting a little easier.  Also, I did miss haste affecting SWP in Wrath, I had the opportunity to play with it a bit on the PTR, and it seemed like a nice addition that I am really looking forward to.  However, the changes to SWD have me most intrigued right now, because I would really like to see something that could potentially increase our damage once we get to to the "execute" range of a fight.

Grade: B (for fixing things that we had a taste of in the past).
Talent Changes New and Old
Blizzard has come out and said that they want to improve Shadow for short fights (because they finally realize that it is a problem), as well, because they are trying to do away with passive damage-boosting abilities as a whole, it looks like the Shadow tree is going to get a major overhaul.  Additionally, the developers are getting rid of pretty much all talents that affect spell hit, so not only are they changing the game play of Spriests, they are also significantly changing how we will select gear (likely making us compete even more for gear that mages/warlocks want).

In addition to the loss of the hit rating benefit of Misery, we will also be losing one of our two largest buffs in Prayer of Spirit, pretty much leaving us with two buffs (Fortitude and Shadow Protection), both of which can be brought to a raid in different forms (Runescroll of Fortitude andShadow Protection Aura), which means that one of the main reasons from Burning Crusade to bring a priest over other classes (their buffs) has basically been eliminated over the course of two expansions (in Wrath, Replenishment became available through other classes).

Pros: Selecting gear for your shadow priest may become more of a linear process, meaning that upgrades to your gear will likely be more defined.

Cons: Priests look to be losing a lot of the buffs that they bring to a raid, meaning they will be less sought after overall.  Why bring a priest when you can bring a shaman or druid?

Other Thoughts:  It seems to me that the changes to hit rating buffs is related to making updating the game easier for developers.  Just think, if they make it so that their is only one number to adjust with regards to damage increases, the number can simply be stored in the database, meaning they can update the value on the fly as a hotfix, whereas if the necessary changes must take place in a calculation, they would likely have to update the entire game, meaning it could be weeks before anything is actually changed.

Grade: C- (for removing reasons to actually bring a priest into the group).
Masters of our Universe
One of the biggest changes that we are likely to see in Cataclysm is the introduction of Mastery bonuses.  These are passive bonuses that we will receive simply for putting more points into our main tree (from what I understand, you will only receive bonuses for your "main" tree).  Shadow's main bonuses are simply changing the talents that provide passive damage-boosting effects into passive damage-boosting effects simply for having points in the tree.  However, the third bonus is something that is entirely new to the game: Shadow Orbs.

From how I understand the Shadow Orbs, you will build up orbs through your normal "rotation" while DPSing, and will be able to consume the orbs when we feel it is time to do so (perhaps you can consume them during Bloodlust/Heroism in order to pump out some impressive damage.

Pros: The replacement of our passive talents with passive bonuses from simply taking talents I think will be a rather nice change, allowing more variation in talent specs.  Along with that, the Shadow Orbs seem intriguing to the extent that they may add a bit more complexity to the shadow priest game (because you know we need more complexity to our gameplay).

Cons:  With Shadow Orbs being a relatively new mechanic for spriests, I can forsee many complications with the implementation at the start.  Also, new mechanics usually feel clunky at the beginning.

Other Thoughts: The Shadow Orbs may make lower level shadow priests feel more "shadowy", and I don't expect them to be too hard to get a handle on, because if you play a shadow priest, you are likely a relatively adaptive player (as is the nature of the class).  However, I just hope that the Shadow Orbs don't look like purple Thorns that circle around us.

Grade: B+ (for making rather simple changes, and adding something new and interesting)
Other Stuff
One change that I am looking forward to is a new buff called Inner Will, which provides a run speed increase, and mana cost reduction.  This buff will share a buff slot with Inner Fire, but they are removing the stacking nature of the buff (so that it doesn't disappear when you get damaged).  From what I understand, it looks like Inner Will will likely be more of a healing oriented buff, but it will probably have applications for shadow priests as well.  Also because of the nature of the spell, it will likely have PvP applications (run away from those darn melee faster, and using less mana when attacking).

It does look like Inner Will is going to be able to stack with other run speed increasing buffs (Tuskarr's Vitality for instance), and I am sure that there will be fights where we will be able to take advantage of the mana reduction (General Vezax-esque fights perhaps?).

Pros: A new buff that will allow more flexibility without having to micromanage should be interesting.  It also seems like it will be useful when/if you are having mana issues for certain fights.

Cons: The buff really seems like it will be very fight specific, and will likely be almost useless when overgearing a fight.

Grade: A- (for providing something actually useful)

Overall Grade: B

Final Thoughts:  Some of the changes look like they will offer a bit of a change-up for existing shadow priests (which I suspect many will not like), and some of the changes look like they are doing more harm than good in the end (is it really necessary to remove all of our buffs, and basically all reason to include us in a raid?) .  Overall however, I don't think the changes are really that bad, or that good; rather that it will be business as usual for shadow priests (which may not be a good thing).

See you in the Shadows,
The loss of a family member, a loved one, or a friend is never something that is easy to deal with, nor is it something that most people like to talk about.  However, death is a fact of life, and something that is rarely ever discussed in the realm of online gaming.  The only time I have seen death discussed in regards to gaming is either when someone decides to play themselves to death (by not sleeping/eating/drinking for days), or the occasional in-game funeral for a fallen friend.

While I have never personally experienced the death of one of my online friends, I do know that if one of them were to slip into the shadows, I would want to know.  Which brings about the question, if you were to pass away, how would you want your online friends to be informed about your passing?

After reading an article recently about an in-game funeral, I have pondered this, and have decided that like so many other aspects of life, "it depends" is once again the best response to this question, because it really does depend on both your personal life (Are you single or married? Do you have a will? Have you been experiencing any illness?) as well as your relationship with your online community (How well do you know each other? Have you been interacting with each other for a long time?).

If you are or have been experiencing any illness or disease which would be life threatening, and are relatively close with your online community, I would suggest informing them of the situation, at least in part, so that they are not caught off-guard should something happen.  If you are married or have children, it may be beneficial to discuss with them what you would want done if you were to pass away.

While it may sound almost morbid to discuss these topics, it is very much similar to preparing your last will and testament (and could likely be included as part of your will, if you have one), and is intended to make your passing easier for your loved ones.  Some things you might want to consider are the following:
  1. Of your online friends, which ones would you want to inform? (As many people as possible, or only the ones you interact with on a regular basis, like your guild or raid group?)
  2. Who from your real life community would you want to inform your online friends? (Wife, siblings, real life friend, etc.)
  3. Which method of communication would you want used to inform your online friends? (Posting on a website, Twitter, Facebook, VoIP (i.e. Ventrilo, Teamspeak, Mumble)).
  4. When would you like to have your friends informed of your passing? (Immediately after passing? A week or so after passing?)
  5. What would you want to have done with your online account? (Cancel the account all together? Sell the account (which is against the ToS)?)
  6. If you have any in-game wealth, would you want it distributed to the members of your community?
  7. Would you want an in-game funeral?

Personally, because I am married, I would prefer to take the burden of telling my online friends off the shoulders of my wife, as I would expect her to have other things on her mind.  Instead, I would want one of my brothers to let my friends know via either our guild website, or via whichever VoIP software we are using (which is Mumble if you are curious), as soon as possible after my passing. This is partially because they are more familiar with technology than my wife, especially when it comes to VoIP software, and because I think they would be able to relate to my online community better.

As far as my account is concerned, I would prefer to have as many of my belongings as possible sold off, and the resulting wealth distributed amongst my friends.  This way, I would be able offer them a small bit of joy in the midst of the sadness.  I would not, however, wish to have an in-game funeral, as that would bring about sadness from both my online community, and unnecessary sadness for the person that would have to play my character for the event.  Instead, if my friends wanted to honor my memory in some way in-game, I would much rather have a celebration.  Assuming my current WoW community, I would prefer to have fireworks, drinks, food, and dancing.

While I hope that both you and your online community never have to experience the loss of an online friend, I will pose the question: What would you like done if you were to slip into the shadows?

See you in the Shadows,