9 Jun 2010

Choose Your Weapons

A while back I mentioned that I had four different weapon sets on my mage and was having trouble choosing which one was the best. Theorycrafting wasn’t really helping me much, with no clear winner emerging. In the end I decided that the best way to test them was to go out, do some target dummy tests and run a few heroics with them. It means that I can test them against my own playstyle as well as getting a feel for each of them.

Unsurprisingly, both Nibelung and Sister Svalna’s Aether Staff came out at around the same for single targets, with Nibelung really coming into it’s own for those AoE sessions in heroics. Abracadaver was only slightly behind, which surprised me as I was expecting a much bigger boost from the haste. I only have 450 haste normally so I’m nowhere near the softcap, although I do get the tier 10 2-piece set bonus most of the time.

The Frost Needle and Scourgelord’s Baton came in last place, and so will be banked. I can’t risk disenchanting them though – if a substantial one-hander or off-hander drop then I’ll need the other one to sit alongside it.

As I was doing all this testing I gradually became frustrated – it didn’t really make sense to me why I could end up with four sets of weapons, all from the same instance and all similar in quality to each other. It wasn’t as if I could say that there was a clear upgrade path, or if there was a clear best-in-slot that I could work towards. Instead, the approach was to offer similar weapons that do similar things, but work in slightly different ways.

  • A sword and off-hand combo
  • A staff with an “on use” ability
  • Another staff with a low procrate ability
  • A third staff with just high base stats and nothing unusual

Frustratingly for me, I couldn’t even decide what I like more as a player. Do I like to be able to just compare raw numbers – if the numbers are bigger on the new item, it’s an upgrade? Do I like to go for things that are a little unusual? I know I don’t like on-use items as I always forget to use them (trinkets being a perfect example), but that’s more preference and playstyle than throwing away good quality gear.

Anyhow, just as I was beginning to settle on which items to keep and which to put into cold storage, along comes this blog post from Tachyon. If you’re not aware of his work, Tachyon is a mage blogger who is heavily into theorycrafting. His best achievements are developing simulators that calculate DPS for a given gear selection and spell rotation. The information he generates is fantastic in terms of working out stat priority and so on.

His latest post on DPS volatility is a real eye-opener – it shows why ten tests or samples are unreliable for calculating DPS, and that you need something like a thousand in order to build up even a rough picture of DPS. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m unlikely to run the same instance with the same gear a thousand times just to test if it’s a marginal improvement.

But more fundamentally though, I’d probably never be able to tell which was the better or worse weapon for me because they’re all so close to each other. That and Lady RNG adds her own influence, distorting whatever results I get. I might end up feeling that the mathematically worst choice gives me the best result just because it’s “lucky”.

It also makes me wonder if any of this will get better in Cataclysm? I mean, I love choice, but I’d rather not have to be a mathemagician just to be able to pick and choose between the huge range of loot on offer to me. It might be that with the Spirit mage changes there will be a clearer choice for us – if it’s got intellect and stamina but no spirit then it’s a mage weapon. I like to have plenty of upgrade chances and I do appreciate the idea of moving away from identikit gear choices as well, but I’d really like it to be easier for me to work out if something is an upgrade or not.

I’m also reminded of the times when I first started raiding. Everything seemed so much clearer – it was an upgrade or it wasn’t. There didn’t seem to be as much choice – Molten Core only really had the Staff of Dominance or the Azuresong Mageblade to choose from. There also seemed to be much more competition for loot, with about nine other players also keen to get their hands on the same gear. I’m not saying that an abundance of choice is a bad thing, but it just seems to take that epic edge off things.

I guess I’m looking forward to Cataclysm all the more as a result – the raid dungeon changes mean that loot will be the same for both 10 and 25-man. This in turn makes itemisation easier, which should make upgrade paths clearer. I’m aware that the expansion isn’t a panacea or cure-all, but I can live in hope.

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