Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Look at the Shadow Warrior - Warhammer Online

Originally featured on on November 13th, 2008

The High-Elf Shadow Warrior is your classic ranged DPS class, or is it? Upon playing a shadow warrior a while, you’ll discover a few things differ between yourself and the traditional ranged, non-magic damage dealing classes plaguing so many other MMOs these days.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and write about how it’s perfectly ok for you to throw your Shadow Warrior into assault stance 100% of the time and laugh as you mow through enemies with your melee prowess – mostly because I’d be lying to you. It’s not ok to do that 100% of the time. However, if you plan it just right, you’ll find yourself walking away after combat instead of clicking a button and appearing in some arbitrary position a ways away.

The ability to correctly analyze your situation and change your stance and fighting style accordingly is really the key to effectively playing a Shadow Warrior. Making poor decisions, deciding its ok to get just one more eagle eye off before you re-distance yourself from the crowd, or running into the middle of combat to get that finishing blow on the tank that wandered a bit too far from the healer will more often than not leave you taking a dirt nap and wondering how long your respawn timer will be next time you do something that stupid.

Starting out with the basics – along your career as a Shadow Warrior, you’ll acquire three stances, of which only one can be active at a time. Each has a 5 second cool down when switching – to clarify, you can’t enter once stance, make an attack, and immediately switch stances again (Well, I suppose you could, but you’d be waiting 5 seconds between every attack). It should be noted that switching stances does NOT throw a global cooldown at you for all of your skills. Certain skills require you to be in a certain stance. With that being said, the stances are as follows:

Warhammer Online Screenshot
  • Scout Stance - Increases your Ballistic skill by X (raises with level), and also gives your bow attacks a 10% range boost. If you’re standing away from the crowd and just want to pluck away at range, this one’s your choice.
  • Assault Stance – Probably the best stance in terms of overall bonuses, you get X to weapon skill and strength, with a 100% boost to your armor. While the armor bonus is very nice, it doesn’t make up for the fact that unlike tanks (which also have high armor) you don’t get a shield, or very high avoidance bonuses. That roughly translates into you constantly getting hit, but for less damage. Don’t get me wrong, it raises your survivability considerably, but it isn’t by any means a calling card to fill in when your big guy calls out sick. The strength and weapon skill bonuses are very nice, and you’ll definitely see them making a difference in your melee damage.
  • Skirmish Stance – Increases your Toughness by X, and increases the chance for your bow attacks to critically hit by 5%. Now I’ll go ahead and say that the toughness stat is about as irrelevant as it gets; if you’re getting hit hard, lets face it, you’re probably going to die – switch to assault stance to mitigate the damage as best you can and either gain some distance, or try to take them down. You could always try to out DPS them in skirmish or Scout stance as well. After all, they can’t kill you if they die first, usually.
It’s hard to really describe a play style that a Shadow Warrior should stick to for success. Eventually, somewhere near level 20 when you have enough abilities to really get a feel for your career and what to expect down the line, you’ll find a few key skills that you can center yourself around, and add in a few utility abilities here and there. I found out early on that the situation really dictates your tactics – namely the terrain you have to work with, and what kind of enemies you’re facing.

You actually start the game with the ability that many Shadow Warriors will use most, Eagle Eye. It’s your basic ranged attack, with high damage and a moderately long build-up (2 seconds). This really does a considerable amount of damage, and if you can keep an enemy in sight and range long enough, you’ll really leave them in a world of hurt. You can use eagle eye in any stance.

Your spiral fletched arrows will really turn into your bread-winner for skirmish stance, as they have a one second build-up time, deal moderate damage, and can be fired off as you move around. Running around enemies ‘kiting’ them is an effective strategy combined with takedown, mentioned below. Assault and Skirmish stance only.

Broadhead Arrow is also an ability that can be activated while moving, and is a run of the mill damage over time ability. It deals a very considerable amount of damage over 15 seconds and can be re-fired, instantly, every three seconds. Any stance can fire off Broadhead Arrows, and should do so when moving around or looking for a quick casting ability that’ll give a bit of extra damage.

Acid Arrow is an ability gained early on, which really needs to be renamed ‘tankbuster’. At a 1.5 second build-up, you’ll launch a low damage shot that, if it connects, lowers the enemy’s armor dramatically (somewhere around 300+ points in the mid-teens, as an example) and decreases their chance to block by 10% for 10 seconds. It cools down every 5 seconds. Unlike other games, lowering someone’s armor in WAR really makes a difference, and launching this arrow at a tank will really ruin his day. You don’t even need to follow up with an Eagle Eye, you can really just launch this at a tank your friends are on, and watch him fall. It’s a good way to aid the group without taking your DPS off a healer or other ranged damage dealing class for more than a second or two. Scout or Assault stance only.

Takedown is also acquired early on, and is your basic snare shot, dealing low damage as well. It’s important to note when using this that the snare will last for 10 seconds, but the shot cools down every 15 seconds. Shooting it too early could leave your enemy with plenty of time to make his way to you. If you’ve vengeful, you’ll knock the target down for 3 seconds – more on that later. Scout or Skirmish stance only.

Warhammer Online Screenshot

A fantastic addition to your skills is the Hunter’s Fervor ability, which increases the AP regeneration rate of your entire group by 20% for 15 seconds. It’s nice to throw this in during prolonged battles where you know your healers need their AP replenished as quickly as possible.

The Shadow Warrior, like so many other careers in WAR, receives an AoE root ability. Every 20 seconds you can root in place all enemies within 30 yards of you. Damage will break the root 50% of the time. It’s really a key ability to any class that can access it and master its use. You can run into a skirmish and root down an entire group, or save a healer who is attempting to flee by rooting his target in place. The uses go far beyond escape and setting up distance, you can take an entire mass of enemies out of a scenario for a few seconds by throwing this ability down just before you die, leaving them stuck in place a few moments while the rest of your team continues to work toward accomplishing its goals.

The Shadow Warrior really starts to get interesting in the pre/early teens through level 25 or so. You’ll receive a multitude of skills that enhance your current arsenal. Among which are the Vengeance ability, and the Unshakable Focus (rank 2) morale ability.

Vengeance can be activated once every 3 minutes, and gives you a 20% boost to all damage for 15 seconds, as well as modifying some other abilities with added effects (see takedown above). Even just activating this for a little extra damage when you need it is acceptable, but the benefits other abilities gain shouldn’t be ignored.

Unshakable Focus, a Rank 2 morale ability, gives you a 100% boost to damage (stacks with all other damage boosts) for 7 seconds. Throwing up Vengeance, knocking down a target with Takedown, shooting an Acid Arrow and then following up with Unshakable Focus and an Eagle Eye or two will take down a significant amount of a target’s wounds, especially if either of the Eagle Eyes crit.
While we’re on the topic of morale abilities, I’ve had more fun with one skill from WAR than in any other MMO I’ve previously played. Your first morale ability is called Point Blank Shot, and aside from dealing a good bit of damage, it heaves your target back quite a distance. Now if you’re careful about where you are in relation to your target, and there’s a cliff nearby, you can literally launch an opponent hundreds of yards away from a battle, and leave them with no alternative but to take an often long, time consuming run back to the fight. It’s better than killing opponents most of the time, as they could often have died, respawned, and entered combat a few times before they walk back to the action. Nordenwatch is a particularly excellent scenario for this tactic, as cliffs and high ground are everywhere.

Touching on some of the other Shadow Warrior abilities, Flame Arrow is acquired at Rank 14 and is your standard fire-AoE damage shot. It inflicts elemental damage on its target, and everyone around him takes additional damage over 9 seconds. In my experience, the 20 yard range explosion on this spell really translates into anyone very close to your target. I almost never use the ability, as I often wonder what the game feels 20 yards is isn’t very accurate as to what most of us perceive it as. The AoE effect just isn’t reliable enough for me if I’m aiming at a group; most of them never get hit because they’re too far away, even though they’re almost on top of my target. The single damage/AoE is nice, but there are faster and easier ways to deal direct damage. Mix it in there with some shots if you’re bored and someone’s running to keep some damage on them. Scout stance only.

Rapid Fire is another ability that gets better if you’re Vengeful (10% damage boost). While I’ve seen this ability critically hit several times more often than not, it should be noted that if you’re an unlucky person, don’t rely on the ability to deal great damage over the time it’s active, if it’s not critically hitting, it’s dealing about the same amount as an Eagle Eye, at the same range, and taking almost twice as many action points to do it. Scout or Skirmish only.

Level 16’s Eye Shot deals average damage and reduces the target’s initiative by a fair amount when it hits, so they’ll evade less and get critically hit more. Not a bad deal for a one second cast time. The effect lingers for 20 seconds, and the shot itself has a 10 second cooldown. Skirmish stance only.
You get steady aim (ability) at level 20, which lasts 6 seconds and gives all of your attacks a 50% chance to critically hit while it’s active. In doing so, it also increases their build up time by 2 seconds. This gives you enough time to get an Eagle Eye, or two Spiral Fletched Arrows off. It’s nice, but if you get interrupted while building up the abilities it generally gets wasted. Make sure you’ve got the time to get the abilities off uninterrupted and you’ll be able to use Steady Aim effectively when you need it.

Warhammer Online Screenshot

Now the Steady Aim ability isn’t to be confused with the steady aim tactic (at level 19), which just increases your ballistic skill by a decent amount, somewhere around 60 If you’re in the mid teens for reference. It’s nice if you’re someone who doesn’t like to fiddle with tactics and extra abilities. Otherwise, there are better tactics available out there.

Assault stance gets its most useful ability at 25, named Opportunistic Strike, which disarms your opponent for 5 seconds after dealing some lower-end damage to them. Really great for those tight situations when a melee class gets on top of you and you need to slow their damage output down for a few seconds. Assault stance only.

Assault stance gets the Counterstrike ability at level 30, which interrupts any ability the target was using. It does minimal damage, and refreshes every 20 seconds. Assault only.

Throat Shot is acquired at level 35 and keeps your target from casting spells for five seconds. It only takes one second to build up, and refreshes every 30 seconds. But its 100 yard range means you can take a healer out of a fight for a few seconds from quite a distance away. Timed well with a few big attacks and you can even down him before he has a chance to start casting again. Scout stance only.
The last ability you’ll get is Lileath’s Arrow at level 40, which is really a modified version of the spiral fletched arrows you got when you first started out. It can be fired on the run, and has a 2 second build time, but deals moderately high damage to anyone in front of you up to 65 feet away. Nice for spreading the damage around a big group. The shadow warrior really gets a great selection of tactics, and honestly – its all about preference. I highly recommend everyone plays with each tactic for a few scenarios just so they get a chance to experience all it’s worth. I’ve listed a few of my favorites below:
Expert Skirmisher is acquired early on, and is something I’ve grown to love – you’ll deal 25% more damage when you’re within 45 feet of your target, however you’ll deal 20% less damage when you’re further than 45 feet from your target.

Bullseye is another great damage dealing tactic – when you critically hit, you’ll receive an additional 20% chance to critically hit on your attacks for 5 seconds, you’ll also become 10% more vulnerable to being critically hit during this time, as long as you’re careful, you can really increase your damage output with this one.

Instinctive Aim is another ability that effects steady aim *the ability. It takes steady aim’s cooldown down to 10 seconds from 30, which gives you a big opportunity to critically hit targets whenever you’d like to, as the bonus from steady aim is quite nice. It only leaves a 4 second window for you not to have the 50% chance to crit.

Morale abilities for the Shadow warrior really also depend a lot on preference and play style. I mentioned point blank shot before as your Rank 1 ability, and I’ll nicely ask you to keep it there, as throwing people out of a fight almost at will (since it’s a rank 1 ability) is unbelievably useful at almost any time.

Unshakable focus, also mentioned above, is nice but doesn‘t last long enough. Unless you really like BIG numbers, switch it out to the Focused Mind Rank 2 ability when you get it at level 20 – it’ll remove almost any status effect on you (silence, disarm, root or snare), and keep them off for 10 seconds, as well as making all your skills build up 50% faster. Oh, and for those 10 seconds, your abilities can’t be set back either. Very nice for holding your ground or gaining distance in a tight situation when you need your shots to count.

Instill fear is the way to go for Rank 3 morale – it disarms and silences everything around you for seven seconds. Yes, really.

Hail of doom is your Rank 4 morale ability, and its nice AoE damage on a single spot for five seconds, don’t get me wrong. But let’s be honest here, how often are people standing in a 30 yard area for 5 seconds? They really could’ve come up with a better Rank 4 ability for Shadow Warriors. However, with the insane crippling power of Instill Fear at your disposal once your morale bar builds to Rank 3, it really doesn’t matter what your Rank 4 ability is, you’d have to be insane to pass it up.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Guide to Playing the Chosen - Warhammer Online

Originally featured on on September 22nd, 2008.

It’s not hard to notice the lack of actual informational material presented about Warhammer’s career paths these days.  Sure, there’s plenty of glorification of their ‘mechanics’ available, with some lore mixed in, but when it comes time to sit down and get into the action – all that really accounts for is a nice back story about how angry you are from your troubled childhood, and how you somehow got hold of that gigantic sword you suddenly decided it was a good idea to start swinging around.

The intention with these articles – focused on RVR and PVE career mechanics for Warhammer’s characters, is to really provide an in depth look at what each of the many paths has to offer.
Now you may find yourself asking, “Who the heck is this guy, and who cares what he has to say?”  I wish I had a satisfactory answer that could convince everyone I’m 100% right about everything.  I’m sure most of us would like that ability.  I’m simply someone who’s been PvPing in online games (mostly MMO’s, earlier on in MUD’s) since their debut well over a decade ago.  I look at myself as a fair and balanced writer with an approach to analysis that provides everyone with a fair and in depth glimpse of what they can expect as if they were actually playing the character.

I should note that I’ve beta’d WAR for the majority of their closed beta, and leave it at that.  Each analysis posted isn’t from a 3-4 hour experience I had RVRing one day like so many others decide to throw up because they got rolled in Nordenwatch.  They come from hundreds of hours of playtime in PVE and PVP scenarios.  I won’t review classes I haven’t extensively played – and I won’t assume to provide you with any information I haven’t acquired first hand.

With that out of the way, I’d like to start with the Chosen career – A tank class that can best be described by combining EQ’s Bard class with Steroids and enough utility skills to fill up four action bars.  I date myself a bit and reference a class from the first Everquest because the Chosen use auras to buff themselves, and/or debuff anything within 30 feet of them.  These auras activate instantly, with a 2.5 second cool down; lingering for 12 seconds before they deactivate – meaning you can have as many as three active at one time if you constantly rotate their activation, and sneak in an attack every once in awhile.  Granted, its worth the buffs, but as anyone who played a Bard back then knows its not very fun to constantly spam 3-4 buttons over and over and over while watching everyone else smash things.

The auras range from strength and toughness buff/debuffs, to adding resistances to yourself and your group and even making everything around you more vulnerable to magic.  There’s a lot of utility at the Chosen’s disposal, and not just from his Chaotic Auras.

While some of your skills are general cookie cutter push X to deal damage, push Y to taunt skills, the Chosen gets quite a few skills early on that really stand out.  As early as level 5, you’ll receive a melee attack that does entirely spirit damage (Ravage) which completely ignores your target’s armor and goes straight to a resistance check, which is lovely because lower level NPCs (and a decent amount of PCs until their 30’s) actually have nearly zero resistances to magic, and you’ll mow right through them, cleaving off about 1/10th of their total wounds each shot.  While you obviously won’t be doing 10% of someone’s total hp in PvP using Ravage, you’ll still be dealing spirit damage and seeing a very irrelevant amount of it mitigated.

At level 8, you’ll get an attack that can’t be defended against (Cleave), however it really doesn’t do enough damage to warrant usage. With Ravage’s spirit damage, it just makes more sense to keep using what works – even if it occasionally gets blocked, it still does more damage over a period of time.  Cleave does come in handy if you find yourself against another tank class that’s used a morale ability or just happens to be blocking everything you throw at them, whack then with Cleave a few times, while low on damage, its better then not doing any.

At level 9 you get your standard snare + damage ability (dizzying blow).  It’s nice to have something to keep things from getting away, it cools down in just 5 seconds (it lasts for 7) so you’ll be able to spam it on someone attempting to get away.

Before mentioning the very tactical skill you get at level 10, I should state that the Chosen have very high Wounds, and coupled with some toughness points from your equipment and RR abilities, you’ve really got a character that can withstand a ton of punishment.  Hold the Line is a shield skill that increases your chances to dodge and disrupt (essentially ignore) enemy skills by 45%, for 12 seconds.  It also provides everyone in your group (behind you, up to 40 feet) with the same bonuses at 15% as long as they stay behind you.  This effect can stack three times on someone, meaning a tank could have 75% (45 + 15 + 15) added to their dodge and disrupt chances if they had 2 tanks in front of them using the skill.  Hold the line is a very cool and potentially life saving skill if you’re covering healers and/or ranged DPS while under heavy fire.

Another attack that should be noted is Withering blow, which deals damage and removes your target’s action points (great for shutting down healers).  Along with Repel, a knock back ability with often hilarious results, as at times it looks like you picked up the player and threw them like a hail mary pass instead of just tapping them back a few yards.  Try knocking someone off a hill when the opportunity arises… wave afterwards.  This tactic is effective with all classes that receive a knock back ability, as you can literally propel your target completely out of a fight by knocking them down a hill or off a cliff.  Instead of bothering to go straight for the healers, or to focus your damage on a particularly tough tank, just line yourself up and smack them out of the area – they’ll have to waste valuable time heading back, and will be completely taken out of the action for a while.

Another ability of the Chosen that really stands out is acquired at level 16 – a morale ability (built up over time in combat, triggered at any time you’d like – they’re found in the lower right hand side of the screen by default) called Grapple.  Grapple holds you and your target in place for 10 seconds, and there isn’t anything they can do about it except hope you die.  While you can still cast spells and use abilities, it effectively denies any escape, or tactical advantages some classes receive by attacking from the side/rear.  A truly fantastic and menacing skill, usable once every minute as long as you’ve built up your morale bar.

Getting tied down too much in PvP?  You’ve got the Juggernaut ability to look forward to; it removes all roots, snares, stuns and disarming effects immediately, and can do so again in 60 seconds.  Later down the road you’ll receive a career tactic that reduces that cool down to every 20 seconds – aptly named Unstoppable Juggernaut.  I really don’t see a need for that tactic, however, if you’re getting disarmed over and over, retreat and throw up a few auras to debuff your enemies a bit.  Aside from in PvE, I rarely get disarmed in PvP at any level, its just one of those situations that doesn’t arise often enough to warrant tactical consideration.

Blast wave (level 15) is another notable ability, as it deals PBAOE (point blank area of effect) spirit damage to everything within 30 feet, which is also the range of your auras.  I note that here because everything under the effect of an aura when this spell is cast also loses a ton of resistances for 20 seconds.  And by a ton I’ll throw in some perspective.  At level 5, your targets would lose 47 to all their resists.  This scales almost ludicrously with your level.  It’s enough to effectively negate any chance they have of not taking almost complete damage from any spell cast at them.  You can use the Blast wave skill in conjunction with the level 25 aura, Dreadful agony, which deals moderate spirit damage every 3 seconds.  This effectively makes you a walking DPS machine to an opposing group, dealing damage after nullifying their resists.  Follow up a target of choice with an ability like Ravage, which just deals spirit damage, and you’ll watch them scatter or drop like files.

Maybe you’re still having a problem getting things to stick around when using the combo mentioned above.  Are dizzying blow or grapple just not cutting off your enemies escape quick enough?  Use the petrify ability (level 30); it’ll root anything within aura range (30 feet, up to 4 targets) for 10 seconds.  Damage gives them a chance to break the root, however.  So pick your target wisely when you decide to start swinging after activating petrify.

Finishing up the Chosen’s already insane number of aggravating abilities are the Bane Shield, and Touch of Palsy skills (attained at levels 35 and 40, respectively).  Bane shield is one of those abilities you activate when you know you’re probably about to die anyway.  Let’s say the enemy group finally decided to single you out and surrounds you, 8 or so enemies swinging away.  Bane shield makes them all take a moderate amount of spirit damage every time they hit you.  Every time.  If they hit you 7,234 times, they take damage each time.  Combine this with the blast wave and dreadful agony and you’ve got a decent chance at wiping out half the enemy group before they get you.

I mentioned touch of Palsy in the previous paragraph; however it really bears mentioning separately, as it’s absolutely devastating.  If you haven’t figured out by now, it’s difficult to get away from a Chosen.  However, now I’m going to say let them run – but cast touch of palsy on them first.  They’ll take damage, albeit low damage, every half second they’re moving.  Every half second.  Even if it deals 50 damage, every half second, just about anything will be dead or close enough to it when it realizes what is happening.  It only lasts 10 seconds though, so be careful when you cast it, if it’s a healer standing still, don’t bother; however if they turn and run, let em have it.  Also, note the people that jump around and think that circling you makes them good at PvP, hit them with this too.  Point and laugh after they kill themselves.

Now when it comes down to picking a mastery tree, really any of the three are viable paths.  While you can’t directly enhance the Blast Wave/Dreadful Agony combo from one tree, splitting your points between the Dread and Discord trees is certainly an OK move in my book – as much as I’m usually opposed to that sort of thing.  Doing this will enhance a lot of key abilities and really give you the spirit damage and debuff skills you need to tear through just about anything.

Throwing three points into Corruption for the Dire shielding tactic isn’t a bad idea either if you’re just playing around.  This allows your Bane shield to also take hold on any group mates within 30 feet of you.  Great for those situations when everything just turns sour and you’d like to walk away knowing at least a few people went down with you.

In terms of overall statistics for your Chosen, go with Wounds for . . . wounds, Toughness for the damage reduction and strength for damage.  Ballistics and willpower are almost useless – but you can throw some extra RR points (if you have them) into intelligence to boost your spirit damage on some attacks.  You can also consider the initiative tactic so you’ll have a slightly smaller chance to get critically hit and evade attacks.

I should mention two more things to wrap this up.  Most people’s perception of 30 feet in real life is probably quite wrong.  It’s just as inaccurate in WAR, as 30 feet roughly equals between three or four of your characters put side by side.  Closer to 3.  Line of sight applies to all auras, as it should. I should mention that anyone wishing to play a Chosen really needs to be aware when playing this class.  To put it nicely, to be effective you need to know what your doing.  If you can’t watch your targets debuff bar (under their picture when you target them) while timing auras and attacks correctly, you really won’t be much more than a glorified meat shield lumbering around aimlessly.  Anyone looking to just run around and smash things should probably steer clear of the chosen class, as you won’t even be close to as effective as you could be if you weaved auras and used your debuffs and skills effectively.   Anyone who likes to play a melee utility class, the Chosen really stands alone, I should note, however, that without timing and skill behind your ability activation, your dps will be rather low compared to most other classes.

So what is the downside to all this?  Action Points.  Your abilities need to be used in constant succession and tactically in order to remain effective.  If you’re sloppy, can’t stop hitting the “1” key over and over, or do some other mundane effects and mismanage your action points, you’ll find yourself standing around unable to do anything for a few moments.  While this is generally not a big deal – your auras and other skills cool down slightly longer then the global cool down.  You’ll really be hurting if all you’ve got left is expensive-to-cast skills at a crucial moment while your lacking the action points to use them.   Finishing this off  - you’ll want to stick with the sword and board combo (Shield + a one handed weapon) while its tempting (and certainly viable since you have such high HP) to go with a two-hander for the extra damage you lose your mitigation from your shield’s armor and blocking % (which can easily get over 30%), meaning you’ll die faster overall, and your auras and abilities won’t have the time they need to really harass your enemies.  The RVR shields have almost unfair blocking %’s on them.  I fully expect them to be toned down a bit, but for now using a shield = a whole lot of damage not getting through.