Legion Beta: First Impressions

Six months since the last post. Alpha ended some time ago, Beta is underway with about 2 months left before release and, officially, only number-tweaks left to implement.

So, to rapidly go through the last few updates from Alpha to limit the dating on that previous post:

  • Bloodbolt’s gone. I would have expected it to become baseline rather than going away completely, but I suppose that would have cut down on the need for Blood Boil and completely removed the intended penalty of its replacement, Soulgorge.
  • Clawing Shadows… still just looks like you’re Scourge Striking the air. Spell effect updates are apparently coming later in the expansion.
  • Apocalypse no longer has a passive, and its active ability pops Festering Wounds rather than applying them. Of course, it does to make you summon a mini-Army.
  • Soul Reaper now provides a benefit to popping Festering Wounds (in lieu of popping them for itself). Called it.
  • Defile now provides a Mastery buff to the DK for every second that it deals damage – which while seemingly lazy, almost makes it interesting as it can contribute to multiple sources of damage (particularly those related to AoE). Also, doesn’t pop Festering Wounds anymore, at least on its own.
  • Dark Arbiter also no longer pops Festering Wounds, just for the trifecta. Instead, for the cost of her duration, casting Death Coil (or Death Strike) will give her a damage buff.
  • Everyone gets a baseline sprint in the form of Wraith Walk! Long cooldown on a short duration, can’t attack while it’s active or you’ll cancel it, arguably a downgrade from Death’s Advance… but it’s still better than nothing.
  • Yes, Dark Transformation will turn Abominations into Festergut/Rotface clones. The icon now matches the effect it actually applies.

Now that that’s over with, the big reason I’m posting this:

Beta Club, boys! Got it last week during the pre-launch event testing, which revived my interest in the goings-on of our class prior to the expansion release. Been leveling on-and-off for the past week, dealing with wonderful bugs like being unable to queue for Normal dungeons until I had unlocked Heroics… last night.

Since the servers are presently down to implement Build 22018 (which has literally zero DK changes), I’m left with my thoughts… and Steam, but I figure this has been waiting longer.

As the last few posts have been from a speculative standpoint – on the outside looking inward – this at long last allows me the opportunity to give some first-hand impressions, at least from the perspective of Unholy.

New Things, Raw and Clean

There is a lot to cover in terms of the new tools coming to Unholy in Legion. Below are just my impressions of new ones I’ve tested while leveling:

Outbreak is now a combo of all of our current methods of disease application: For the cost of a rune and at no cooldown (Plague Strike), a target up to 30 yards away (the current Outbreak) is covered in a haze that causes nearby enemies to contract Virulent Plague (Unholy Blight). On paper it’s about equal to Howling Blast in terms of effectiveness (especially as Howling Blast has been nerfed to Icy Touch-level output), but in reality it’s so much more convenient; the continuous effect means that you can set it down in preparation of more enemies to come, which is an understated advantage without Gorefiend’s Grasp.
Questing in the world and want to pull a large group? Tag an enemy far away with Outbreak and watch the hilarity as they plague everything in a line to you. Tank is running through the instance pulling everything? Tag the first mob he taunts, and he’ll keep on diseasing all of the enemies that chase with him. Add phase is about to begin? No worries, just tag the boss and wait for them to come to you.
The only ways it could be any better is if it was free, didn’t cost a GCD and you could bounce it off allies – not really a complaint, as all of these suggestions lean on being excessive. Outbreak itself matches well with Unholy’s aesthetic, although with the changes to Festering Strike, having to regularly apply diseases at a cost comes in odd contrast to Unholy’s relationship with disease application in the last few expansions. Having used Necrotic Plague for over a year, it was initially lost on me that Outbreak’s continuous effect would extend the duration of Virulent Plague by around 12 seconds on its own.

Virulent Plague itself also deals a noticeable amount of damage, in no small part because enemies in the Broken Isles are designed to take two or three times longer to kill on average. Since Mists, it’s been reasonable to skip applying your diseases to enemies in the open world because A) they typically died before you got two or three ticks out and B) the runes were better spent on sources of burst damage, with cooldowns to be saved for bigger mobs; in Legion, at least before you get tier gear, it feels like it takes twice as long to kill a mob if you aren’t maximizing your disease uptime. And of course, the guaranteed detonation when killing an enemy is wonderful for finishing off groups of mobs, allowing you to set off chain reactions.

While we’re on diseases, Epidemic – previously Profane Pathogens – has been changed from a CD to a charge-based nuke. So… technically still a CD, but one affected by Haste.
Epidemic itself is a skill that I love in concept, only muted by its execution. The charge system on it continues to make me feel choked whenever I want to use it for burst AoE, since I have to consider whether I should use it now or save it for another pack within the next 30 seconds. Generally this comes out to extending our AoE phases from 10 seconds out of every 30 to 15 seconds out of every 30, blowing  all three charges during the maximized Mastery buff from Defile, which (in an odd way) hardly makes it feel like an ability of its own merits at all.
I’ve been told that the reason for the charge system is that without it, it would simply become a stronger version of the live implementation of Blood Boil. That’s not a completely realistic comparison, however; Blood Boil doesn’t require diseases to be active to deal its full damage, and is self-sufficient for spreading them if they are. Epidemic exists in an era with a much smaller spread-radius on diseases and a lot trickier duration management across multiple targets, causing immeasurable amplifications to the effective cost – and most importantly for convenience’ sake, requires you to cast your diseases first for any damage, so goodbye insta-nuking when you solo old content, or viability on fights that copy the Lei Shi mechanics since invisible targets normally clear debuffs.
However, the skill itself is very natural to use with the new Outbreak: tag a few faraway mobs in separate directions with Outbreak, then start blowing them up with Epidemic once they converge on you and have grouped up nicely. Given Unholy’s unique relationship with diseases, it makes sense for Unholy’s multi-target output to be determined by disease-tagging, rather than the other way around like everyone else’s. The ability to essentially determine its targeting range easily makes up for the lack of frontloaded damage with diseases. If it weren’t for that pesky cooldown, it would be the perfect tool for any multi-target scenario.

I’m not entirely certain how I feel about All Will Serve. I would prefer to have Bursting Sores just because it fits my playstyle and gearing better, but the damage of the Risen Skulker is just so much higher in both single- and multi-target scenarios – enough so that it actually draws threat away from me on occasion, which is part of what I hate about it since it stands so far away and is so squishy. Leveling with pets is always something of a pain, since they can pull extra enemies when you attempt to cut corners, and the Skulker just amplifies this by rooting itself the instant you enter combat even if you move the mob you’re fighting, which can draw in extra patrols if it ends up parked in places like doorways. You can’t keep track of its health, or even heal it if you could (more on that later). If it dies, your character won’t resummon it until you exit combat, which combined with the previous will be a massive pain for raiding.
But holy cow if the mindless damage on it isn’t so convenient! Bursting Sores requires you get into melee of your target to maximize the advantage of it, but the Skulker doesn’t even require that much from you to pull off its damage. You just need to micro-manage its movement…
I think I might like the Skulker more if it tried to follow more closely (whether you, your target or the ghoul stalking your target, I honestly don’t care), could continue to shoot while running, and its arrows actually focused on diseased targets; things that could prevent it from pulling too many extra mobs.

Clawing Shadows is everything I dreamed it would be. It’s not terribly strong on its own since its damage is supposed to be supplemented by Festering Wounds, but I’ve squeezed mileage out of it at virtually every opportunity. Between it, my pets, a now-ranged Mind Freeze and Chains of Ice, there are a plethora of elites and rares I’ve been able to finish off that by all rights I probably should have died to – deaths subverted by kiting (which I admit, seems like cheating for a melee…). Targets think they’re being smart by charging through you or knocking you back? Clawing Shadows turns the tables back for you without having to tap Wraith Walk. A mob is casting a radial nuke, or the boss is laying down hazards for you if you stand in melee range? Just take a step back, let your Infected Claws ghoul take over Wound application, and blitz ‘em with magic till it’s safe to come back. It’s great and I’m going to hold onto it all expansion if I can. The only issue is that darn melee range restriction on Death Strike…

Work That Core (Rotation)

I freely admit that by today’s standards, I’m something of an odd sort. I’m an add-on minimalist – I use more than zero, but still fewer than most raiders. I have DBM and Exorsus for raiding, a damage meter to monitor my personal progress, and a simple addon that overlays timers on things to show me when debuffs will expire or my abilities will come off cooldown. I don’t even have a custom UI.

Feel free to continue reading once you’ve returned from puking in horror.

With Legion, we no longer have a 3-type Rune system; all six of our runes are identical, and equally valuable for satisfying the costs of our abilities. The problem is, this new system makes it tricky to keep track of rune expenditure, especially as your Haste increases. In theory, runes should just be consumed from left to right, and paired as such for the purposes of only regenerating three at a time: 112233, or 123123. Problem is, I’ve seen such pairings as 112323 or 121233; trying to keep track of it without an addon is a nightmare. Add onto that our shorter disease duration (and lack of free application effects) and the management of Festering Wounds (which feels like having Blood Tap forced on me even with Runic Corruption), and the number of things we need to manage feels like it’s at an all-time high.
After not needing one for 4 expansions, I’m downloading a rune management tool next expansion, and probably something a little heftier than a timer to manage my disease upkeep. The lovely people of the #Acherus IRC have kindly pointed me towards the CompactRunes addon to serve this purpose during the Beta (although it means compact, making it easy to gloss over).

The new Festering Wounds system is a mixed bag at best. On the one-hand, it’s a call-back to the pre-Mists system: Scourge Strike’s maximum damage is dependent on the application of diseases. However, the absolute random nature of their application makes the playstyle feel very unintuitive, especially considering Unholy has always been the “predictable” spec next to Frost’s “reactive” style (a point made by the history and very existence of Runic Corruption). For instance: Apocalypse causes you to summon a ghoul for every Wound you pop, so for maximum output, you want to pop it on a target with 8 Wounds. Not only does this mean you can require anywhere from 2 to 4 casts of Festering Strike to actually achieve such, but if you end up having 7 Wounds, you have to gauge whether to wait on the runes to burst one Wound and cast Festering Strike again on the assumption that the Strike would have only given two more; wait for your Ghoul to apply one more Wound if you have Infected Claws, if it does at all; or pop Apocalypse anyway because waiting is too much trouble for any of a thousand reasons.
It’s also been suggested many times that the ability to amplify Scourge Strike with Death and Decay is a wonderful thing because you can pop Wounds in AoE… but I’ve yet to find a scenario where that’s something you’ll do. Infected Claws was nerfed so that it couldn’t apply Wounds to more than the main target. Maybe you can tab through striking targets one at a time before dropping D&D, but that slow style of multi-DoTing is exactly what Pestilence and its variants were created to prevent – and again, because of the random nature of Wound application, you’ll have no way of knowing when all of your Wounds have burst due to the difficulty of tracking them across multiple targets. And of course, because our Wounds regulate our Runic Power availability, we probably won’t see any way to give ourselves free Wounds any time soon.
I will say the advantage, from a developmental perspective, is that we have room for future expansion on this system: evening out Wound application on a single target, possibly having ways to spread Wounds (or faux-Wound effects, as Necrotic Strike has opened the door for)… however, this is not something we can expect changes to before the expansion has already hit us, if not throughout the expansion at all.

This Is How You Die

I’m going to be blunt: for a class defined to be plate-wielding hybrids who stand on the front line, our survivability is pretty crap. If something knocks you to low health, the only way you’re going to survive is by cheating – not because your abilities are self-sufficient.

Death Strike has had its cost increased. While it originally cost 2 Runes, it now costs you 40 Runic Power – double the converted equivalent of the original cost, with added GCD restrictions to reaction time. Theoretically Festering Wounds could mitigate this cost, but the cost just to apply any number of Wounds reliably is equal to the cost to fuel Death Strike anyway. We don’t have Empower Rune Weapon to quickly fuel for an emergency Death Strike. To top that off, the change to the way it scales its healing feels incredibly weak for anyone who isn’t Blood – in my experience, it barely manages to heal you through the next hit, if even that much. Due to the more difficult cost to manage, the “20% of the last 6 seconds” doesn’t help a lot if you’re barely managing to get the resources to cast it within 6 seconds of a big hit.

We no longer have a tier of healing effects like Death Pact, just of mitigation (which is weighed against a sprint enhancement that is equally as valuable), which is near-useless if the damage is already done. Purgatory is Blood only. Anti-Magic Shell had its cooldown increased and maximum protection decreased – it breaks before you even manage to get halfway through that hall of grasping arms for the Unholy Artifact scenario, and the scenario was designed for DKs to AMS through it. Glyph of ERW is out of the question. Unholy doesn’t even have an AoE stun to slow attackers down anymore.
Literally the only other effects that can heal you are paltry Fallen Crusader procs, and Mark of Thassarian – if he’s assigned to you (meaning he’s not on mission as your followers are wont to do), if you’re out of an instance, there’s a chance he might show up, and that chance really isn’t any better than FC.
If you’re dying, you are very lucky to survive by any means, and I’m hard-pressed to think of a time when our out-of-combat downtime was worse. Cataclysm maybe, but even then you had Death Pact to fall back on if you didn’t have Dark Succor equipped.

The worst part of all? This even applies to our pets. Death Coil no longer heals friendly Undead targets – presumably because being able to heal your pet would constitute a supplemental way to spend Runic Power for things like Shadow Infusion, Dark Arbiter, Runic Corruption or your ghoul’s own energy regeneration, but let’s be honest: in all of those cases, even put together, the act of casting on your ghoul still takes away damage from other sources.
At best it would let you get more mileage out of Corpse Shield – and if you want to spend all of your Runic Power to do so, that should absolutely be your choice. By firing your Death Coil at a ghoul instead of an enemy, you’re missing out on its raw damage and procs like Scourge of Worlds. Keep in mind, the alternative as of now is to dismiss your ghoul at the end of Corpse Shield so you can summon back one with full health (meaning you’re pushed into taking All Will Serve). At any rate, Corpse Shield and Dark Arbiter were added relatively late in the process, so you’d be hard-pressed to say that they’re the intended reason for the restriction.
The ability to heal your ghoul was rarely ever exploited before Glyph of Death’s Embrace was changed to exclude its effects on other abilities. And since Glyph of Death’s Embrace is gone, the regenerative applications of Death Coil are primarily only of use out of combat, and a lot of the effects it could provide are so brief in duration that they likely wouldn’t make it to your next combat scenario.
“Well if you just want it for out of combat, why does it matter?” Because my ghoul presently heals at a rate of 3.5% every 10 seconds, and he doesn’t have healthstones, potions, or 100% healing food like I do. I could just dismiss him and resummon him after every engagement, but if I’m doing so in order to save time then I’m forced into All Will Serve to facilitate this.

My recommendations are simple: give Unholy Death Pact – the original form that drains from our ghoul, maybe on a longer cooldown or even as an effect replaced by Corpse Shield – and an equivalent healing effect to Frost (perhaps on Empower Rune Weapon?), if that’s even needed. Let Unholy DKs cast Death Coil on their pets. Maybe increase the maximum shield value of Anti-Magic Shell.

Scattered Thoughts

(Yes, that title is going to continue being a thing. Probably.)

  • The scaling questing system is… not worth expanding on. There are simply too many quests as part of your Order Hall or Professions that imply an order of zones to progress through. (Without spoilers: You get a quest from the Order Hall to go to Neltharion’s Lair at the end of Highmountain followed by Darkheart Thicket at the end of Val’sharah, and from Inscription, a set for Azsuna followed by a set for Stormheim. Azsuna itself also serves as an intro to the events of both Val’sharah and Stormheim.) Not to mention every mob in the Isles reaches 110 when you do.
  • Emerald Winds is not as good as Aviana’s Feather. It’s neat, but unless you’re already at a high point, you’re not going to get nearly as far. For instance, leaping off of Dalaran towards Val’sharah will lead to you landing… near the Azsuna/Val’sharah border.
  • Thassarian is a jerk. Whenever I assign him to be my personal follower, he takes the opportunity to pop into existence whenever I walk within 3 feet of Neutral mobs, and is apparently hostile to everything (meaning as he trails behind me when I’m running for my life from the pack of neutral birds he just pulled, he’ll start grabbing neutral bulls by proximity). He’s lucky our healing was basically crippled, or I wouldn’t ever use him.
  • Speaking of which, am I the only one who finds it odd that Thassarian – a Frost DK who has generally been the face of the Ebon Blade, owing to having more interactions with players than any other DK – has a group Life Drain mark, and isn’t the one with the Bodyguard ability? And that Koltira – who is at least a Blood DK now, and who spent the last few years being tortured which would make anyone antisocial – is a Bodyguard, without a Life Drain?
  • I miss Glyph of Path of Frost. There are heavy drops every two minutes in Val’sharah, and being able to mitigate fall damage was important to reducing your downtime.
  • Despite letting you hover visually, it would be more accurate to say Wraith Walk leaves you in the same vertical position but removes your ability to jump – so you can still trip over every single pebble you find. Glyph of the Wraith Walker removes that penalty, allowing you to jump over obstacles once again, as long as you can work past the jarring pace of your feet and not being able to recolor the effect. It’s the new Glyph of Path of Frost.
  • I’m not absolutely certain (because no log has been able to record the phenomena), but there have been times where I felt like mobs were randomly dying faster than they should have. Which is to say, I’m positive I’ll see a white-purple flash and they’ll be dead, especially when I’m fighting ghosts. I figured it was just me getting crits… until I saw a similar flash on a (non-undead) world boss who suddenly dropped from 20% to zero last night. If this is Apocalypse’s hidden ability (like how Frost’s weapon freezes things around them, or Blood’s gains damage from kills), then it’s a cool (if possibly overpowered as hell) way to supplement removing our execution, but also really annoying when my quest requires me to just get a mob low like those ghosts in Stormheim.
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