Wednesday, May 6, 2009

When you wish upon a star

Throughout human history shooting stars have been seen as a harbinger, a symbol of impending fate, a message from a higher power. The birth of Jesus was marked by “the star that shone in the East." When good things happen we "thank our lucky stars". Stars are also sources of the exotic: the origin of many a science fiction alien is out there, among the stars. We call the most famous celebrities among us "stars". So it is fitting that Druids, the masters of nature, should call upon the power of the stars as one of their premier talents.

Reaching for the stars

Whenever I am in Looking For Group I think I’m a bit of a fraud. I say that I am Balance druid but it’s not precisely true. I’m better described as a “healkin.” My exact specialization at level 76 is 46/0/21. I’ve compared my DPS output to pure Balance druids and mine does suffer. On the plus side, due to talents like Omen of Clarity and Intensity I don’t suffer from the mana problems. And Nature’s Swiftness is a true lifesaver. The consequence is that I’m often called upon to heal instances as much as doing DPS.

Yet I’ve always been curious to know what it was like play my specialization as it was designed to be played. In particular, I had my eye on the acme Balance talent: Starfall. One great weakness of Druids is that we have comparatively little AOE damage ability. And the possibility for AOE grinding with my Druid, as I can do with my frost mage alt, was appealing. So when dual specs arrived and Blizzard gave us all a free respec, I seized the opportunity. It would be, at long last, my fate to command the power of the stars.

Houston, we have a problem

Unmitigated disaster. I died the first six times I cast the spell. I felt like I was starting the game over again. Since I no longer had my Restoration talents I was going out of mana fast, super fast. But the real problem was that the spell which I had longed for, the one that would allow me to be the master of fates, was a major dud.

Starfall is one of those spells whose power sounds awesome in theory but in practice is a walking suicide pill. First, unlike area-of-effect spells such as the mage's Blizzard you cannot target Starfall. Instead, Starfall radiates 30 yards around you as the center. Have you ever tried to guess just how far 30 yards is in the game with nothing to guide you? No little light on the action bar telling you when a mob is in range; no little blue or green circle to tell you the radius of the spell you are going to cast. Just nothing. Welcome to the "if you guess wrong you die game." Second, this 30 yard range is not stopped or broken up in any way by minor problems like hills, pillars, or anything else that blocks your line of sight. The stars are falling from the sky, watch out! There is nothing more frustrating than taking the time to look around you before you cast the spell and then the next thing you know mobs are crawling up the hill and dashing around the corner all gunning for your furry Moonkin ass. Finally, since the spell is instant cast, here's something you might not know: if the spell is instant cast that means that once you cast it you can't cancel it. That ten second duration mean ten seconds of dreading patrolling mobs; especially patrolling mobs coming up behind you, where you can’t even see them.

Spells as Symbols

One of my major fascinations with the World of Warcraft is that it is a world filled with symbols that leap out and surprise me unexpectedly. The more I moved away from a consideration of the impact of Starfall spell mechanics on game play and turned towards consideration of it as a symbol, the more fitting and proper those mechanics seemed to me. Take the fact that the spell automatically has the caster as the center. That is the way most people approach wishing: may it be that for one precious moment those higher powers draw their attention down and make our wish the center of the universe. How egotistical of humanity to think that shooting stars, nothing more than comet dust really, are omens of its fate. Take the fact that the spell can’t be targeted before casting. Isn’t that just like one’s actions: tossed out like a pebble in a pond, never fully comprehending how far the ripples will go. Nowhere is the great law of unintended consequences more plainly apparent than when one plays with fate. And the most fitting and proper of all is that the falling stars should ignore the caster’s line of sight. For who among us can foresee what our fate holds. Who among us, standing on earth, has that “God’s eye” view of the world. For it is quite natural for the lost lamb to bleat for its mother; quite natural for the wolf to show up instead.

Yes, the power of the stars has the ability to utterly destroy one’s enemies. To the person out there right now insisting that Starfall was always meant to be a PvP talent; you’re saying the right words and missing the entire point. Used without maturity or wisdom the likely result of commanding the stars to fall is our own destruction. For the fundamental message of the Starfall spell is that while one may call upon the power of fate, the power of the stars, once in motion fate does not obey our command. In a moment of anger reacting to some slight, we say to a friend or a lover, “God damn you.” In that instant the universe changes. The stars themselves fall by force of gravity.

The famous Disney song informs us that when you wish upon a star it doesn’t matter who you are. Walt Disney never played a Moonkin. And he never worked for Blizzard. Because if he had he would have known that we play with higher powers at our own peril. Wishing is a dangerous act; dreams may turn into nightmares. Druids know this. When we wish upon the stars, those stars fall; sometimes on our own heads, to our own doom. Druids know this too. At least the ones with any sense of balance.


Jezebeau said...

"One great weakness of Druids is that we have comparatively little AOE damage ability."

Apologies for ignoring the message. Chain-casting Hurricane with 2/2 Gale Winds generally puts me in the top 5 of trash damage, and that's what'll do most of the work in AoE farming. Starfall shines in two areas: it's a high-DPS DoT if you have one-to-two targets or a very tight group, and it's an excellent pulling/grouping spell. In AoE farming, it's fairly effective at picking up most targets within 30 yards. Once they're headed your way, the bread-and-butter balance AoE is still Barkskin+Thorns+Hurricane. With Naxx-level gear, that'll kill most targets unless they have interrupts.

krizzlybear said...

I don't think I formally greeted you upon arrival here at the PPI. Larisa definitely has a good eye for writers, and this is a very nifty little piece that is charming to the core.

AoE mechanics aside, I found that the symbolic, philosophical side exposed beyond the game is something that not a lot of people tend to look at, and I commend you for doing so, and for doing it well. Cheers!

krizzlybear said...

And a friendly note to the innkeeper; it would be quite helpful to change the options to show the author at the beginning of the post to minimize confusion. Font differences aside, I only realized it was the bartender after a paragraph or so of reading. Regardless, both of you are putting up some pleasant work! said...

"when you wish upon a star it doesn't matter who you are. Walt Disney never played a Moonkin."

Or doesn't matter WHERE you are...

I 2nd Kriz on both points...
1) Great post...
2) Need author at top of post

Mind you.. when I saw Druid I thought.. "Is Larisa keeping secrets... Mage & Rogue I know about... Druid...?"

That's when it clicked...

PS: Happy 23rd Kriz!

Larísa said...

@Krizz and Gnome: I've tried to change it now. Doesn't seem to apply immediately, perhaps it will just work on coming posts. We'll see what it turns out like. Hm. I really suck at the technical side of this. Hard to believe that I once worked as a website edior... *sigh*

Kromus said...

I love Moonkins - you've made a good investment -- unfortunately groups always look for efficenct use of time *such as fast heroics* over fun-filled heroics-- so your white lie about your spec can cause you problems indeed.

You made me add to my list of things to do when i have time.


Alfonsius said...

Hey Larísa,

Thanks a lot for this great blog. One of the best and entertaining in my opinion.

About your problems with the Lazerkin:
As Jezebeau already statet Barkskin+Thorns+Hurricane=success.
Furthermore you CAN cancel Starfall, just remove the buff (right click on the symbol in your buff bar).
And last, but not least, if you picked up 30 to 40 mobs too much, always remember that Shadowmelt will be able to save a lot of time and gold.



selenite said...

This is why warrior tanks have an AoE taunt . . . :)

Elnia said...

@Krizzlybear. Thanks! Actually, Blizzard has instituted a new ability: Class Shift. It's no longer Druids changing form, we now change classes.

@Kromus. It's more the cumbersome explanation. If I say I'm a healkin no one knows what that means. And since they never heard of it, they tend to look at it with suspicion when in fact it works out quite well, even in instances. So 95% of the time no one knows the difference.

@Alfonsius. Bah, Shadowmeld is great when it works, but 2/3 of the time you pop right back out again and they still kick your a**

candy said...

The trick to starfall while soloing is 1) glyph it for a smaller radius 2) barkskin 3) have your trees out then go to town!