Monday, August 6, 2007

Death Knights, what we know, and a bit of speculation

Preface: Anything that is in italics is pure speculation.

So, turns out my previous posts was very wrong, concerning the Death Knight. They are a hero class, which is a fancy way of saying "You don't have to start at level 1." The only catch is that you will need to do a fairly long questline at level 80. Not that this bothers me, because if there's a questline out there, I'll do it anyway. Even if I was never planning on rolling a Death Knight I'd do at least what I could do solo, just to see more of the story!

Anyway, as I hoped, it's a tanking and DPS hybrid class, with some sort of magical effect. Noteworthy is that it does not have mana. Instead they are introducing a new "rune" spell system. In the place that normally is a mana bar, they show a Vampiric Runeblade with a currently planned 6 runes on it. You choose which runes you want inscribed on your blade from three possible runes: Unholy, Frost, and Blood (with each Rune type being one of the talent trees for Death Knights). This is an interesting setup since you decide which runes you want to use, and can set them up in a way that will be deemed useful to you. For example you could have a "balanced" build of 2 Unholy, 2 Frost and 2 Blood, or if Blood spells are what you really need, 4 Blood and 2 Frost. After you cast a spell, the rune or runes that the spell called for will be used up and will take some time to refill at which point it will be ready to be used again. I would guess that each spell will cost no more than four runes, and even that will be for a fairly powerful one, and said spell would also probably have a cooldown. Also, taking into account the pace of the game, I would expect each rune to go from empty to full about 10 seconds and I doubt they will be recharging for more than 12 seconds. I base this guess taking into account Rogue energy regeneration rates, in that they can go from empty to full in a mere 10 seconds. Finally, I would speculate that the first of the listed runes, Unholy, to be a counterpart to the more well known magical type: Holy. By that I mean that it's not Shadow, but a new magical type that is similar to Holy in that there is no natural resist for it, allowing it to bypass most mob's defenses for good threat generation. This would make Unholy the primary magical type for tanking. A continuation of that line of thought is that Blood runes are used to power draining and debuff type magics, which would either be used to supplement the Death Knight's health and/or stats and drain the target's which would be highly beneficial for tanking. Finally, Frost spells usually relate to slowing and snares, of which most bosses are immune to, meaning it would be the least useful for tanking. A personal prediction that is just based on guesses is that an ideal tanking rune setup will be 3 Unholy, 2 Blood, and 1 Frost (I would imagine some spells will be powered by 1 of each rune, so the Frost is there for those spells).

The plan is, after you complete the long questline at level 80, you "unlock" the ability to create a Death Knight. The current plan is to allow you to make any race a Death Knight (relating to the fact that Death Knights are made by corrupting a valiant hero, much like Arthas was) but I find this idea a bit... out of place with certain races. Humans, Gnomes, the Forsaken and Blood Elves were obvious choices for being a Death Knight, since their races having Warlocks shows they are willing to be tempted by ill-begotten power. Orcs were a possibility, being that they have Warlocks, but having a new group fall to "the Dark Side" as it were, after the glory of them beating their Demonic Blood addiction really kinda makes it seem much less impressive. Dwarves and Trolls are both very defined by their "religion" as it were (Titans and Mojo), and imagining them as Death Knights is a bit of a stretch, but I could still see it. The ones that really get me are the Tauren, Night Elves and Draenei, which are all defined as these moral guideposts for the rest, and the idea of them as Death Knights really bugs me. Of course, it would probably be a personal decision, but still it bothers me. One nice touch, though, is that it seems they will use flavor text to show that most normal NPCs aren't quite trusting of Death Knights (as it should be).

One of the more interesting aspects is that it will be a tanking class... without shields. Now, they didn't specify whether Death Knights will be unable to use shields, but merely that they can tank without them. To elaborate on that, the Death Knight is said to be able to tank with a two-hander or dual wielding. Now, this raises the single largest question of "Crushing Blows?" Now, I have two lines of thought on this one. First off is Death Knights work in a way similar to Druids in that they have either very high Health, Armor, or a strong mix of both. This would allow them to not need a shield to push crushing blows off the table, because they could just (as it were) shrug them off. This would be an uninspired but workable approach, but could have repercussions in PvP as Death Knights would have to have very high armor or health full time, and at the same time have decent to high DPS. The second method, which I just thought of, is an interesting approach. Death Knights have an ability which pushes crushing blows off the table for it's duration, and gives a small boost to armor (to make up for the lack of a shield but not enough to make them equal to a Druid's mitigation). This ability in it's listed form would allow Death Knights to be an equal tank to Warriors and Paladins in terms of crushing blows and mitigation without needing shields, but not vastly surpass them. It would have to be an activated ability (maybe coincide with additional threat generation) because if it was a passive ability that removed crushing blows from the table it would make Death Knights the most powerful tanks in the game, being completely uncrushable without a chance of it wearing. If they took this route, I would guess said ability would cost one to two runes, havng a cooldown approximately equal to the regen timer of the runes. This would also be an effective way to put a mediocre stopper on Death Knight DPS as 1/6 - 1/3 of their available runes would be fully tied up in keeping them alive. This would be a way to lower the Death Knight's DPS while tanking, and when they are not, those runes would be freed up allowing them to be able to keep up with other DPSers.

Final cool point is that you can "choose your own type of Runeblade. You can choose from a traditional sword Runeblade or an axe variant". Very cool (sword for me of course). This brings up a minor but potentially important question: What do you need the Vampiric Runeblade's look for? I imagine that its just for "casting spells" (in whatever form that takes)? If so it's a nice nod to the concept of Death Knights, but really just amounts to a pretty thing to look at (which would be enough for me). It's possible that they plan on giving you one weapon that will continue to evolve as you use it, but I find that a bit hard to believe since it would need to be programmed to take into account what you do (Tank vs. DPS in 5-man and Raids, and PvP), not to mention how you would plot it's growth when you start reaching whatever your endgame is. I can think of ways to do it, but it seems like too much trouble. But as a counter, why would the concern themselves with it's appearance if it only appeared during casting animations? And if it's only your initial weapon and you can replace it later with no penalty I'll be a bit miffed.

They've also given us a sneak peek of two abilities, one seen in the WotLK trailer, and one mentioned at BlizzCon:

Unholy Embrace
Instant Cast.
5 min cooldown.

Target is embraced by a silhouette of darkness for 6 seconds, corrupting any healing spells and effects cast upon or currently affecting the target to cause damage for 50% of their healing potential instead of restoring health. Any damage shields cast upon or currently affecting the target will also be instantly consumed, dealing 50% of their absorption potential in damage. Once afflicted with Unholy Embrace, the target cannot be afflicted with Unholy Embrace again for 1 minute.

While this one will have uses in PvE, since mobs and bosses that heal are somewhat rare, we can expect this to primarily be a PvP ability. Still pretty cool.

Army of the Dead

Raises several temporary minions (ghouls)

This one we don't have any actual details on beyond "summon undead things", but it has been stated explicitly that it will be a temporary summon akin to either the trees by Balance Druids or the Water Elemental by Frost Mages, and this spell will not be a central aspect of the class. Just a nifty little extra.

Anyway, last thought is I'm probably really wrong about a lot of these, but it's fun to speculate.

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