Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Preliminary 4.3 Holy Paladin Changes

The 4.3 Public Test Realm and patch notes came out today. There are pretty significant changes for Holy paladins.  I'm going to quote changes from Ghostcrawler's explanation post as they're the most high level:

We changed Seal of Insight to no longer return 15% base mana and then changed Judgment of the Pure to provide mana regeneration so that Holy paladins would not need to Judge every eight seconds. With these changes, they will want to Judge every 30 seconds, which seems more reasonable. Judging every eight seconds is hard to ask someone who is also targeting players a lot to heal them.
I like this change from the Judging standpoint. You now need to only judge once a minute or so, instead of having to judge on cooldown. On the other hand, tying Judgement mana regen to Spirit guts the Mastery/Crit build. I would suspect that Spirit/Haste will go back to being the one true build.
We made several changes to Holy Radiance to make it a cast time spell. We felt like Holy paladins couldn’t go into a group healing mode because Holy Radiance had a long cooldown and in the absence of a cast time, didn’t compete with any other spell. With this change (and the Light of Dawn change below), paladins can opt for an AE healing “rotation” (insofar as healers can ever have a rotation) of using Holy Radiance to Light of Dawn instead of Holy Light et al. to Word of Glory.

Several Holy talents changed to support the change to Holy Radiance, such as allowing it to benefit from Illuminated Healing, Clarity of Purpose, and Infusion of Light.
This is the big change to paladin AoE healing. Holy Radiance becomes a cast spell, with pretty much the same cast time as Holy Light and Divine Light. The current implementation targets another player and heals the people around her for a 3 second HoT.

There's also some Holy Power tossed in there, but the current notes are inconclusive. No word on how it interacts with Beacon of Light or our Mastery. This is the spell we'll have to keep an eye on. Not sure if the numbers will work out for us to spam it during high AoE, or do something like Holy Radiance, Holy Shock, Holy Radiance, etc.

I think it's way too early to evaluate this spell. It's definitely something we'll have to see on the PTR.
It didn’t make sense for Speed of Light to be triggered by a cast-time spell, so we caused the Paragon of Virtue talent to lower the cooldown on Divine Protection, so that Holy wouldn’t lose quite so much functionality of Speed of Light. Speed of Light has definitely been nerfed compared to 4.2, but we feel it’s an acceptable change given the entire package.
We do lose a little run speed boost, but we also get 30s Divine Protection, which can be pretty huge. There are a number of effects that trigger every 30 seconds, and we will be able to cooldown all of them.
We reversed the glyph for Light of Dawn. Instead of providing an additional target to Light of Dawn, the glyph now reduces the number of targets but increases the throughput. Light of Dawn was not a very useful spell in 10-player raids or similar small groups, like Arena teams. This glyph should allow paladins to tailor Light of Dawn for their group size.
An interesting change to Light of Dawn. There's also a change such that Divine Plea give a Holy Power when you use it. That's a bit odd, but it's a straight buff, so I guess we'll take it.

 All in all, 4.3 will be very interesting. We will see if this change makes us acceptable raid healers. I do lament the death of having two viable builds, but I think cleaning up Judgement was worth it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Old Republic: Release Date and Companions

Release Date

It was kind of funny watching Diablo III and The Old Republic dance around each other's release date. But D3 has been pushed into 2012, and The Old Republic seized the opportunity to get a Christmas release date.

The game looks pretty interesting so far. Like many gamers, I'm looking to give it a whirl.

Companions

Whenever I think about NPC companions, the following dialogue runs through my head:

Gamer Gary, MMO newbie: "MMOs are awesome! You get to play with real people!"
*Gamer Gary goes off and plays with real people for several years*
Gamer Gary, MMO veteran: "NPC companions are awesome! They'll help me solo!"
Snark aside, I do like the idea of NPC companions. For one thing, they make the fundamental unit of play a group, rather than a solo character. You're always in a group. That makes group-centric characters like healers and tanks a lot more viable.

From a healer standpoint, the one thing I hope The Old Republic does with their companions is make them full party members in the UI. Often in WoW, healing companions and pets--especially those belonging to other players--is hard to deal with most UIs.  The poster child for this is that one Firelands daily that gives you a full group including a tank. But because there's no UI support for that group, healing them is a pain.

Ideally, NPC companions show up in the UI exactly like other players, making healing a companion the exact same as healing another player. This would even help train new healers.

Other than that, I would like companions to not be so "main character"-centric as they have been in recent Bioware games. In some ways, I enjoy the NPC-NPC interactions more than the NPC interactions with my character. It feels a little bit weird that everything is about your main character. I rather liked the husband-wife pair, Jaheira and Khalid, in Balder's Gate.

Of course, I may feel this way because Alistair and Morrigan were clearly destined for each other in Dragon Age: Origins. It was gravely disappointing when I realized that I could not promote that pairing.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tier 13

Perhaps it's a side-effect of Transmogrification, but Blizzard artists seem to be more willing to make "polarizing" sets with Tier 13. If you look at the reaction to the shaman and mage sets in particular, half the audience is "best set ever!" and the other half is "worst set ever!".


For the paladin set, I rather like it. It's been a while since we got a "knight in shining armor" set. Amusingly, if the paladin pops Avenging Wrath, she will seem to have six wings like a seraph.

I'm not sure I'd put it in the very top tier of paladin sets (T2 and T6) but it's definitely above average, and in the next group of sets.

One other nice thing about Transmogrification is that Ret and Prot paladins will be able to change their boots and belt to match the tier set.

The set bonuses have also been revealed:
  • Holy, 2P -- After using Divine Favor, the mana cost of your healing spells is reduced by 25% for 15 sec. 
  • Holy, 4P -- Increases the healing done by your Holy Radiance spell by 20%. 
  • Protection, 2P -- Your Judgement ability now also grants a physical absorb shield equal to 30% of the damage it dealt. 
  • Protection, 4P -- Reduces the cooldown of Divine Guardian by 60 sec and increases the radius of its effect by 70 yards. 
  •  Retribution, 2P -- Your Judgement ability has a 50% chance to generate 1 Holy Power. 
  • Retribution, 4P -- While Zealotry is active your abilities deal 12% more damage.
I rather like the Holy bonuses. The 2pc is a nice bonus to Divine Favor, especially if you pair it with Holy Radiance. The 4pc boosts one of our big weaknesses, and will be a large help in things like Bethilac's or Ryolith's final phases.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Respecs

I saw an interesting post at Keen and Graev's about respecs. I somewhat agree with the idea that making it easy to switch roles at the touch of a button seems...unseemly somehow.

But then I had another thought. Suppose you had a game without talent trees or specializations. So all you had to do was swap armor to go from tank to DPS.  Isn't this the same thing from the outside?  You press one button (your armor swap key) and you switch roles, just like an easy respec.

Yet why does switching armor seem so much more acceptable than switching specs? The end result is the same. Should we make it hard to switch armor, so that you can't switch roles easily?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Transient Group Leveling Game

I was thinking about making it hard to respec, and that led me to thinking about how "group-centric" specs get the shaft because they find it so hard to solo. I love having my Ret off-spec easily available so that I can do dailies. Then I thought that, if you couldn't solo, group-centric specs would actually be fine during the leveling game.

But a lot of the older games required a group, and they were outperformed by WoW. A great deal of WoW's success is attributed to the fact that WoW allowed people to solo up to the level cap. But then I remembered a comment by Christopher a few days ago which phrased this common wisdom in a subtly different manner:

WoW really broke new ground by bringing transient players into a style of game that had always been built around extended players, and doing so massively increased their subscriber numbers.
Transient/extended is not the same thing as solo/group. The concepts overlap a fair deal, but there are differences. And maybe those differences are exploitable.

What would a game where you leveled in transient groups look like?

It could look like leveling through the Dungeon Finder or by running PvP battlegrounds. That's certainly one option.

But could you adapt questing in an open world to a transient group style?  Thinking about this, here's what I came up with.

1. Imagine you had to be in a group whenever you ventured outside a city. The game would automatically place you in an existing group or form one for you. You could still have a "find another group" option while in a group though. You would probably need an option to teleport to the group's location to make life easier for joining mid-quest.

2. World content would be tuned for 3 players, with groups of up to 5 being allowed to give flexibility when forming groups.

3. Quests would be tied to the group, not the individual. When your group is formed, it is given a quest. When your group completes that quest, the group is given a new quest. The quests could be semi-random, in that they don't necessarily form a story-chain the way quests in WoW do. When you leave your group, you lose access to the quest you are currently working on.

Do you think such a game would be viable? It's entirely transient, with people being added to and leaving groups as necessary. You could still play with an extended group if you prefer. But it's definitely a group-centric game where you can't solo. Playing a tank or a healer would be much more viable as you always have the group those roles need to thrive.

I'm not sure if this style of play would be viable. But I think it would be an interesting experiment.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Firelands Nerfs and Difficulty

Firelands Nerf

I have to say that I was expecting Blizzard to nerf more gradually. 5% to 10% nerfs, not 15% to 25%.  Ah well, it is what it is. Let's see if this idea works out or not. I don't think it will, but you never know.

Firelands Difficulty

The Renaissance Man comments:

Shannox isn't any harder than halfus, who wasn't any harder than Lord Marrowgar 25 at 0%.
I think this is absurd. Let's look at the two fights.

Marrowgar:
  • One mob
  • Tanks stack on each other to split damage
  • Avoid fire
  • Dodge bonestorm 
  • Kill bonespikes
Shannox:
  • Three mobs
  • Dodge traps
  • Burst one add with large spells
  • Heal one random target who takes high damage
  • Trap and kite one add until a stacking debuff wears off, failing this increases tank damage
  • Avoid aoe spear damage
  • Damage increases significantly as fight progresses
By any measurement, Shannox is a clear step up in complexity from Marrowgar. There are many more mobs to keep track off. There is much more movement. The tank's job is significantly harder. The only way Marrowgar would have been equal to Shannox in difficulty is if Marrowgar was an extremely stringent healing/DPS check. And Marrowgar most certainly was not that.

A raid that can kill Shannox would not even bat an eye at Marrowgar.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Upcoming Firelands Nerfs

So Blizzard has informed us that Firelands will start seeing nerfs shortly. Unlike T11 content, these nerfs are coming in advance of 4.3, and not after. Predictably there is a lot of anguish in the community.

I don't really know how I feel about these nerfs. First, I think an ICC-style stacking buff is the better way to go than actual nerfs. Even if you can't turn off the buff, I think people would respond to that better. 10% damage/healing/health a month is a good buff.

Objectively, 3 months from content release is a good time for the buff to start. A content patch usually lasts from 4 to 6 months, so having a buff come in at 10% for month 4, then rising to 30% by month 6 sounds about right to me. So I'm not really against the timing of these nerfs in the abstract.

On the other hand, my guild, and what seemed to be a lot of other guilds, had a pretty rough summer. Some canceled raids, some 23-man raids, some splitting into 2 10-mans, higher than normal turnover, etc. It feels like we've finally recovered from that and are just getting back into gear again when we're faced with the nerfs.

As well, I don't think Blizzard has the tuning of raids this expansion quite right. I think the end bosses on Normal are the correct difficulty, or maybe a touch too hard. But the beginning bosses on Normal are definitely too hard. For both T11 and T12 content, it felt like raiding difficulty started just below the wing bosses of ICC (Putricide/Blood Queen).

I think that's too difficult for the first few bosses of a tier. Bethilac, Shannox, and Ryholith should be easier, with the raid having a larger difference in difficulty from start to finish. Same with Magmaw, Omnotron Council, Halfus and Valiona in T11.

But other than those concerns, it's probably about the correct time for a nerf to content. We've had three months to establish our position, and now it's time for 2 to 3 months of cleaning up content.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Beacon of Glory

Holy Paladin raid AoE healing needs a bit of a boost. But the problem with the current Holy paladin design is Beacon of Light. Beacon of Light is very powerful, but in a lot of ways has a tendency to "straight-jacket" paladins into a very specific healing style.

My proposal to improve paladin AoE healing and mitigate some of the effect of Beacon of Light is to introduce a new Beacon spell.

Beacon of Glory
Fills the Paladin with divine power for 5 min. Each heal you cast will also heal up to 5 raid or party members within 10 yards of the Paladin for 10% of amount healed. The Paladin can only have one Beacon active at a time.
This allows a paladin to switch modes when Beacon of Light is not the best choice. It allows the paladin to AoE heal in high raid damage situations, while still allowing them to focus on a single tank. It matches the current style of paladin AoE healing in Holy Radiance, where the paladin is restricted to healing those around her.

You'd have to do something to Tower of Radiance. Maybe a simple "Extra healing done by Beacon of Glory is increased by 1/2/3%."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why Transient Raids?

A number of commenters on A Transient Endgame have suggested that the Transient endgame shouldn't be the same as raiding, that it should be different content.

I don't think that is the best of ideas. First off, it's arguably the situation we have now, and that's what I'm trying to get away from.

Second, content creation, especially art and model creation, is expensive in terms of manpower. The more we can reuse art for both Transient and Extended content the more total content can be created.

Third, as I said in the post, but should have emphasized more, Transient content needs to be as close to a "First Class Citizen" as possible, without destroying the Extended endgame.  This is best accomplished if the differences between Transient and Extended content are as minimal as possible.

If it's same raid instance, it's the same art, the same bosses, the same story. I suggested using the same loot for similar reasons. Quality of loot is the key driver for PvE content. Quantity is less important. Transient raiding can be the same in all respects except difficulty, achievements, and quantity of loot.

As well, the main complaint about Transient content from Extended players is that the Extended players feel they have to run all this other stuff to keep up. Sharing raids immediately keeps the Extended player from being forced to participate in extraneous Transient content. But they can still run that content on alts if they want to.

Finally, Transient raiding is just a formalization of an existing practice. Pickup raids already exist, especially in Wrath of the Lich King.  The desire for that content is already there. We know that, if organizing a pickup raiding can be made easier and more successful, there is a ready audience for that content.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Class Feedback - Holy Paladin

Blizzard is asking for class feedback on the official forums. I'm posting my response here as well.

1. What type of content do you focus on? [PvE/PvP/Both]

PvE - Holy paladin healing

2. If PvE, what type of PvE? [Heroics/Raids/Other]

Hard mode and Normal mode 25-man raiding.

3.  What are your biggest quality-of-life issues? For instance, no longer requiring ammo could be considered a quality-of-life improvement for hunters.

I think the Holy Paladin is in a really good place for those types of issues. Our previous issues with Blessings have mostly gone away.

I guess one issue would be the fact that our minor glyphs are pretty terrible and uninteresting.

About the only important quality of life issue I have is placement of weapons on raid bosses. Sometimes I think that Blizzard forgets that Holy Paladins are the only healing spec which cannot use staves or daggers. This expansion, the healing maces have entirely been on all three end bosses.  For one thing this means that it's a long time before we upgrade weapons when we start a tier. As well, being in a guild at my level--which kills some heroic bosses but not all of them--means I will never get a Heroic weapon.

4. What makes playing your class more fun?

The lore, plate armor, the general structure of our spells, utility spells like Hand of Sacrifice and Hammer of Judgement.

As an example, one of the best things this tier is the fact that I'm assigned to stun one of the Sons of Flame on Ragnaros. I quite enjoy getting the chance to use "signature" paladin abilities as Holy.

Also, Hammer of Wrath. Pretty much anytime you get to use Hammer of Wrath the game becomes better. If Blizzard could somehow work Hammer of Wrath into the healing rotation that would awesome. (Not really serious, but it would be great if it happened.)

5. What makes playing your class less fun?

To me, the emphasis on "active" mana regeneration through Judgement and Divine Plea makes playing less fun. It devalues Spirit and healing efficiently. I like Judging, but I don't like the fact that Judging every 8 seconds, or using Divine Plea on cooldown, makes such a huge difference mana-wise.  Some more lenience on Judging or using Divine Plea would be nice.

Another thing is that we don't stack as well as the other classes do. My guild has 3 holy paladins with very good attendance. If all three of us are in the same raid, it really feels like the raid would be significantly better if that third paladin was a different class. I imagine the same thing would apply to the 2nd paladin healer in a 10-man.

A final "less fun" element is the tension between being in melee or at range. Some abilities like Holy Radiance push us towards melee, but other effects push us away. For example, last night I was assigned to heal the melee on Ragnaros. I figured that I would just stand with them and I could use Holy Radiance in P1. But apparently Ragnaros' ranged knockback effect targets Holy Paladins, and I managed to knock all the melee into the lava. Then I had to stand away from them, and that made healing them all up harder than it needed to be.

6. How do you feel about your “rotation”? (Rotation is the accepted order in which abilities are used to maximum efficiency.)

I really like the Cataclysm rotation. We use a variety of spells for great effect. Adding 100% Beacon transfer to Holy Light was a great change.

I would like to judge slightly less often, maybe on the order of once every 15 seconds or so. Once every 8 seconds is just a bit too many GCDs taken from healing.

7. What’s on your wish list for your class?

I would like to see AoE healing strengthened a little bit. Heavy AoE phases really make me feel useless, especially when you are the 2nd or 3rd paladin.

I would like a little more proactive healing for non-tanks. For tanks we can do things like Hand of Sacrifice or get good use of our mastery. But healing non-tanks is almost entirely reactive direct healing (other than Aura Mastery). Personally, I'd kill for a real HoT.

Finally, I'd like to see Divine Intervention and bubble-hearth come back. Those were iconic abilities for paladins.

8. What spells do you use the least?

I think that we use all our spells in a reasonable fashion. Flash of Light is getting a bit squeezed out because we have Holy Shock and Word of Glory for speed, but it has its uses.

I think the only major paladin spell that has gone out of fashion is Consecration. It costs too much mana to use even irregularly. In contrast, I will occasionally use Holy Wrath for random AoE damage or to help stun elementals.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Transient Endgame

In the last post, we concluded that Transient players are not likely to be converted into Extended players. But they still need an endgame. Further, we have seen that the current Transient endgame--which is basically run 5 mans for points which can buy Extended endgame gear--has had a negative effect on the Extended endgame.

The Transient endgame needs to become a First Class Citizen. Or at least as close to First Class as we can get without destroying the Extended endgame. Luckily there is a good model for a Transient endgame: Pickup Raids.

Pickup raids have a number of good qualities. It's the latest content, the latest storyline, the latest artwork, the best gear. So what are the elements necessary to make Transient raiding successful?

1. A Specific Difficulty Setting

Extended raiding is meant to be difficult. You're expected to wipe, to kill bosses slowly. Your team becomes greater than the sum of their parts as they work together over the course of several nights.

Transient content has none of those advantages. It needs to be easier.  Having a separate difficulty setting, let's call it Easy, decouples Transient tuning from Extended tuning. Transient raiding can be tuned separately. As well, it's not just lower dps or healing or tanking requirements that go down. A separate difficulty setting can also adjust or remove mechanics which are too unforgiving for a Transient setting.

Adding an Easy difficulty setting is the best way to go here. As well, an Easy setting will benefit those guilds at the lower end of the Extended spectrum.

2. Automatic Group Creation

In my view, Transient content is crippled without automatic group creation. Sitting around in Stormwind spamming trade chat with "LF 1 Tank" is a horrific waste of time.

For Transient content to work, there needs to be a Raid Finder.

3. A Barrier to Entry

The final element a good Transient raiding system needs is some way to tell players that they are ready or not ready for the content. There is a reason mods like Gearscore came into being.

There are two ways of doing this: attunements or gear checks. What I would suggest would be a combination of the two. An attunement quest chain to get into the first (and only the first) tier of raiding.

Second, if you look on the WoW armory, there's a really nice "audit" tool that tells you if you are missing gems or enchants. I would have an audit tool built into the Raid Finder, and you cannot sign up unless your character passes the audit.

4. Flexibility in Completion

Transient groups are not stable. You might not kill all the bosses in one group. You need some way to kill bosses with multiple groups. The flexible lockouts that already exist are probably good enough.

The only improvement I can think of might be a system where you can create raids where deeper bosses are dead, but early bosses are not. I.e. If you've killed Ragnaros, you can still join a raid which has the first few bosses up, but Ragnaros does not spawn. I don't know if this will be too weird, but the other option is joining a raid which is already at the final boss and getting stuck with only one boss kill that week.

Conclusions

I think that would be enough to get a solid Transient raiding system up and running. Having Transient raids drop the same item level of gear as Extended raids (even if less gear drops) keeps the Transient endgame on the same footing as the Extended endgame.

A first class Transient endgame would help WoW immensely. Transient players would have an endgame that  that fits their playstyle. Even Extended players would use a Transient system for alts or times when their mains can't raid. And it would provide a perfect opportunity to get rid of all the excessive mechanical baggage such as valor points, multiple raid sizes, and multiple item levels of gear that the raid game has accumulated. A chance to go back to the simple, clean roots of raiding.  Get a group, kill the boss, get some shiny loot.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Major Fault Line in the MMO Audience

I'm going to respond to the comments on the Blueprint for Endgame, but I find it requires a little set up first.

There are many divisions among the MMO audience. Casuals versus Hardcore. PvP versus PvE. Gevlon's Morons & Slackers versus all the non-M&S. Roleplayers versus Everyone Else.

But there is one conflict that I think is more important than the rest. The conflict that essentially shapes all the contortions that endgame goes through. This is the conflict between Transient and Extended content.

To recap:
Transient group content is content that is expected to be completed in a single session of play. The group is formed, the group completes the content, and then the group is disbanded. In WoW, group quests, battlegrounds, and 5-man dungeons are transient group content.

Extended group content is content that is expected to be completed over several sessions of play, and where the group is composed (more or less) of the same individuals throughout. In WoW, raids and PvP arena are extended group content.

The MMO community is divided into two factions. Those who are willing to do Extended content, and those who are not willing, who only want to do Transient content.

Please note that this is not about skill, or anything like that. It's about time, and the willingness to follow a schedule, or accept a constraint on your free time. It's about being willing to undertake obligations to other players. Many people simply do not want to be obligated to other players, or for other players to have a duty towards them.

It's also not about the amount of time played. There are Extended players who play once a week for two hours. There are Transient people who play for 40 hours a week. They play so much that it is really hard for Extended players to understand why they will not commit to a schedule. The stumbling block is the existence of the schedule at all, not about the total amount of time played.

In the past, it was assumed that people would move from Transient into Extended. That it was a natural graduation. You joined a guild, and started working with that guild on Extended activities. But I think this was a bad assumption. Rather, the Transient people are simply different from Extended people. You can't change them into Extended people. You can go the other way, however, in that Extended people will do Transient content.

Traditionally in MMOs, Extended players have made the core of the playerbase. The raiders, the high-end PvP players, the stable guilds.  But I think the Transient players actually outnumber the Extended players significantly. And the Transient players want the game shaped to meet their needs, not the needs of the Extended players.

As an example of the design choices imposed by this conflict, consider the Guild Perks system that was introduced in Cataclysm. I don't think this system really made any difference to the player base, and to be honest, was probably a waste of developer time. The Extended players already were in guilds. The Transient players simply joined uber-large guilds to get the perks. But it did not change the nature of the players.

The single biggest problem with the endgame of WoW is that it persists in believing that if the incentives are just right, Transient players will transform into Extended players, and everything will work out properly. But this transformation never occurs. The Transient players are unhappy that their needs go unmet or that they are thrown one or two sops while the Extended players get all the goodies. The Extended players are unhappy because those sops for the Transient player often end up distorting the Extended endgame.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A Blueprint for Endgame: Cataclysm Edition

I've been debating how to structure this post. Should I discuss what I see wrong with the current endgame, and then look at solutions? Or should I present a plan, and explain what I think is wrong with the current endgame through the lens of that plan? I've chosen the latter, but I'm not sure it's the best choice.

I think the pendulum of the raiding endgame has swung a little too far. It needs to be brought back towards Vanilla/TBC. Not all the way, because that would be just crazy. But I think some of the desires and ideals of this current endgame have just not worked out the way they were intended, and should be jettisoned.

So this is my plan of what, as of this point in time, I think the ideal endgame for WoW should look like.

1. One Raid Size: 15-man

This is going to tie in with Point 2, but with two raid sizes there are just too many variations. 25-mans are dying because 10-mans are so much easier to organize. There are conflicts over abilities like Chain Heal. You cannot guarantee a full complement of buffs/debuffs in 10-man. You can't even assume that there will be one of each class.

15-man is a good compromise. It's only a bit larger than 10-man, keeping down administrative complexity, but enough that a raid will carry a good cross-section of classes. You can tune it for 2-3 tanks, 9-10 DPS, and 3 healers. That makes it match 5-mans. We can have three tank fights once again.

2. Three Difficulties: Easy, Normal, Heroic

I think it's pretty clear that raiding needs an Easy difficulty setting. Right now, Blizzard fudges it with buffs and nerfs to old content.  Heroic is necessary to challenge the Royalty and Aristocracy guilds, while Normal is needed for Gentry and Bourgeois guilds.

But when you go lower than that, or when you try to turn raiding into transient content via pickup groups or an automatically generated group with a Raid Finder, you're going to need an Easy setting. I don't really want to see Normal mode gutted like BWL and BoT were.

To go back to point 1, right now there are 4 permutations of raids: 10-Normal, 10-Heroic, 25-Normal, 25-Heroic. If we introduce a third difficulty setting, that would make 6 permutations. One raid size brings the number of permutations down to 3, making balancing even easier for the devs than the current situation.

3. No Valor Points/Badges

If you want raid loot, you kill bosses. No boss kills, no loot.

All these point systems just warp the game and force people to do content that they aren't really interested in. It even spoils the lower levels of content with bored people just in it for the points.

If you want to have Justice points, and have the previous tier of gear available on a vendor, that's different. But the current tier of loot drops from bosses, as it did in Vanilla.

4. Only One Item Level of Gear Per Tier

Honestly, what has multiple item levels per tier really gained us? Pretty much just massive stat inflation across the board, and non-iconic tier sets. Royalty and Aristocracy guilds enter the next tier in higher level gear anyways. Their gear only increases by one jump, just like everyone else. If everyone started at the same item level, it really would not make much of a difference.

The major counter-argument to this is that heroics need the higher item level to attract people. I don't think this is the case. For the majority of guilds at this level, it's really about the challenge, bragging rights, and recruiting.

If this had been the case in Cataclysm, we would have seen:

BoT/BWL = i359
Firelands = i372
Deathwing = i395

I think that's a much more sensible scheme than watching Deathwing loot top out at some crazy number.

5. Quantity of Loot Varies With Difficulty

Easy drops 1 piece per boss. Normal drops 3 pieces. Heroic drops 5 pieces. Additionally, Tier Tokens don't drop in Easy, only Normal and Heroic (1 token in Normal, 2 in Heroic).

That gives lots of incentive to move into Normals and Heroics. You don't want people to wallow in Easy. If 1 piece is absolutely too low, maybe 2/4/6 would be better.

Right now, gear is a bit too easy to come by. Pushing the scarcity pendulum back towards Vanilla would make upgrading more interesting.

6. Flexible Lock-Outs

I like the current Normal mode lockout system. I think the extra restrictions on Heroic mode are proving to be unnecessary. As long as each character only kills each boss once per week, I think it's fine to allow people the maximum flexibility when making groups.

Don't bother with gating Heroic/Normal with Normal/Easy mode, let the guilds go nuts on their chosen difficulty from the start.

7. Separate Achievements More

Right now, I think Achievements are too focused on Heroic mode. What I would do is have the mount achievement be more aimed at Normal mode. The mount achievement would require beating the instance on Normal, and doing all the "special achievements" for each fight on Normal or Heroic.

At the moment there's a bit of a conflict between Heroic mode and the special achievements. You can really only do one or the other, and the fact that Heroic mode offers better loot often makes the special achievements a one-night thing.  I think that making the mount achievement doable without Heroics would make it easier for Gentry and lower Aristocracy to get. It would separate out the rewards more, rather than clustering them at the very high end.

The title achievement would require doing the instance on Heroic mode. If the final boss is going to be a "super-fight", you might want two titles or rewards, one for killing 6/7 Heroic, and one for killing the end boss on Heroic.

Edit: This didn't come across quite the way I intended. In the current endgame, there are essentially two Meta-Achievements with rewards for a raid tier. Both Metas require heroic modes. I'm advocating having one Meta for Normal modes (the one with the "special achievements") and one Meta for Heroic modes (basically beat the instance on Heroic). Each Meta has a reward, but what the reward is doesn't really matter. If you want to reserve the mount for the Heroic Meta, and have the title for the Normal Meta, that's fine.

But the basic idea is to have one Meta-Achievement for Normal mode, and one Meta-Achievement for Heroic mode.

Conclusions

So those are my suggestions for endgame. A lot of  the current innovations in raid administration (size, lockout, difficulty) are kept, but gear moves back to a more old-school Vanilla style model.