[WoW] Delenda est Theramore

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Well I thought the scenario was quite fun!

One of the features added to WoW in the next expansion will be scenarios: short 3-man escapades which are designed to be manageable without a balanced group, by characters without raid gear.  We know this because WoW developers addressed this question in a Q&A last night. 

The fact is that Scenarios in Mists will be more tailored for players in quest gear and dungeon blues.

The Fall of Theramore was released early and tweaked for level 85 characters (in rather better than quest gear) to give people a preview of scenarios with one that is related to stuff that happens in the lore between the end of Cataclysm and the beginning of MoP. You can queue randomly for a PUG, although I guess waiting times are longish because people were also calling for groups in general chat.

In this particular scenario, your current goal pops up on the right of the screen and you’re guided from encounter to encounter, with patrols and suchlike to avoid/kill on the way. The storytelling works fine on a micro level, you always know what  your next objective is even if you don’t really know why. Clearly (as Horde) you are doing destructive things in Theramore, and eventually rescue a snotty Blood Elf spy – I don’t know why we didn’t just leave him there either. On a macro level, the storytelling isn’t a failure so much as completely nonexistent. Even a paragraph of text on the LFG screen would have helped.

Unsurprisingly, this is a widespread complaint. Blizzard also addressed it in the Q&A (different site from above because this is the full transcript).

Guest-37: The story of Tides of War is really interesting. I don’t think players can get engaged if they have no idea what’s happening, the bomb dropping is really anticlimactic. I felt a bit disappointed so little got included in the scenario. Was this because of lack of time, of developers or because you rather keep all that info in the novels.
DaveKosak: To Guest-37 I’ve been watching the Theramore feedback closely, and this comment seems pretty universal. We tried to keep everything all in the scenario, to make it really self-contained, but not burden it with lots of story that you have to slog through every time you played the scenario. It’s pretty clear from the feedback that people wanted more story. We should’ve surrounded the scenarios with more quests or explanations to help round out the story for the people who wanted to know what exactly was happening. Lesson learned!

It looks as though the developers heard all the complaints about the long preambles in lore heavy instances like Old Stratholme and decided to just skip it and let players get on with the random devastation. But I bet most people really quite liked the preamble the first time they saw it. They might have liked it even more if they had first seen the preamble in a solo instance with plenty of time to listen, explore, or just spacebar through it if they really have no patience.

LOTRO, I think, had the best solution to this with respect to their skirmishes (similar to scenarios but better, at least based on what I have seen atm). A LOTRO skirmish is a shortish (20-30 mins) scenario which scales up from solo to 6 player groups, some involve defending a location (such as Weathertop or The Prancing Pony Inn in Bree) from waves of attackers, others involve heading into an enemy held location and freeing it by capturing one goal at a time.  Where skirmishes were introduced into the game, some were immediately available and others had to be unlocked by completing the (mostly soloable) epic questline in which they played a part. Only after you had finished the quests did you realise that you had just completed the one man version of the skirmish as part of the storyline. So players knew all the background to the skirmish and had familiarised themselves with the layout and goals BEFORE being able to queue for random groups. I thought that was fairly genius, and it’s a shame WoW skipped that part.

As far as the actual storyline goes, Horde dropped The Bomb on Theramore (at the end of the scenario, when players are no longer at ground zero). It’s like we have our very own Hiroshima – naturally there was no exploration of any ethical implications. Which is fair I guess since players had so little to do with it all. Plus they’re only Alliance. You even get a miniature bomb memento in the mail afterwards. My goblin priest probably thinks it is the best thing ever.

So in that context, the only surprising thing is that it will take the Alliance an entire expansion to get round to invading Orgrimmar.

I am however, intrigued to see the other scenarios. I think we’ll really enjoy them at that sweet spot between reaching the level cap and zooming into heroics (a sweet spot which currently lasts about 2s but may be more drawn out in MoP.)

My scenario adventures

I ran through the scenario a couple of times on my shadow priest (who only just makes the gear requirements). Fun was had, we found the instructions clear and easy to follow, the boss fights aren’t very interesting but it was cool to be able to run around Theramore. I liked that the scenario didn’t feel like a long corridor with mobs in it, but more like an actual location. The challenge level felt fine with a random group of 3 dps. I can easily imagine that with a guild group involving some tanking and healing on the side, it would be trivial. And you get a loot bag at the end which may contain iLvL 384 shinies, or may not.

The first time one of the random people went AFK at the start and we weren’t able to boot him, and the other player was a resto shaman who kept telling me he was just there to heal. Needless to say, it didn’t go brilliantly well although we got about 2/3 of the way through before a mass unexpected pull just sapped my will to be there.

I can see why Blizzard might have thought it of lesser importance to implement a boot mechanic (to boot people from groups) in content that is only 8-`12 mins long, but they underestimated how dickish some players can be. Hopefully some ability to book afk people will be in sometime.

The second time I ran the scenario (same character), I had a  better feel for how it was intended to run. This time it was my shadow priest, a hunter, and a mage. It wasn’t hard but it was fun and we had to be on our toes. I threw some heals, there was crowd control, if the hunter had actually brought a tanking pet they could have tanked. I can see my spriest having a ton of fun in scenarios during MoP, there’s a real role for a dps who can throw clutch heals. I also got a shiny iLvL 384 healing staff in the reward box afterwards, and getting shinies always improves my mood (shallow, I know).

[WoW] Patch 5.01 redux, and getting closure on Cataclysm

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Will the last alt through Uldum please turn off the light…?

So at the tail end of another expansion, thoughts turn to two things: finishing up anything you wanted to do in the current expansion while it is still current and populated, and getting the alt industrial complex ready for the expansion that is to come.

I feel that coming back after a few months break, there’s no point in having a weighty bucket list. Presumably if there were loads of things you wanted to do in the game, you would have stayed in the game longer and done them. There is also a notion of ‘unfinished business’ – any raids you haven’t completed and still want to see, any achievements in the current expansion you might want to do, and so on.

So I was excited, and grateful,  to be able to take Spinks through Firelands with my guild, since we had been struggling with it when I was last subscribed. This time, unsurprisingly, we whipped through it all fairly fast including some heroic modes, I got a new axe from Shannox, and we killed Ragnaros (or whatever you do to giant fire elemental lords). Job done.

I do feel a sense of closure on Cataclysm raiding, despite having seen so little of the Dragon Soul. I’ve never really been that up for killing Deathwing and … sometimes a raid simply doesn’t appeal. The other reason I’ve been slacking on seeing the latest content in guild raids is that I don’t really feel good about whipping through content that other people have worked hard to get on farm. I know it will sound odd, but the whole experience of raiding (in my head) is about going in, wiping, people getting frustrated, getting better, first kill, and then finally onto farm status. And the last reason is that I’d feel bad if someone who had been raiding all year had to sit out so that I could raid.

I also had a chance to practice my shiny new 5.01 tanking spec in Icecrown when we took a raid there to snaffle some achievements. It is, for a start, very nostalgic to tank a raid that you have tanked many times before albeit a couple of years ago. Although it is a different experience when the level 85 zerg does the whole ‘knife through butter’ number on Arthas. Mostly what I remember is the tension that all the raid tanks felt at the time, that we were in competition with each other for raid spots. That caused far more anxiety than the actual raids themselves, even though I’m pretty sure raid leadership wondered why we were all so wound up all the time.

So I guess as well as finishing out my Cataclysm raiding (with some old raids), I’ve started to get my confidence back for group work in WoW. We’ll call that a win.

I am finding the current Prot/Fury setup for warriors to be serviceable, but I’m not sure if it is more fun than the previous version. Active mitigation seems to mostly consist of deciding whether to hit shield barrier or shield block once there’s enough rage in the bank, with penalties (in terms of damage taken) if your twitch reflexes are below par. It would be nice if the UI could make this more prominent, as I suspect healers will end up catching the flak for tanks dying due to failing to mitigate unless it’s really obvious that it isn’t their fault.

Of the alts I have tried under the new system, it’s the priest who I’m really liking at the moment. Shadow is shaping up to be a strong, fluid spec at the moment; it has a different rotation for burst damage than for longer fights which I like and you can glyph to be able to throw a few emergency heals too.  I healed a few heroics with Disc spec and that seemed fine, I’ll look forwards to experimenting with it further. I did also check out my druid and I think Balance is going to be quite unwieldy due to the sheer number of keys you need to bind for the main spells and all the various utility spells you get as a druid. But bonus points to Blizzard for including a glyph that means you don’t need to be in moonkin form all the time.

The other bucket list items for me were levelling fishing and archaeology on at least one alt. Fortunately (for my sanity) Blizzard have made both of these a bit less onerous in the last patch. Archaeology also would drive me bonkers after awhile – possibly why I hadn’t bothered with it much previously – it’s the most Facebook of the WoW minigames and involves lots of clicking and random rewards. There are hints of lore behind the found items but really this thing needs a full codex style interpretation with extensive entries for each item, which WoW conspicuously does not provide.

Out with the old, on with the new

Sometimes, seeking closure and preparing for a new expansion can be done at the same time. I wanted to level a couple of alts from 80 to 85 (one for crafting reasons, the other because I was just enjoying playing it) which gave me a chance to see the Cataclysm levelling zones again. Mostly I agree with my first impressions – the levelling game has a lot of good, fun content in it if you don’t mind sitting down to enjoy the ride. I still love Vash’jir as a zone, and still hate Uldum. It’s a shame about Uldum, such a beautiful zone that begs to be explored and all you get is a halfhearted ‘help these people retake their city’ and ‘be a sidekick to Indiana Jones’ questlines; the latter is ALMOST worthwhile just for all the puns but not quite.

With the upcoming pet battles, I found a new interest in acquiring pets. I’ve never been much of a collector so there several I hadn’t bothered to pick up from faction vendors even though I could. I also went through all my alts to figure out which of them still had any Argent Tournament tokens, to see if I could pick up any pets from those vendors. Turned out a couple of them did, yay.  As always, if you pick the low hanging fruit and aren’t a completionist, you can be fairly laid back about WoW and still feel that you’ve accomplished something in game.

And the other thing I wanted to do was hang out and reacquaint myself with my guildies. It’s been awhile, there are new faces as well as old one, and I feel there’s an unspoken stigma about being a quitter that you can only really overcome by demonstrating that you’re actually around. I am sure that a lot of people are playing both GW2 and WoW at the moment, and that MoP will sell millions (as per every WoW expansion). It will be interesting to see if it grabs people more than Cataclysm did. I do think there is a chance that it might, but Blizzard are now going against the flow with their subscription game so we’ll see how that hits the numbers.

Next week brings the new Theramore scenario, which will be the first sight a lot of players (including me) will have of the new 3-man instances, if instances is the right word. And now that I’m pretty much done with closure and have figured out how to play my character post-patch, I am looking forwards to it.

Do you do anything to get a sense of closure at the end of an expansion, or before leaving a game?

Crafting, Convenience, and Capitalism

Every WoW player should try, at least once in their playing career, selling [Ice Cold Milk] on the Auction House during the Christmas Event where you can often get up to 1g per piece. You can buy it from a vendor in unlimited supplies for 25c (1.25s for 5 pieces) literally 5s walk away from the Auction House.

You will learn a lot about the nature of people, consumers, and trade by making that one transaction.

Crafting for the sandbox

Crafting is pretty much the ultimate sandbox activity in MMOs. Player gatherers gather raw materials and trade them with each other, player crafters acquire raw materials and turn them into finished goods, player traders create and maintain a market in these raw and finished goods. That is the crafting way of things.

So why do themepark MMO devs feel they can’t ship without some kind of crafting mechanism in the game? Themepark games offer plenty of other ways to get gear and consumables. You can buy them from NPCs (either with in game gold or with various tokens) , they drop randomly from mobs, they might be rewards from minigames, and so on.

  • It’s partly for historical reasons: Ultima Online had crafting, DaoC had crafting, Everquest had crafting. Therefore every MMO in perpetuity will have crafting because players just expect it.
  • It’s partly because crafting is another avenue for progression, another progress bar to fill, another grind to keep players in the game.
  • And partly because a lot of players seem to really enjoy making gear for themselves and trading with other players.

While many (maybe even most)  players would be perfectly happy with a crafting system that only allowed people to make gear for themselves and their alts, the sandbox interaction and trade side of things has also proven incredibly effective at getting communities of players to interact. Usually via an auction house or trade channels. Where there is an actual in-game auction house, it often ends up as the social hub of a city.

In a very real way, trade between players   is the beating heart of any MMO community.

Eric at Elder Game argues fluently for the case against auction houses. He comments that GW2 and Diablo 3 both ‘suffer’ (in gameplay terms) for their huge global auction houses – the competition is so high, the barriers to entry so low, that prices tend to sink quickly to a stable floor.

Crafters have the most fun when they can sell items to other players and make a profit. It’s just not as fun when there are literally millions of crafters competing for customers.

He also discusses the different markets in luxury goods (ie. epic gear, fancy crafted mounts and pets, etc) vs everyday consumables.

Let’s say it even more generally: the transactions that let players play the game on a day-to-day basis should be fast and easy. The transactions for rarely-needed things, for luxury items, or for power-player goods don’t benefit from being trivialized like this.

I think the case is not so much against auction houses, although it can be fun to go browse player merchants if a game supports it. That was how crafters sold goods in DaoC. You could search the merchants from a central point to find out who had the best offer on the item you wanted, but you still had to go to their merchant and buy it. But the case against global auction houses in a massive multiplayer game on the grounds that it affects gameplay for crafters and traders is beginning to look stronger (to me.)

Consumers in the real world, as well as in game, will pay a premium for different types of goods and services. They will pay for luxury goods, they will pay for personalised goods, and they will pay for convenience. Part of the fun of crafting and trading in sandbox games is figuring out how to make your product or services more convenient for players, so that you can add your profit that way. In themepark games devs sometimes encourage this by putting products or materials in the game that might be inconvenient to gather or require some exploration by players to discover. For example, some item that is only sold by one vendor in a little town on a four hour cooldown, or a component that is dropped by a raid boss, or purchased with PvP tokens.

While this might be more inconvenient for customers, it’s a gift to explorers and to any trader/crafter who also likes the type of content which provides the material. You could actually make some profit just for knowing that the vendor next to the auction house sells ice cold milk, AND that ice cold milk is a component for one of the Christmas Event quests in WoW.

And if you can profit from that, you are encouraged to think about other ways in which you could use your game and world knowledge to trade convenience for profit. “Who are your customers, what do they need, and what would make their lives more convenient?” Now that is how a trader thinks. And where this is possible, it means there is a (possibly non combat) role in the game for players to pick if they choose. It is driven entirely by players and how they relate to other players. That is why trade is at heart a sandbox style.

Back in the day, we had to travel to different cities to pick up our goods

Back in Vanilla days, WoW had segmented Auction Houses. The Stormwind Auction House was not linked to the Ironforge Auction House. What actually tended to happen was that one city ended up as the hub everyone used and the others were much much quieter. Patch 1.9 was the one that linked the auction houses together. Up until that point, you could make some gold by working out if any items were cheaper in one city than another and trading between the auction houses accordingly.

It was inconvenient for customers, and not ideal for crafters (because ideally they’d want to have items for sale in every venue) but great for traders.

Vanilla WoW also featured rare(ish) recipes and components being sold by various vendors around the world, many of which were in limited supply. You had to know who sold what, where, and when or else pay extra on the auction house because someone else had known that and made the item available more conveniently for you. They continued this into TBC and you can still find useful recipes for levelling some of the crafting skills scattered around vendors in Outland.

It’s no accident that since Wrath, Blizzard have avoided doing this. On the one hand, it encouraged players to explore the game world and vendors, made the random vendors in various settlements more interesting, and was good for the trading play style. On the other, it was rather inconvenient. I’ve talked about convenience and inconvenience a lot in this post, and it is because whenever MMOs move towards being more convenient, traders and explorers lose out on rewards for their willingness to make a market and rewards for knowing the world well, respectively.

Maybe the convenience of a global market place with low prices is more important for players than the ‘fun’ of random loot, crafting for trade,  or having to depend on traders to fill up the local auction houses. But every time convenience trumps a playing style, people who enjoyed that playing style are turned off the genre, and that playing style becomes less attractive to newbies, and the genre itself loses some of the things that make it special.

I was thinking about this when I found that the latest WoW patch has removed most of the need for tradeskills to use special tools (eg. fishing rod, blacksmith hammer) and enchanters now only need one enchanting rod (the cheap low level copper one). Convenience is great, but I used to make a bit of pocket change from selling those enchanting rods on my blacksmith. They were one of the few useful things to make with rare metals from earlier expansions for which there was an actual demand. I don’t need the income from selling rods – but what will those metal ores be used for now? People don’t even need them for levelling. Any miner who finds some won’t be excited because it’s rare and will sell, it will just be trash. During TBC, if one of us who wasn’t a miner found a Khorium node in Outland, we’d tell our guild immediately so that someone could come out and get it. Now, it will be “Useless Khorium, what a waste of a metal node.”

And yes, I think when a trade good has no actual use in the contemporary game, the game world is diminished.

[WoW] Everything old is new again. 5.04 and preparing for Pandaria.

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Yup, this is the Mists of Pandaria loading screen. The image of ‘two statues flanking an entrance’ bears (sic) a resemblance to both the Vanilla WoW and TBC login screens. Again, as with the intro trailer, the message is that the game is getting back to its roots thematically.

Has it only been a week or so since I last mentioned how I was getting on with WoW? It feels much longer than that. I was getting set to screenshot my achievements, note that I had tried a LFR pickup raid into Dragon Soul and comment that I’d cleared up two of my Cataclysm bucketlist goals by getting Pebble on my Warrior and leveling my goblin priest chick to 85, and running a few instances with her. So ultimately, although I had been feeling very antsy about running heroics again, I felt that I got back into the swing of things with a couple of characters.

I also ran through the Firelands raid with my guild, which was good fun. (I never really disliked it as a raid, and it’s nice to have been able to go down Ragnaros. Again.)

So yay for that, then patch 5.04 hit and everything changed. And of course, that meant all the addons too. And if anyone is interested,  Noxxic, Icy Veins and MMO Melting Pot have guides for every spec in 5.04, which will get you started if you’re feeling confused.

Residual Notes on LFR

The raid I saw was the second half of the Dragon Soul, which involves a few set piece fights,  of which the most memorable is where the raid attempts to pry metal plates off Deathwing’s back while he’s spawing antibodies and trying to throw everyone off with barrel rolls. It probably isn’t as interesting as that sounds, or at least not on LFR.

I didn’t find it fun enough to bother queueing for the other half. It was nice to see the raid, I guess, but the Hour of Twilight instances were a lot more fun and had a better storyline (for what that’s worth). It is entirely possible that the raid encounters are more engaging in regular 10/25 man mode.

Really the odd thing about this raid is that it really does play like a collection of set pieces. In some cases the raid literally teleports from one location to the next and I half expected to see scrolling text on the screen during the transition reading “X hours later …” I guess that gives things a cinematic feel but it was a step too far for me, I prefer my raids (and instances) to feel like actual locations in the world rather than film sets.

I am in favour of LFR as a concept, I just don’t think that raid was particularly engaging.

Shared Achievements and Pets

After the patch hit, the majority of achievements and pets have become account wide. Yes, that means Horde alts now have access to Alliance only quest pets such as Withers and the Faerie Dragon. It also means that any rare or no-longer-attainable pets (eg. the ones you used to get for logging in during WoW anniversaries) are now part of the account-wide collection. It also means that, having logged on all the various alts on which I have dithered since the start of the game, I now know on exactly how many alts I completed the mechanical chicken quest. (Two.)

Account wide achievements also mean that I could create a new character tomorrow and display a variety of titles and achievements which aren’t in the game any more – sadly the Vanilla PvP titles do not go account wide, not that I ever got very far with those but I did have a couple on a no-longer-played alliance priest. Effectively, looking at my list of pets and achievements now makes it look as though I’m far more of an achiever than I really am. I suppose that’s good, but I wonder if characters feel more like adjuncts to the account than individuals now.

Some of the achievements can now be completed in bit parts across different characters. So for example, you could explore the Night Elf areas on an Alliance alt and the Blood Elf areas on a Horde alt and get completions on both of them account wide. Or in other words, simply logging in all your characters post-patch is likely to have resulted in extra achievements being noted. I am quite proud that despite all this I still ‘only’ have around 7700 achievement points on Spinks, Achievements are not really my thing.

The pet list also includes all the pets that exist which you do not (yet) own, including the Pandaria ones. My first reactions are that:

1. There are a LOT of reskinned pets. I don’t expect Blizzard to work miracles, but even Pokemon managed to give each of the pokies their own unique look.

2. I am going to be SO addicted to pet battles. I love Pokemon so this was never going to be a hard sell, but you have pets associated with different types, each of which has a variety of attacks of different types, and the various types are strong/weak against each other. I suspect pet battles will be far more strategically interesting than most WoW fights. Plus I suddenly got more interested in filling out my pet list.

I like the idea of starting Pandaria and favouring the pets I actually like best (usually due to having fond memories associated with them, like the mechanical squirrel that was given to me by a friend, or the crimson whelp that Arb gave me.)

Stoppableforce has a great post on Pet Battles in MoP, and I suspect that like me, he is a chicken fan. Ignore the haters, fun pokemon is fun.

Learning to play your class all over again

As has become the norm for WoW, the new class mechanics enter the game the patch before the expansion and they are currently live. I am still experimenting with my warrior but my first impressions are:

  • I like the tanking changes, I think it will be interesting and hopefully fun. But I wish I could do this with fewer buttons; warriors have a ton of utility and with the addition of an extra shield ability and the war banners, finding buttons and binds for them all is going to be a pain. I also think I need to find an addon to help monitor rage more closely.
  • Do not like the new Arms. It used to be such a fun, fluid rotation (I mean up until last week) and now it feels awkward, with lots of waiting around for crits and procs. I also think that one single target rage sink should be enough for anyone, so having two abilities that pretty much do the same thing (Slam and Heroic Strike) is just adding unnecessary complexity.
  • Fury looks OK though, my first impressions were mostly good. Also I’ve always wanted to try Bladestorm while dual wielding 2-handers.

The actual mechanics of being forced to relearn your class every expansion can get a bit wearing. As Beruthiel eloquently notes:

This is now the fourth time I’ve “relearned” to heal. The second time with massive mana changes. And you know what? It fucking sucks. I’m tired of trying to work small miracles with my toolkit, figuring it out, only to have it yanked out from under me and made to go through all the learning pains of learning your limits again.

It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for that position, especially for anyone who really quite liked how their character played in Cataclysm.

A proportion of the WoW player base expects both themselves and everyone else to learn the ins and outs of a new spec pretty much instantly, which does up the pressure. I personally expect to get some practice in from levelling through MoP and running instances, and will probably come back to how warriors play later once I have a better feel for the spec. (I don’t know about anyone else but I do usually fret for ages about which character to play as a main in a new expansion and then end up playing my Warrior again anyway.)

I’m also tanking ICC for a guild run later this week so we’ll see how that goes.

Preparing for MoP

The last few things I intend to do in preparation for the expansion are to finish up the Fishing skill on Spinks and level my warlock from 83 to 85. I have toyed with laying in some materials so that I could grab 10 points in Blacksmithing as soon as the crafting cap is raised (ie. by making PvP gear which is currently orange to me), I just don’t know whether I can be bothered.   My priestlet now has engineering and tailoring up to 500, which will let her pick up the Pandaria upgrades and my enchanting alt also has enchanting at 500 for the same reason.

As WoW players will know, it is extremely common for players to have a few crafting alts. I kind of wish Blizzard would just allow crafting skills to be account wide at this point, because no one should have to level enchanting more than once, ever.

I have also been selling off various bits and pieces, but without the sort of laser intensity or the scale that gold making glyph sellers apply to their work. Having said that, belt buckles and weapon chains both turn a good profit, as do bags (as usual) and crafted engineering pets. I will probably go into the expansion with about 50k gold on my main and 20k gold on a couple of alts, which is plenty for anything I might need to do. I also suspect that the main money making window for Blacksmiths will be in crafting entry level PvP gear at the start of the expansion and every arena season, at least if things follow the same pattern as Cataclysm.

Everything old is new again

In a few weeks time, the busy Cataclysm endgame zones will be quiet again. Only the starting zones will see an influx of levelling characters who will probably reach the expansion max and move on before ever spending time in the Firelands daily quest area or Twilight Highlands.

I flew round the now-deserted old TBC endgame zones, to remember again how this impacted previous expansions. Some drink to remember, some drink to forget.

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How are you spending the last few weeks of Cataclysm, if you are playing WoW?

Random musings: SWTOR event, MoP trailer, and GW2 fanboism

I was hoping very much that Bioware would be able to use the SWTOR world event (that had been hinted at by dataminers after the last patch) to regain  the community’s confidence. Demonstrating the ability to keep putting out good quality updates  would do a lot to win people over to the future of the game in the upcoming F2P environment.

Things began with the news bots on the fleet, directing players to Nar Shaddaa to pick up the first part of the quest. The second part followed via in game mail, which led to another questline that runs in parallel. Basically the A questline involves characters trying to find various items in a scavenger hunt. The B questline involves trying to figure out whether the scavenger hunt has a nefarious underlying purpose.

Some of the scavenger item quests are supported by actual quests telling you where to go and (vaguely) what to do. Others are hinted at via in game conversations. I’m not entirely sure what the clues are since I didn’t personally see any, I may not have been hanging out in the right area, or not for long enough. I imagine a lot of people are using websites to find their items. Dulfy, as usual, has a great summary for anyone who is interested in running through the event.

Rewards are mostly cosmetic, with a couple of weapons included with purple mods that only cover a couple of classes.  If you finish the grand acquisition quest there are some titles and light side/ dark side points up for grabs also. We have also been informed that the event will last only for one week.

Rohan wonders if the event was designed to allow hardcore players to run through it quickly with slower paths for more casual players. This would have been cool if true, it was a good idea on his part; but it turns out one of the ways for players to complete things fast was a bug and the quests don’t actually expand slowly to include all the items eventually.

I was hoping for something more similar to the rakghoul world event, which included dailies, explorations, collections, and so on. This is an event with a smaller scope. I would personally give it a resounding ‘meh’ so far and have not really heard much in guild chat about the acquisitions after the first day or so, so I don’t think they are very excited by it either. The event has also been plagued by bugs, particularly one early on which rewarded players with ALL the items if they did a particular space mission.

I can’t feel this bodes well for the future. I’ve nothing against small scale events, but it would be nice if they were … a bit more fun? Anyone else tried to solve any of the item locations themselves?

And then the over powered new race/new class beat everyone else up!

moptrailer

So as is becoming the norm, Blizzard released a short trailer for the upcoming expansion. Apple Cider Mage does a shot by shot feminist analysis :

…the fact of the matter is that this trailer is literally and utterly masculine. It features male power fantasies and counterpoints them with a more wise, agile man. It’s all men! All men, all the time. Just the way we like it, eh?

She’s not wrong.

However I quite liked the trailer and here is why. From the very earliest days of Warcraft as a RTS game, the theme and in fact the subtitle was Orcs vs Humans. I feel that what Blizzard have done with this trailer is present a very classic Warcraft scenario (ie. an orc vs a human) and then thrown a panda into the mix to show how it changes everything. That’s it. That’s the actual story of the expansion. Portrayed in one short, and very pretty, cinematic. The butch male orc and butch human in the new trailer do look reminiscent of the box art from the old Warcraft games.

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So I think the trailer does a good job of setting the scene, with callbacks to the very core of the WoW lore and backstory, and then showing what’s new in this expansion. I would have personally preferred to have also seen some fly bys of the new zones, dungeons, bosses, creatures, and so on. I want to see how pretty it is.  I preferred the Cataclysm cinematics from that point of view.

The GW2 backlash to the backlash starts on time

It is an incredibly normal part of the MMO cycle for a new MMO to be hyped to the stars and back during beta, for the backlash of criticism to begin shortly before launch, and for die-hard fans to decide that arguing with critics IS the hill they want to die on … still before launch.

It is also true that criticising a game that everyone else loves, or waxing lyrical about a game that the majority seem to hate will tend to get a lot of page views. It’s called being contrary; but that doesnt mean that people raising contrary points are wrong, per se.

Azuriel has drawn the wrath of the GW2 fanbois by listing some features of the game that he thinks are merely OK. He also comments that he has pre-purchased his copy and has every intention of playing it. But that won’t stop the tide of haters once the fans decide to strike.

It will be interesting to see how views pan out on this game on release. I expect to be playing next week, assuming the servers hold up, and I agree with Azuriel that dynamic events are not the be all and end all of PvE. I think I did like the WvW much more than he did, but he has also played the beta for longer than me. Time will tell. Hopefully the fans will stop piling on any views of the game that are not 100% enthusiastic once they are actually busy playing the thing.

[WoW] Something old, something new: life as a returner

Demons in Well of Eternity

Story of my life

Last time I wrote about WoW, I touched on my first impressions of the game as a returner. The overwhelming chaos, rudeness in groups, how intimidating the game can feel when you’ve been out of things. This week I have persevered with things, played around on some alts, and had my hand held in one of the new heroics by a very patient guild group. I don’t feel as much like a fish out of water any more, and while I’m better able to appreciate some of the things I always liked about WoW, there are mechanics from SWTOR that I really do miss.

  • AE looting (this is coming with Cataclysm I think)
  • Every class having a way to heal up quickly when out of combat.
  • Every class being able to res out of combat.
  • Sending your companion to sell your vendor trash
  • Ressing near your corpse or outside the entrance to your current instance, rather than miles away at the nearest graveyard.
  • A built in configurable UI. Yes, WoW has addons, but this would be easier. (I don’t think there’s anywhere in WoW where players are advised to check out addons incidentally, you just have to know what everyone does and where to find the current popular ones.)
  • I do miss having a companion to heal/tank/CC/ dps but WoW PvE is just easier than SWTOR so it’s not really a big deal. I’d only really want a healer or tank in WoW.
  • Writing that generally makes sense. WoW has some very well written quests but the consistency isn’t really there and in some zones they messed up quite badly (Dragonblight can get very confusing if you do the questlines in some orders rather than others, for example.) It was also rare in SWTOR that an NPC would send me off to do something for some reason and I’d think ‘how did he know that?’
  • Stories that I care about. SWTOR can also be hit and miss with these but they hit more than WoW does. This feels like more of a Cataclysm issue to me, because I remember Wrath feeling a lot more focussed and motivating.

I still feel a bit overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information that WoW throws at players. My characters all seem to have zillions of abilities. Running heroics feels as though it requires memorising hundreds of encounters (possibly multiple times if you play more than one role). How on earth do people remember it all??

As far as the community goes, I have had enough slightly less bad experiences in groups so maybe I was just unlucky before, but I also feel the game is less friendly than it used to be.

I have also spoken to several players who have just returned to WoW after breaks of up to a year – amusingly we were all in the same random instance together and since I’d run it once before, I automatically became the expert who got to explain it to the others. It was a much friendlier group though, and we did get through it. So it may well be that quite a lot of people are heading back to WoW now in preparation for the expansion.

I also spoke to one actual new player. This was after he had asked a question in Orgrimmar and had a few people mock him in general chat (this is not actually the sort of thing I’d have expected to see on Argent Dawn last time I was around, some mockery sure, but not of basic/ sensible questions). He whispered to me after I’d answered the question to say thanks and mention that he hadn’t been in the game long.

Addons

The easiest way to pick out some addons is firstly to ask around guild/ friends. Or secondly, head to curse.com and check which are the most popular addons. It’s as good a place to start as any, and you can always go hunt around blogs if you’re not happy with the ones you have.

I think I ended up checking a few out but ending up mostly with the same ones I liked previously:

Wot I Did

The easiest way to explain what I’ve been doing in WoW over the last week or so is to look at achievements. That may say something deep about the nature of the game, but I think shows again how well implemented the achievements are. There really are achievements for every play style.

wow_cheese_aug

So the top three here are from heroic instances, and the bottom one is from a daily quest – I imagine every Tom, Dick and Harry can finish off that dragon in under 90s these days but I was pleased with myself for doing it solo when the achievement came up.

I want to talk a bit about how I tried to get the confidence together to run heroics. My guild were great, and we did run the first new heroic together, with voice chat and lots of advice and reassurance. At that point I was thinking “That wasn’t too bad, maybe I’ll try another run with them before I do those on my own.” So I queued for a regular Cataclysm heroic, and the LFG threw me into another of the new ones (I didn’t know it could do that.) At which point I just followed everyone else and hit what they were hitting, and it seemed OK and no one complained.

So presumably with a bit of practice and a couple of upgrades, my dps has gotten beyond the ‘omg what is this doing in my instance’ level to the point where no one is talking to me, which I imagine means it is OK. After that, it felt that a barrier was broken and I was OK with just queueing for them like everyone else. I  feel that I am getting the hang of them now.

Blizzard is clearly going for some ambitious storytelling here with instances set in the far past, far future, and present day. Whether or not you can actually FOLLOW the story I’m not sure, you might need to know what the Dragon Soul artefact is for a start. Or maybe I missed the part where they explained that. I found them all a bit shorter and easier than the classic Cataclysm heroics, assuming your gear is high enough level to get you in the door.

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Another new tweak is that the instance maps (as shown above) are really very slick now, with brief explanations of the backstory for each boss when you mouse over them. Basic boss guides are also now in the UI, so you can look up every boss in the instance both in normal and heroic mode and find out what it does mechanically.

Of the three, Well of Eternity is a particularly strange instance, which gives every indication of having originally been designed as a raid. It’s  that bit more epic than you’d usually expect; and you get to meet/kill quite a large number of important lore figures along the way. I suppose you can always go back to Outland and kill Illidan later on if you want to see him again, I half wondered whether the game would take into account whether you’d done that (in his far future, obviously) when you met him in the instance. But it doesn’t. The instance also features time travel, stealthing around hordes of demons, and extended NPC dialogues after the final boss has died (ie. when most players have probably already left the instance.)

wow_wellofeternity

Here we’re just chilling with Illidan in Well of Eternity when he … dude, was that really a good idea? (Also we are disguised as night elves, which I personally found quite traumatic.)

I still haven’t had the nerve to try a random raid yet.

Nights at the Circus

wow_faire1

Darkmoon Faire now has its own minizone, and portals to the Faire open where the Faire used to be. This sounds confusing (and is) but basically when the Faire is up, an NPC will be in every capital city who can transport you to your nearest portal – why he can’t just transport you straight to the faire I do not know.

As you can see from the screenshot, it is very purple. This shows Spinks standing on a hill looking down at the Faire. There are minigames, none of which really grabbed me, quests you can do which raise your crafting skills, and some achievements to be gotten.  The crafting perks will be particularly great for people trying to eke out those last few points when raising tradeskills.

wow_faire2

Spinks is shown at the bottom here, to give an idea of the scale.

Preparation H

The whole process of getting ready for a new expansion can be seen in two different ways.

  1. It doesn’t really matter whether you put any effort into it or not, the new expansion will render most things irrelevant and you’ll be just as able to make gold and farm materials after it has dropped as before.
  2. Get everything ready so that you can level your characters/ tradeskills etc as quickly and smoothly as possible.

I’ve never been big on overdoing the preparations so I am mostly just looking at clearing my inventory of things I’m not going to need any more and deciding if I want to level any alts. I figured it was a also good idea to level my alt with Enchanting so that he can disenchant any drops I pick up while levelling, which also gives me a good excuse to check out the Cataclysm levelling zones again to see if I didn’t properly appreciate them last time round. (Poor warlock, he only ever gets levelled at the end of expansions, to just high enough level where he’ll be able to buy the next tier of tradeskill.)

One thing I notice immediately is because of the transmogrification mechanics, I take much more interest in the green drops and quest rewards. Even if it isn’t an upgrade, it might have a really cool look that I’d want to keep.  I still feel piqued though that they put transmog in after I’d gotten rid of my Tier 10 warrior gear.

The only other thing on my bucket list is to attempt to get Pebble as a pet. This explains why I ended up getting that daily quest achievement, shown above. (It’s part of the same set of dailies that can eventually reward with the pet.)

What are those blue remembered hills…?

WoW is still a very pretty game, here’s a couple of screenies I took from levelling alts.

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