Only as good as the last patch

I cannot remember a time when I have been as glutted on awesome computer games as I am right now at this moment. My gaming hours are still very occupied with Dragon Age, which is offering some of the most compelling, immersive gaming I’ve ever had on PC right now.  It is not only a great game, but it also plays right into my storytelling/ RP AND gameplay preferences so it’s absolutely the whole package.

If I want a break from that and some mindless hack/ slay action, Torchlight is still brilliantly entertaining. I find I enjoy it more when I don’t sit down for long sessions — that can get repetitive. But in short bursts it’s very fun and refreshing, and I still have more character classes, more builds, more endless dungeon to try. As if that wasn’t enough, we finally decided to pick up a PS3 so have a couple more great games there (Little Big Planet and Uncharted 2) when we want to sit down on the sofa together and play. I will have more to say about both of those games sometime but they’re both fantastic.

The nice thing about the single player games is that even if I build up a backlog now, it just means I won’t buy any more for awhile until I’m done with them. There’s no special hurry.

But where is WoW in all this? It’s on the back burner for me. I’m keeping up my relaxed raid schedule of one 25 man raid a week, and that’s about it. But why is that? This current patch is simply not compelling and I’ve run out of goals. Until the next patch drops, I’m finding other things to do with my spare time.

Larisa comments that she worries that people think she’s burning out because she’s been critical of WoW recently. I don’t think that. I think they put out an unexciting patch, and I remember noting that it sounded like filler when I first read about the Coliseum. I also don’t see any reason why even a fan has to ooze positivity over a lacklustre patch. By all means find something positive to talk about, but what if the positive thing is, ‘Well, at least we’ll all be geared for the next patch which should be better’?

Compared to the single player games, patch 3.2 offers very very little gameplay. There was one new raid instance that didn’t put up much of a challenge – I enjoyed the new mechanics but they didn’t keep us occupied for very long. Being offered the chance to keep rerunning old instances to be rewarded by a slightly different set of badges which could be turned in for better loot got old before the patch even went live.

One thing this has crystallised in my mind is that WoW at the moment is only as good as its last patch. Oh, there’s plenty of other content in there but I’m done with the rest of the expansion myself, as are a lot of other endgame players. We’ve run the instances, gotten the rep, experienced the quests/ storyline, and capped the tradeskills, so we are very focussed on the new patch content to keep us engaged. Or in other words, many people who played since the beginning of Wrath are now out of in-game goals and bored of the year old gameplay. As soon as a new patch hits, everyone who is endgame-ready will be motivated to switch to the new content — partly because it is new and partly because they will be enticed there with ever increasing rewards. But what happens when they’re done?

Any subscription game needs to keep offering players a mixture of short, medium, and longterm goals to keep their interest in maintaining a relationship with that game. Those are the things which make it worthwhile to pick up a longterm sub, knowing that there are things you want to accomplish that will take months. Goals aren’t enough on their own, but if they’re not there, then you’d better hope that your community is very sticky indeed.

The reason this has become more of an issue now in Warcraft  is that Wrath heralded a new era of accessibility for the game. And that meant fewer long term goals, and a shift in perspective for raid goals. For example, if your goal is to kill the last boss of a raid instance, you can now decide whether killing it on normal mode (possibly in a PUG) will satisfy the sightseeing instinct. Is it worth the extra hassle of finding a raid group just to get the boss on hard mode? A lot of people don’t find that as compelling a prospect as when it was the only way to see that boss die at all. Not only that, but because of the way players are now corralled through the game, many more of them will run out of patch content before the next patch hits.

So these things are in many ways a result of deliberate design decisions. I don’t think the decisions were bad, and I rather enjoy that I’m able to see all the bosses and finish a patch and move on without having to dedicate vast amounts of time and effort. But it does mean that if one patch is less exciting, it’s far easier to either skip it or take a break and do something else until Blizzard provide something more interesting for players to do.

I’ve seen a lot more raid groups recruiting at the moment, so I’m guessing a lot of people are bored with the Coliseum. Will they come back to see Arthas fall in patch 3.3, or will other games — maybe even single player games — have stolen their gaming souls?

Beginners Luck #2

Darraxus writes about beginners luck – which is when a new player gets really lucky on a drop that more experienced players took ages to get.

I think there’s something similar going on when I decide (after some thought) to upgrade the gem in my shield to an epic one – after all, shields never drop, right? And then we run the first boss in the new 25 man instance, and … guess what drops?

I didn’t even bid for it out of sheer irritation at sod’s law. I’ll grab it next time since we really don’t have many shield tanks. But meantime, I will get some use out of that epic gem, dammit :)

I can’t really complain about my luck because Spinks has been mopping up on tank trinkets recently. Not only did I swipe the Heart of Iron from Ignis (picked the one day that the tanks who had more DKP than me was away, which where the luck really came in) but I also snagged The Black Heart from my first ever run at the new 5 man instance.

I am never this lucky, so am enjoying it while it lasts. (If you’re in my raid, I promise not to whine about my luck with drops ever again, at least until the end of this expansion!)

First impressions of patch 3.2

I logged in yesterday with my druid to check out the new cat form, even though she’s a resto druid so I’ll never actually use it in anger. Was paged almost immediately to ask if I wanted to go join a pick up group and heal in the new instance. I said sure (the thinking goes that I’d want to see the place sometime so might as well practice by mishealing people I didn’t know, rather than friends), took about 10 minutes to find the entrance (5 man entrance is on the North side), realised that no one in the group had read anything about the encounters at all, and felt an oddly liberating sense of, ‘OK, let’s try it on heroic and see what happens.’

I actually have no idea how hard the new instance really is. We managed it fine in my PUG. Then we ran it again on normal mode, and decided that there wasn’t a huge amount of difference in difficulty.

Brief notes:

  1. First encounter. Grab a wolf (or horse if you are Alliance). Make tea while the Argent Tournament champions parade around the arena. Enjoy the adulation of the massed NPCs from your home faction. Then charge a random mob as chaos ensues. When fighting the bosses, try to kill them close together if you can – it makes it easier for the tank to pick them all up at once and also makes it easier for you to trample them down if they try to get up (I am not actually sure that this is sportsmanlike but as an undead warrior Spinks doesn’t bother with sissy paladin things like honour.) In heroic mode, you will want to mark the champions so you can focus on one in turn in the last phase of the fight, when you all are on foot. I don’t think the kill order is really important but don’t all fight different ones.
  2. A few easy trash packs to warm up. Kill the priest first, and the evil lightwell will disappear with them (if our priests got evil lightwells as a spell I’d totally re-roll one). You may get one of two bosses. If it is the paladin, turn away from him when he starts to glow, and if you are healing then start to cast as soon as he emotes that he starts to throw his hammer at someone. If he throws the hammer at you, you can catch it and throw it back. If it is the priest, she will summon shadows of familiar old bosses to fight – when she does this, focus fire on the image (her shield reflects damage while it is up). Most of the spells can be interrupted.
  3. The Black Knight. He’s a lot of fun. The fight is in three phases, first you fight him as a zombie (he will revive the blood elf as a ghoul so if you are tanking make sure to pick that up also). Then you fight him as a skeleton with some ghoul minions. Watch out because the ghouls explode at low health. Then you fight him as a ghost. When he is in ghost form the fight becomes a dps race because he puts out a debuff that increases magical damage taken with every tick and also deals magical damage to everyone in the group. If you are healing, check who has the marked for death debuff because they’ll be taking extra damage. (The third phase of this fight was the hardest healing in the instance, I found).

And for any Confessor Paletress fanboys, here’s the script of all the confessions she takes in the Argent Tournament tent. The forsaken one makes me proud to be undead!

We also ran a successful 25 man raid last night, despite half the addons working oddly. The first encounter in the new raid instance didn’t cause too many problems – I actually think it’s quite dull. Note that it only requires two tanks.

Then on to Ulduar which also has a few issues this patch, which are being hotfixed today, hopefully. Despite this we one shotted a few bosses, including XT with all the extra adds. I can’t say I was a great help on that particular encounter because I was in dps mode and managed to die fairly early on.

Must have been still getting over the trinket shock.

I kissed a girl (and I liked it), oh and some stuff about patch 3.2

(No, it’s not a post about guys who play lesbian night elves, I think Brad Pitt said all there is to say on that topic.)

We snuck a few more 10 man achievements from this weekend’s raids, and scheduled more time on Yogg for last night. I dreamed of green clouds afterwards, but it was an exciting raid and we’re definitely making progress. To get the Kiss and Make Up achievement, you have to blow a /kiss to Sara in Phase 2 of the fight. She will be floating above Yogg-Saron’s head.

Aside: Are evil gals always called Sara? I remember there was a Sara in LOTRO too.

I don’t have any especially helpful tips for Phase 1; it’s all about control, watching the green clouds with the eyes of a hawk, and communication between tanks. I have found it useful to put Vigilance on the other tank, for taunting adds across the room. We have experimented with individual tanks bringing their adds to the centre to be killed as opposed to one person staying in the centre and taunting adds across to them. But I think our conclusion is that it depends on the cloud formation — so sometimes we do one, and sometimes the other. I think we have that phase nailed now though, and damn if it doesn’t feel good.

I know we’d hoped to get Yogg-Saron down before patch 3.2 drops. Which looks to be tomorrow. And that gives one more night of tries, which I won’t be able to make. (Obviously it’s not the end of the world and I know we’ll still be going back for more tries, but it would have made the timing very neat.)

Being in the EU, we get our Warcraft patches one day after the US. I am still not entirely certain as to why they can’t patch on the same day but I find it an advantage to be slightly behind. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. If there’s a really bad bug with the implementation, it’ll be hotfixed before we get it.
  2. Gives the addon writers a bit of extra time to sort out their addon tweaks for the new patch before we download them (be sensible, don’t download the next patch’s addon updates before you download the actual patch!)
  3. Americans/ Rest of World also have a few hours to find and document any other minor bugs or exploits, ready for our playing pleasure the next day.
  4. If you’re interested in playing the auction house, you get a chance to see how the markets in the US realms have reacted to the new patch. If you’re quick and the US writers are helpful, you may be able to snag some last minute money making opportunities.

It’s not so great if you are an explorer type and need to do everything first. On the other hand, if you’re that into it you probably have been hitting up the test realms and know all of these things anyway.

Warrior Changes in patch 3.2

Tarsus reviews the 3.2 patch notes for warrior info – aside from some general balancing of parry and dodge values (devs noticed that dodge is rather too good value at the moment and want to keep avoidance more manageable) which affect all tanks, and block value which affects pretty much no one, the warrior changes have one thing in common.

They are all buffs, aside from the Shield Slam damage cap which was mostly to stop people slinging on a shield block set and going off to one-shot people by slamming them in PvP.

I’m looking forwards to them. Rage on block/dodge/parry will make it much easier to tank heroics in my current gear. The devastate change will make it easier to abandon the Tier 7 2-piece bonus in favour of the Tier-8 one – I still don’t have four pieces of T8 though (insert whine about warrior token never dropping). Hopefully will also result in some more damage for us while tanking. The ATT buff will certainly help with that too.

So nothing game changing but a few tweaks that do address current issues. That’s all you can really ask.

And the Argent Tournament, we knew the doubling up of quests couldn’t last

Siha adds a Part IV to her awesome Argent Tournament guide, noting changes in 3.2. No longer will you be able to double up and complete some of the valiant and champion quests by killing the same mobs. Hope you all took advantage of it while it was live. Notably, Battle before the Citadel now requires you to kill 3 Commanders. Definitely group for it.

Are you looking forwards to anything in particular about patch 3.2?

And sometimes, they listen …

One of the new tweaks going into (mega)patch 3.2 is more mailboxes for the old capital cities.

I suspect this is nothing to do with my suggestion, in fact I can’t even remember when I posted this (I suspect it was when I was levelling inscription on my Death Knight alt, all that running around from mailbox to auction house can’t be healthy!).  I’d always assumed that no one from Blizzard actually read the suggestions forum and it was more a way to just get things off your chest. But … you never know.

WoW in 3.2 – more game, less MMO

The list of changes in patch 3.2 are coming thick and fast, and even beyond that we’re now getting stronger indications for where Blizzard plans to go with the game.

With paid faction changes in the works, paid race changes can’t be far behind. You can already switch servers (for a fee), and change your character’s appearance or name. No one will be surprised if players will eventually be able to create new alts at a high level rather than starting from level 1.

Raids will have more control over their lockouts ie. instead of a raid automatically resetting every week, there will be the option to extend the lock for a week to keep working on the progression boss of the moment without having to spend an evening or two reclearing. (note: this will leave raid leaders in the interesting position of having to choose between progression and loot from reclearing bosses, but will be great for our 10 man runs which aren’t so much about the loot anyway.)

In addition, Blizzard are tinkering with the economy a bit more directly than they have in the past. By introducing new recipes for epic gems, they’re specifically targetting the value of the different gems and eternals.

((edited to add: don’t take those recipes as gospel, the patch is still in testing and they changed in the later iteration. I do think Blizzard is using them to manipulate the AH a bit more directly than normal though. Note how there aren’t any that use eternal earth, for example.))

(Because obviously it would be a tragedy if jewelcrafters were not able to make huge profits from everything they freaking do. But I’m not bitter.)

Cerinne@Spectrecles lists out many of the upcoming changes.

And what I’m seeing is a concerted plan to deal with what I called the 4 year itch, by changing the game’s paradigm. Fewer and fewer of the choices you make in game will actually be permanent.

Being able to try a playstyle out, learn if it works and change if it doesn’t is generally good design in a game. Who really enjoys those old text adventures where a choice you made at the start in all innocence could screw you at the end of the game? Even in KOTOR I saved my game a lot, so that if I made a poor choice I could go back and do it again.

It’s not really good design for roleplayers, or for virtual worlds. But Blizzard is a games company and they see the game side of WoW as the side that pulls in the players. They probably are correct.

Cui Bono?

With any set of game changing patch notes, the big question to ask is who will benefit. Fel Fire looks at the (controversial, in the blogosphere at least) badge changes and concludes that … actually just about everyone benefits – she discusses this at the bottom of the linked post.

Similarly with the notion of paid faction changes. A lot of people would benefit if they could pick up an old character and switch factions to go join friends. After all, the game has been out for four years. It’s quite likely that players have met new contacts in real life who play the game, why should they be forced to level a new alt just to play with them?

I could go through every single one of the changes that have been announced and find that lots of people potentially benefit. It wouldn’t even be difficult.

So if lots of people benefit, who is adversely affected by these types of changes? Well, anyone who is finding that their previous assumptions are no longer correct. And they’re right to feel that there’s been a switch and bait going on. The assumptions people played under for years are no longer entirely valid.

What does ‘Horde for life!’ even mean when you can pay a fee and switch? Will there be much prejudice against the nouveau Horde? I’m doubting it. The majority of players don’t care about lore, they just want to play the game. Also with the ability to start a death knight at level 55 on any faction, you can effectively take a head start on a faction change at any time.

It’s going to take some time to sink in. Is there any point being a hardcore raider when the only real difference is in how quickly you clear new content (and access to hard modes which may or may not excite you)? Does the choice of race/ faction/ class/ server have less weight to it when you have the option to pay to change if it doesn’t work out?

I wish they’d get on and announce their new game already

I can’t help wishing that they’d leave WoW to tick along under its existing paradigm. It’s worked fine so far. Put the new ideas into the new game instead, and let each game be true to itself.

But they probably are doing the right thing. Many current gen MMOs have eased their levelling curve and introduced ways for newer players to catch up or old players to resub, Blizzard just attacks the whole problem in a more  gonzo way (actually one of the things I admire about them is how willing they are to experiment with their cash cow, a lot of companies would not be so bold).

Having said all that, I’m warmed to see so many people getting their backs up about having less permanent character choices. Because it means that there are others out there who want to interact with their virtual worlds in a way that I do too. And I wonder if any of the next gen games will be able to ditch progression (or find a different, non-level based way to model it) and just give us a world with which to play. I think the audience is there.

3.2 – The Filler Patch

So we’re getting more information now about the next content patch for WoW , which has been named Call of the Crusade.

This would be a great name if we actually were off on a crusade, but it sounds more as though we’ll be sitting around a warcamp boozing and fighting tame bosses while our characters wait for the next actual phase of the story to occur.

I can’t really get excited about this one. But I’ll be happy to be proved wrong.

So how about that story then?

I’m increasingly frustrated at Blizzard’s ability to set up cool storylines at the beginning of the expansion and then totally fail to deliver on them. We had some great stuff going. What happened after Wrathgate? What exactly is the Lich King up to – we dealt him some kind of a blow, is he not retaliating even when we are IN HIS BACKYARD? We hunted down Mal’ganis (more than once) but where is he now? Oh, and how about Malygos? Was that it?

I had hoped that they’d drop a bit of storyline into every patch but no, it seems as though we’re off on unrelated random goose chases until they feel like dropping patch 3.3 (which is apparently going to be the Icecrown one).

I’m not mollified by pets, mounts, scads of daily quests, and making alting easier. They aren’t bad things per se but they don’t replace the game I actually enjoyed in the expansion.

Having said all this, we have been promised two new quest hubs. Question is, will they be just another ton of daily quests or may we get some cool phasing plotlines as well?

So what’s in 3.2?

From the horse’s mouth (2 new quest hubs):

A new Cult of the Damned camp now sits overlooking the Tournament grounds and spying on the activity below.

Located on an island north of Icecrown, the former tuskarr village known as Hrothgar’s Landing is a mist-shrouded staging point for Sea Vrykul raids upon the ships of the Silver Covenant and the Sunreavers in the waters between the island and Icecrown.

What could this mean for plots? Well, the Cult of the Damned are associated with the Old Gods. However, raiders have just put down Yog-Saron so it isn’t really sounding like a good time for cultists. There isn’t really much else for them to do in the game apart from worship tentacled horrors – which they have done every other time they’ve ever cropped up — so I’m not seeing where this one will lead. Maybe they’re going to try to resurrect him?

edited to add: Thanks everyone for the comments! I’m totally wrong with this and I stand corrected. The Cult of the Damned are the human branch of the Scourge so they’re good to go :)

I’m not so sure about the Sea Vrykul either. Or why they’d be making sea raids when Arthas could just send frost drakes.  I don’t entirely see why the Dalaran factions need ships anyway, they have an entire city of mages who can teleport stuff. Hoping we’ll get some semi-reasonable explanation.

Just when you thought you had seen and done it all, the Argent Tournament throws out the gauntlet once more and adds a new line of quests and rewards for players who have become exalted with either the Silver Covenant or the Sunreavers. Earn seals by participating in three additional random dailies and earn brand-new rewards.

New dailies. New tabards, mounts, pets. Yawn. I guess some people will get excited about the mounts, tabards, and pets. Not me though.

It is interesting what they’re doing with the Silver Covenant/Sunreaver reputation though. Up to now, it has been something you gained through other activities. The Argent Tournament gives reputation with those factions, for absolutely no good reason (surely the Argent Tournament should give Argent Crusade rep since they’re running it). And there’s nothing to buy with those reputations anyway.

But no, all it does is give you access to still more daily quests.

A new line of dailies and rewards for players who have earned the title of Crusader will be available with two random seal-awarding dailies.

Some rewards for people who actually enjoy grinding out faction and daily quests. It’s not for me, but I approve of the idea. Reward people by giving them more of the content which they evidently like enough to get the initial requirement.

Crusader as a title requires lots of exalted factions and suchlike. I won’t be getting that on Spinks, as an old character it’s too much hassle for me to work on those city factions. If the quests or rewards turn out to be awesome, I expect one of my newer alts has better reps.

One thing’s for sure, it’ll be a lot of rep grinding for new Death Knights.

Just when you thought you had seen the last of the Black Knight, he makes his astonishing return to the Tournament. Wait, didn’t you kill him?

This was the somewhat weak storyline that we got with the Argent Tournament. Wait, didn’t we kill him? Yes and wait, aren’t we fighting against the most powerful necromancer in the universe who happens to have his base IN THIS ZONE? This would bother me less if the very first quest I’d been given in Northrend had not sent me out to burn the bodies of casualties of war so that they couldn’t be revived as undead. How quickly we forget.

Raids and Instances

From Bornak:

    • New epic 10- and 25-player raid dungeon with five encounters, with each encounter being unlocked one week at a time
    • A more intuitive structure for harder encounters. This raid dungeon will have four different versions: 10-player, 25-player, 10-player Heroic, and 25-player Heroic, with each one using a separate lockout.
    • New 5-player dungeon with three encounters that will include Champion’s Seals as each one is defeated
    • New tier of armor and weapons that are modeled with Alliance- or Horde-specific themes

OK, minor change in how hard modes are going to work. Instead of there being something you do in the encounter to set the hard mode, you’ll actually zone into a hard mode instance. And if you really really really like this Coliseum, you could run it 4 times a week! (I’ll be in the corner, slitting my wrists.) There are also extra rewards for not wiping which may please the hardcore.

The 5 man in particular isn’t sounding very thrilling. In an astounding change of direction, instead of us running into a room and killing a boss, the boss will now run into the room where we’re standing. I’m curious as to how they’ll pitch the difficulty of this one. Will it be fairly easy so that new 80s can use it to gear up, or will they aim it at raiders who already have Ulduar gear and tons of experience?

In any case, the new tier of armour and weapons means that it’s likely going to be better than Ulduar gear. I cannot get excited about this raid instance, but maybe they’ll do something cool and blow me away.

And why is the Argent Tournament building raid instances instead of fighting the Lich King? This is just going to bug me.

Levelling Perks

Mounts become cheaper and more accessible. More heirloom gear (bind on account stuff that you can send to an alt, and that has stats which adjust to the character’s  level) will give even bigger xp bonuses.

These are all reasonable changes. People don’t have to use the heirloom gear if they don’t want to and there’s no point making newbies go through the mount cash grind that was partly designed to keep old characters busy at the level cap.

Class Tweaks

Ghostcrawler has started a series of in depth discussions on class issues recently. I think this is brilliant. As a player, I very much want to know what devs plan to do with my class. If only because it gives me the chance to swap characters if it’s going in a direction I don’t like.

We know that druids are getting some new forms, and we also now know more about upcoming shaman changes. They look to be more ‘quality of life’ issues than huge redesigns. But I’m glad to see them, and looking forwards to seeing what warriors have in store. (Whatever it is, expect a huge outcry.) I wonder if they’ll look at block in this patch or if it’ll get left for the next expansion.