[WoW] To run or not to run, and the politics of good enough

Out of all the things I saw in WoW on returning recently, one has been the most surprising by far. After all these years, there’s STILL no consensus on whether or not to run back into an instance after a death/ wipe.

As a point of comparison, in both Rift and LOTRO, the player base (or at least the ones I associated with) only wanted the resser to run back. They see it as part of the healer/ resser’s job, it’s what they signed up for. If anyone else released and ran too, no one minded, but people would wonder why you’d bothered. They’d laugh one of those, “you’re weird,” laughs. Less so if you got lost on the way back.

Rift makes this simpler and quicker by allowing classes with a ressing soul (and spec) to switch specs after being ressed themselves so that they can help res others. It also lets everyone have one self res every 30 mins or so, which ressers tend to rotate (eg. I’ll soulwalk this time, save yours for the next wipe.) So you usually have more than one resser in a Rift group, and usually at least one of them can self res in situ so that no one has to run back.

LOTRO on the other hand likes to make recovery quicker by letting people who release in instances reappear just inside the instance entrance, a modification that I am amazed has never made it into WoW. But the culture in my server is also very clear that only the healer runs back after a wipe.

OK, so that’s the comparison. Now let me recount a couple of experiences in WoW PUGs this week.

1. The arsey healer

The instance was Blackrock Caverns, an instance notable for having quite a long run from the graveyard if you do release from inside it. My character got killed while fighting the first boss and the rest of the group seemed to be doing fine so I figured I’d just lie there and wait for a res afterwards. It wasn’t as if running back would really save any time and I’d probably get back at about the time it died anyway.

But after the boss died, the healer refused to res and instead had a small hairy fit aimed neatly in my direction for not running. “Fine,” I said, “Have it your way, I’ll run back now.”

So they all sat around while I ran back because that healer didn’t think ressing people who died during a fight was his job. I don’t know what would have needed to happen for him to actually use his res. Maybe if I’d died a split second before the boss did he’d have decided I ‘earned’ it. (Or, you know, maybe if he’d been more on the ball I might not have died in the first place.)

It’s not that I particularly enjoy lying on the ground during a boss fight. It’s very dull. But I don’t especially see why I should spend 5 mins running back from a graveyard when a healer could cast a 10s spell to have the same effect.

2. You can’t run here, this is bat country

So another instance or so later, in the Halls of Origination, I die on one of the optional bosses (probably because I had totally forgotten the strategy – does anyone else find that you can only keep so many strategies in your head at the same time? after that, you just forget them unless it’s a really memorable boss, which this wasn’t.). The rest of the group die too. I have already started running back, and find that the shaman had self-ressed and ressed everyone else by the time I got there.

“Why did you run?” they asked curiously.

“I like that you walk,” added the shaman, “But you didn’t have to.”

Valor points and the good enough doctrine

The trouble with WoW after a new patch, when new grinds have been added to the game, is that a lot of people feel a moral imperative to gather as many points/ badges per day as the game physically allows.

So for example, if WoW allows players to gather X Valor Points per week (which can be done by running a mixture of heroics and raids), ultra-keen people will feel that they are obliged to gather exactly X Valor points per week. Any less means that you’re a slacker. Any more means that you’re an idiot who is working harder than you need to.

And when earning X Valor Points would take more time per week than you have available, people start to crack under the strain. After all, how can you tell a hard working good player who is short on time apart from a slacker if not by the number of Valor Points per week they earn? Surely if you were really dedicated to your guild, you’d find the extra time to get those points. (This is sarcasm, btw.)

Anyhow, sensible people realise that good enough will have to be good enough and if you earn your points more slowly, all it means is that it takes a few more weeks to gear up. It isn’t the end of the world. (And most raid leaders would rather that you didn’t burn out chasing that last 0.1% of raid performance.)

Guild Mum discusses this pressure, and makes the smart decision:

I don’t have time to do dailies, raid AND max out my valor points. I’ve got 240 this week. That will have to do. I’m sorry – anything more is just too much work for me. It’s a GAME!

But it’s a shame that so many bloggers feel that they have to apologise for … being sensible.

WoW really is quite phenomenal (and not in a good way) by how pressured everyone feels to prove that they’re ‘a good player’ when in practice anyone can tell if you’re a decent player about 5 mins after being in a group with you.

How long is a piece of string? How long is an MMO?

Bioware recently noted in an interview that SWTOR would launch with approximately 200 hours of content (core gameplay) per class of gameplay.

Keen, perhaps surprisingly, responded immediately with, “That’s not enough” on the basis that he reckoned he’d spent 144 hours levelling his new WoW shaman and kitting it out, and he’d rushed it (ie. could have spent a lot more time on levelling.)

It wouldn’t take a genius to reckon that via that comparison, it’s pretty much impossible for any new MMO to satisfy players like Keen. (Unless they have really compelling non-core gameplay content, whatever that means. I presume he’d be happy with a good instanced PvP type game for example.)

Whereas I read 200 hours and immediately compared that with Dragon Age: Origins, the lengthiest game that I’ve actually played to completion within the last few years. It took me 45 hours to finish my first run through of DAO and I could have taken longer. I didn’t finish all the side quests and I played on easy mode because I wanted to follow the story. And at the end of that 45 hour stint, I took take a break from gaming for a couple of weeks because it had been quite intense (ie. I’d probably have been more comfortable stretching the playing time over more days). So SWTOR is potentially offering me four times DAO’s content for each class … and I’m duly awed.

What is the right comparison for a new MMO?

An existing one? An existing single player game from the same developers? I don’t know. I just know that 200 hours of Bioware-type RPG could easily be 4-5 months of my time (and I’m not THAT casual of a player) especially when padded out with crafting, PvP, instancing, and chatting. Not to mention alts. Or time spent in other games too.

The WoW comparison

Here’s another WoW comparison. The new Hyjal/ firelands dailies comprise a complex questing grind, including opening up new phases and storylines at various points in the endeavour. Someone on the official boards calculated, assuming you do every available daily quest on every day, that this would take about a month.

ie. 32 days of doing every available Hyjal/ Firelands daily quest.

So how long would that actually take in hours? Hard to say: if you assume on average an hour a day for the first half and two hours a day for the second (rough approximation assuming that it takes longer to get through the later daily quests since there will be more of them), that’s around 48 hours. Then you can add a couple of hours extra for slightly lengthier quest chains as you unlock each new vendor for a round 50 hours or so.

Would you rather spend 50 hours in an MMO doing a complex daily rep grind, or playing the equivalent of DAO?

That isn’t as loaded a question as it sounds, the firelands dailies seem very well done to me. But they are still daily quests. And it takes Blizzard around 6 months or so to come out with each new patch, containing that much gameplay. And however fun DAO was to me, it’s still a single player game.

[WoW] A first look at the firelands

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With thanks to my guild for letting me tag along on an exploratory raid, here are some screenies from the new WoW raid instance. Blizzard have always liked to use strong colour schemes for their zones and as you can see, the firelands is all red and black.

Another thing you’ll notice on zoning in is that you aren’t in caves, there are no corridors, and you can see the horizon out there in the distance somewhere. This is an ‘outdoor’ raid instance and it feels roomy.

And the last thing is … there’s a lot of trash.

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You can see some buildings in the background here, and pools of lava and  — oh yes – more trash mobs.

I might be the only person who doesn’t really have an issue with this. If only because the whole place is so wonderfully reminiscent of Molten Core whilst still being different. In fact, one of the consummate experiences of MC back in the day was zoning in and seeing two molten giants guarding the entrance bridge. (And probably wiping to them on the first pull.) If you look at the top screenshot here, you’ll see one of the same molten giants trundling along in the distance.

The trash mobs need to be pulled fairly carefully, at least at our gear levels, and I can’t remember the last raid instance where I would have said this. There’s scope for crowd control also. Spinny turtles (sadly forgot to take screenshots of those) are almost as amusing as the Ulduar snowpiles/ jumping snakes.

I kept thinking how fun it would be to try to run speed raids through the place in a few months time when people are more geared and able to handle crazier pulls. And again, that brings back memories of Molten Core for me.

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Not sure how well the spider webs in this screenshot came out, but anyhow it’s been at least two weeks since we last had to kill spiders so naturally the firelands has a spider boss.

We did fight our way up to her but I forgot to take a picture of that. She’s a HUGE spider who you first see hanging from her web. My desire to go tank that was about nil.

We did however have a few shots at Shannox, a boss who appears and starts patrolling once you have killed enough trash packs to trigger him. It seemed like a fun fight with plenty for everyone to do.

firelands2

Haven’t shown any pictures of rivers of lava yet so there’s one right here. In our exploration, we also discovered some kind of gauntlet up a hill with a big named fire elemental at the top.

Oh and the trash packs here do occasionally drop epic loot and (allegedly) recipes. Plus there’s the usual raid reputation which you can raise from killing mobs in this zone, leading to large numbers of PUG trash clearing raids.

Amusingly, I don’t think fire resistance gear is required for the firelands; well at least that’s one way in which it differs from MC. My general impressions were good. It looks fun, it looks cool, the encounters I saw (which were limited, admittedly) looked well put together. Naturally hardcore guilds have already killed 5 out of the 7 bosses on hard mode – they’re going to be fairly bored for the next few months unless Ragnaros #2 is crazily hard.

[WoW] In just 7 days, I can survey patch 4.2

moltenfront

This is Spinks in the Molten Front. It feels as though she should be waving a sign saying “Hi, mum!”

Finding myself with some spare time (due to end of college for the year), a newly landed patch on WoW, and 7 free days for my account which I could take at any time, I felt the time was ripe to go back and say Hi to my friends and see what’s changed in the past few months.

Reactivating

If you have an inactive WoW account that isn’t a trial, you will also likely have an option to take 7 free days. To do this, log into your battle.net account and where your game accounts are listed, there will be an option to claim the free days.

Catching up with the talent changes and questlines

First off, visit your trainer just in case and check your talents haven’t been accidentally reset or anything like this. I scored a shiny new raid version of Last Stand (why is this a Fury ability?) which is nice, I suppose.

Sadly failed to notice that my interrupt had vanished from my quickbar in Prot Stance until I was actually in the middle of tanking something that needed interrupts, but c’est la vie. (Pummel now can be used in any stance and has become the default warrior interrupt.)

As far as catching up on quest content goes, this is where the warlord’s quest board really comes into its own. You’ll find one of these in every capital city, and it’ll come up as a questgiver if it has outstanding quests for you. It helpfully pointed me to the new troll/ ZG questline (new as in several months ago) and also to the new quests about Thrall, which lead to Hyjal (new as of last Wednesday).

I figured this would be a good use of my free days so trotted off to do those.

They were both good fun, Blizzard well up to their usual standard on quest content. The ZG questline also rewards you with a pet panther cub, to which I MAY have responded with squeals of ‘it’s so cute!!!’, especially as I got the achievement for having 25 pets at the same time. As an aside, I utterly hate cosmetic pets and never actually use them – I’m a goddamn warrior, I do not have kittens lolling around my heels when I go off to kill dragons. Aside from thematic inappropriateness, it’d be cruel to the kitten — but somehow I always like actually getting a new one.

Thrall has never been my favourite NPC, at least not as much as he is the devs, but his storyline showed some depth and hopefully you can feel a little empathy for the guy who has given up his hopes of finding a partner and raising some orclings in order to lead the Horde towards freedom and away from barbarism. Now that the Horde has decided that barbarism gets a bad rap and we like killing the shit out of stuff, Thrall is free to stick two fingers up at them and waltz off with Aggra into the sunset – at least after we’ve saved him from the elemental lords. The actual quests were quite fun too.

New instances

zgrenataki Here we are in Zul Gurub. It’s been fixed up a bit …

My guild were kind enough to invite me along to an instance run in the recently revamped Zul Gurub, which was also good fun. Blizzard has again done a super job on the revamp; it felt challenging, the bosses and the trash are interesting, the fights still feel mechanically related to the old ones, and it’s always been an appealing zone anyway.

Amusingly, I got an achievement for not standing in stuff on one of the bosses (Venoxis, aka didn’t I kill you three years ago?) and one of the newer guildies who I hadn’t met before asked hopefully if I was planning to stay and join their raid team. To be fair, I can see why people would be nervous of inviting an old guildie to join an instance run that’s known to be hard, sight unseen.

On the bright side, despite having missed most of the raiding in the last tier, my dps is reasonably up to scratch. It won’t be winning awards any time soon but it’s not woefully sub par for instancing.

I’m not really convinced on the new troll lore, so let’s not dwell on that.

New dailies

newdailies You can always spot the new daily questgivers because all the players are sitting on top of them.

One of the clever things Blizzard have done with the layout of the new daily quests is allowed you to open up the molten front after just 2-3 days of questing. This means, for example, that someone on a 7 day return visit can get to actually see the meat and bones of what the new firelands zone is all about, earn some rewards, and come back and write about it!

So far, there are two sets of questgivers. The ones in the screenshot who are outside the firelands portal who will set you to clearing up Hyjal, and another set inside the portal who will send you off to help the war effort there.

I’ll talk first about some of the big wins here. The first is the daily quest which requires you to go kill some elite mobs in Hyjal.

  • Changes in the tagging code mean that every player who tags a quest mob while it is being fought gets credit for the kill. So when the quest zone is busy, it will feel like fighting a rift in Rift. Everyone attacks everything, and everyone gets credit for everything too. It’s fairly social.
  • Lots of friendly NPCs show up to help out, and if you have been paying attention you may recognise many of them. I’ve seen a different set every day and they have included Mankrik, King Mrrrrgglll, Chromie, Lunk, and some named alliance NPCs I don’t recognise, and they all have been given some new in-character barks which I have found very amusing. It will feel as though you are fighting alongside NPCs that you know.
  • dailychromie

Chromie the time dragon (in her favourite humanoid form as a little female gnome) makes some time related jokes while she fights.

The second is giving you access to nice gear from a vendor fairly early on. Once the firelands portal opened, I could immediately upgrade a couple of pieces. I’m assuming that as you earn more tokens and open up more of the molten front, new vendors will appear.

Monocles are everywhere!

You can take the player out of EVE but you can’t take EVE out of the player – this screenshot below was taken from trade chat in Orgrimmar.

wowmonocle

AoC, APB go F2P. What happens when free isn’t enough any more?

The big MMO news yesterday (apart from Blizzard nerfing their last raid tier) is that Age of Conan will be switching to a Free to Play payment model sometime this Summer. And it’s calling itself UNRATED – which most commenters are interpreting as ‘with more boobs’ (because the world might end if they showed a naked man.) Funcom claim that Howard’s Hyperborea has always been a sexy setting … whatever turns you on, I guess.

APB, the cops and robbers co-op shooter which had previously won a name for itself as shortest lasting ‘MMO’ in existence, also gets a F2P relaunch under new owners.

But I wonder if the trend towards AAA games shifting to a F2P model to get warm bodies through the door is starting to backfire. ‘Free’ isn’t as exciting a proposition as it was a year or two ago. You only have to look at the reaction to the reparation offer that Sony made after the PSN outage to see that; many gamers complaining that they weren’t happy about being offered two free games. Free on its own was not enough to make people excited, it had to be something free which they would otherwise have wanted to buy.

Even when Bioware was giving away free copies of Mass Effect 2 to DA2 owners, there was a substantial outcry that there weren’t enough DLCs included. (It was free, remember.)

So the point to take away is that free stuff is always going to be worth more to some people than others. If you don’t want an item or already have it, then free is worthless and might even be seen as an insult.

(This is a strange concept to those of us who go to conventions with the express goal of picking up as many freebies as possible, especially if they are random things we don’t really want.)

Having said that, AoC is a solid MMO if you’re bored of whatever you are currently playing and the first 20 levels in particular have a good reputation for story and gameplay. So it’s really just a case of whether you have the time and energy to bother downloading it.

Blizzard downgrading Tier 11 raids

I do think the increasing number of F2P MMOs is affecting Blizzard’s strategy. It looks to me as though they’re seeing each content patch as a new chance to win back customers (who have drifted off, possibly to F2P games when they are done with WoW’s current content), which means that it is a priority to make sure that returning customers feel that they have a chance to see the new stuff.

Nerfing older raids so that it’s easier for people to use them and gear up via PUGs plays a part in that strategy, or in other words I agree with Rohan on where they are going with this.

I vaguely remember commenting during Wrath that I felt we were being herded through the content on Blizzard’s timescale rather than our own. So it goes. TotalBiscuit has a fairly incisive summary of how he feels things have changed since TBC. If you ignore the macho “I did this content in beta when it was harder than you can even imagine” posturing, the main complaint is that the timing of progression has been taken out of the players hands. So now if you struggle on content, the smart thing to do is not spend every minute of free time trying to get into a top guild but instead just chill out, wait for the next patch and … yeah … maybe noodle some time away in a F2P game instead.

If you are hopping back into WoW, incidentally, and wondering what class to play, a poll on MMO-Champion voted by large amounts that mages had been the most favoured class this expansion so far. Availability of a legendary caster staff certainly won’t hurt that.

Thought of the Day: The pitfall of MMO storytelling

Do you ever find when reading a book that you’re more interested in some of the characters or storylines than others? When I first read Lord of the Rings I remember skipping some chapters so that I could follow the ringbearer – don’t hate me, I was 14 at the time.

I was thinking back this weekend to which parts of Cataclysm had been the most fun for me. And came to the conclusion that it had mostly been the new Forsaken starting areas and the later follow up in Andorhal. (I like the Forsaken and they did a great job on Silverpine/ Hillsbrad, what can I say?)

And it’s in the nature of Blizzard’s levelling experience that after a bit of one storyline, you’ll be whisked off to another zone to do something completely different.

If, for the sake of argument, Blizzard had decided to follow up on the Forsaken storylines in 4.2 rather than Hyjal, there’s a good chance I would have resubbed just to see what happened next. After all, does anyone hordeside NOT want to know what happened to Koltira?

And I think this is one of the pitfalls of the “fourth pillar” in MMOs. Not all stories are the same, and of all the multiple stories going on in a world as big as an MMO, not all of them are interesting to all players. There is a question that has been doing the rounds for years about whether all players should be able to see all content. But the truth is that most of them would be perfectly happy if there was enough content that they cared about to keep them busy. If I get to chill with my NPC forsaken colleagues and their politics, I probably don’t care what the hardcore raiders are doing in the firelands. Crack on guys, give Ragnaros hell, and enjoy those wipes – I’m busy here…

Providing storylines for everyone’s taste in every patch would be a crazy amount of effort to expect. But if story is one of your primary draws, then you will also have to expect people to only show up when you’re telling a story they want to hear. Now the advantage of a sandbox where people have more freedom to tell their own stories comes a bit clearer.

SOE joins Sony security-breach party, legendary weapons – good or bad?, and why can’t we have more villains like Loki?

thor-photo-tom-hiddleston3

Yes, another day, another gratuitous Thor link/screenshot. (ps. I loved this film.)

Tom Hiddleston’s turn as Loki is probably one of the best things about Thor, and this is where (after Marvel et al screwed up Doctor Doom in the Fantastic 4 films) we finally get to see a proper charismatic personal nemesis with some emotional depth and an agenda of their own in action as a supervillain. He’s also remarkably sympathetic even when at his most evil.

And this makes me wonder whether the next step after personal companions in MMOs will be the personal nemesis. Champions Online did make use of this idea but I was never able to figure out whether they’d actually managed to implement villains you’d love to hate as opposed to just recurring (and annoying) NPCs.

It also reminded me of why WoW just wasn’t ever going to be the same after Arthas died in Wrath. Maybe he was never going to quite be a /personal/ nemesis but he hit the right notes of being personal to many characters backgrounds (definitely so if you played forsaken like me), emotionally flawed, occasionally sympathetic if you rolled that way, etc. He was Warcraft’s Loki and no enormous dragon can replace that, however badass.

On another (but related) note, I saw a mage in Rift with a helm that looks just like Loki’s in the film, gonzo horns and all. It must be mine.

Another WoW expansion, another legendary weapon

One of the new parts of upcoming patch 4.2 is a new legendary weapon in Warcraft. If you are one of the two readers who doesn’t know, legendaries have become part of the WoW scene since vanilla, are class/ role specific and are always associated in part with raid achievements.

This time around the legendary is a caster staff which in addition to having good stats, will also let the user turn into a blue dragon (a nice perk). And of course, although it takes a whole guild to achieve a legendary, only one person can wield it.

This is also the first time that a 10 man raid will have been able to complete a legendary item. And with the increasing emphasis on guild achievements and rewards (your guild mates get a new non-combat pet when the legendary is completed) I wonder how many people are re-evaluating how well the group rewards compare to the individual rewards.

More and more the legendary is looking less like a perk for the raid team and more like a reward for being able to persuade 9 saps into helping you get a neato item. It’s a very different landscape from the time when helping your tank put together a Thunderfury would actively and clearly be a boon to your entire raid effort for the rest of the expansion. It will be interesting to see how much of the legendary can theoretically be put together solo, assuming access to PUG raids.

Having said that, it sounds as though there’s plenty of cool lore behind the legendary quest/s which hopefully the rest of the team should be able to experience also. Obviously only raid teams which have cleared the whole of the first tier content are invited, so that excludes the majority of players.

Bad luck, SOE players/ subscribers

Just in case anyone thought that SOE players (eg. EQ2. Vanguard, Free Realms, PotBS) had dodged the Sony information leaking bullet following the PSN disaster, think again.

All the SOE/Station sites were taken down for a while over the weekend and then returned with a security notice:

We are today advising you that the personal information you provided us in connection with your SOE account may have been stolen in a cyber-attack. Stolen information includes, to the extent you provided it to us, the following: name, address (city, state, zip, country), email address, gender, birthdate, phone number, login name and hashed password.”

I’d change my credit card also.