[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?

[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?

Gimmicky raids, and what is to be done with old content?

Malchome wrote a post this week about his frustration with Cataclysm raiding. It’s become bad enough that he’s just retired from raiding for the rest of the expansion, and it’s not because of having reached an impasse or run out of raiders. No, his issue is that the fights have become too ‘gimmicky’, and one of the characteristics of gimmicky fights is that you can’t just roll over them once your raid is overgeared/ over levelled. ie. you have to know the gimmick.

I have a better tolerance for fights that are interesting or different. I’ve enjoyed them in the past, and I don’t dislike them now. But you do have to learn the gimmick and teach it to anyone in your raid who either hasn’t been there before, or hasn’t been there for awhile. For example, I feel comfortable off-tanking Shannox now, but the jumping/ intervening around took a bit of practice. But I felt quite stressed when I went to BWD with the alt group because I had to learn a lot of gimmick fights at once.

So a gimmicky fight can potentially be more fun to learn for a raid, because it has some feature that is new or different. But it’s a pain for farm nights if you have new people in the raid who need to learn it, it could be a pain for overgeared raiders because they still need to learn the gimmick, and it might not even be that fun to learn in the first place if it’s just one role that holds the gimmick and the rest of the raid aren’t patient.

I’m not sure how important it is for a raid to be amenable to lazy guild alt nights or for people to try to 2-3 man after it is no longer current, but this is a genuine use for the older content. It becomes a sociable sight seeing trip or personal challenge.

I have a few take away thoughts from this:

1) Many people prefer to learn encounters on their own rather than in a group, especially a group of mixed experience (ie. some people know the fight, others don’t) that isn’t patient or is a PUG.

The challenge of how to teach a player base to beat the encounters in a new instance is a very very difficult one. It was easier when players were more chilled out about learning in groups, and it was also easier when the encounters themselves were less complex. A raid encounter which requires different complex tactics for every role in the raid is also harder to explain thana simpler encounter with a couple of gotchas.

2) Is there a point at which increased complexity just drives players away? It isn’t so much the complexity of a single fight so much as having 5-6 complex encounters which everyone has to remember. Especially when the players who know the fight don’t enjoy teaching it to others.

3) There is a definite demand for straight forwards but pretty raid instances/ encounters for guild nights out/ smaller group challenges.

And has anyone else retired from WoW raiding because of this type of reason, the encounters being too fiddly/ gimmicky?

Quests, goals, and mechanical horses

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Finally hit level 40 on my character in Rift (yes, I know most of the blogosphere is off in tier 2 expert dungeons, which is sort of equivalent to hard mode heroics), and was able to buy one of the coolest mounts in any game ever. This is why you roll Defiant. It’s all about the mechanical horse. This is a copper one, although you can’t really see that in the screenie, I call it Rusty. I always pick boring brown horses when I have the choice, there’s probably something Freudian in that.

Now the mechanical horse and my great desire to virtually own a copy of same has really made me think about how I feel about quests in games. Because even as a low level noob, you will get to see NPCs with mechanical horses, you will see the mechanical horse vendor when you first head into Meridian. And you will KNOW that one day, if you want one, it will be yours. You can browse the available mechanical horses and decide which one you prefer. And you also can easily find the requirements –- you will need to be level 40 and have 35 plat to spend. It’s not like having a quest pop up in your quest journal, but no less of a quest all the same.

WoW pretty much went the same route with their mounts. As your lowbie character travels out of the starting zones, you will encounter the mount vendor with all their ‘wares’ out on display. It’s just that none of them are as cool as a mechanical horse.

Wolfshead posts a thinly veiled screed against WoW and all it’s scions, specifically focussing on the evils of quests this week. I can’t really agree with him; whatever the downsides are to quests, I rather enjoy having a variety of short and longterm goals in game. Quests serve a useful storytelling purpose in many CRPGs. And if they didn’t exist in MMOs then all that would happen is that people would find the most efficient way to level via grinding and just do that – we know this because it’s how levelling used to work.

And yet, they can be improved. Quests like the unofficial ‘where’s my mechanical horse?!’ aren’t official quests, they’re more like game-specific goals which I make for my character. And they always feel more personal than a coded quest, even if every other player on my faction shares the exact same goals. (And if you don’t want a mechanical horse, then I do not know you.)

Sims Medieval has a good modern take on questing – you’ll have some immediate goals to be getting on with, and your characters will also have more longterm ambitions. Plus you as the player may also have some goals which aren’t codified, but will influence how you play.

I’m looking forwards at some point (ie. when I have more free time) to picking up LA Noir, which looks to mark a point where even Rockstar Games abandon the full sandbox in favour of more questing, to see how they handle giving the PC some goals and direction.

But speaking of WoW, the main issue I had with Cataclysm questing is best described as sugar rush. I liked the zones well enough (Vash’jir and Deepholme in particular are brilliant), but everything was so fast, so quickly consumed. My character was travelling quickly, killing quickly, finding things quickly – with no downtime it’s just a lot to take in.

I think the questing layout in Rift is better in general than WoW. Not because they’re more streamlined, because they aren’t. Not because the storylines or writing are better, because they probably aren’t. But because they seem to preserve a better balance between exploring a zone and zipping through it so quickly that you can’t really remember it a few days later. And also because there is a better mix of linear quests, hidden stuff to explore and dynamic events. The pacing seems to work better, for me. Plus it has mechanical horses.

So my view on quests as gameplay is that they’re a useful way to project linear storytelling into a virtual world, but that we’re not done with them yet. I hope to see more devs experiment with ways to encourage players to set and celebrate their own goals, formed through interacting personally with the game world and NPCs. Or in other words, it doesn’t start and end with the gold exclamation mark.

Thought of the Day: It’s so hard to talk about difficulty

The problem with discussing difficulty in games (and particularly MMOs) is that as soon as you comment that something is hard, you lay yourself open to loads of hardcore fanboys/girls leaping on your back and proclaiming that you are a noob and should l2p. Or else suggesting that you have no right to judge the game’s difficulty unless you’ve already completed it on the hardest possible mode.

Say that something isn’t hard and the reaction is likely to be the opposite – you might be labelled hardcore.

So it’s a discussion that can only really be had sensibly with mature gamers (note: this is not related to physical age), a category which is not in the majority on official bboards. It’s not that we can’t have these discussions, it’s just that there’s a lot of social pressure for MMO bloggers to pretend it isn’t happening.

Plus we should value the reviewers who are brave enough to say when they think some content is overtuned.

And fact is, particularly in games where there are difficulty settings, it’s very useful for gamers to get an idea of a) how much difficulty is most fun for them and b) which games have harder or easier tuning at different levels.

Think of it as like comparing clothes sizes in different shops. Some shops, a size 8 will be huge, and in others it will be tiny. And yet, if you say that M&S (or pick any clothes shop of your choice) cut their clothes on the large size, no one starts insulting you.

Anyway, for the record:

WoW heroic instances in Cataclysm were mostly OK for tuning, but some of the bosses were overtuned and Blizzard didn’t fix them fast enough. However the heroics were mostly way too long, and they still haven’t figured a way to stop people queueing for heroics before they have learned the normal modes so LFD was stuffed.

WoW normal raids in Cataclysm are not any harder than Wrath raids (eg. Ulduar, ICC). They may seem a bit harder for 10 man groups who used to run Wrath raids in 25 man gear.

Dragon Age: Origins was overturned in its normal difficulty mode. (Sorry Syncaine, but it was. See the comments in the link to follow that one.)

Torchlight was undertuned in normal mode.

Anyone else want to get anything off their chest about games they’ve played that seemed over or under tuned. (I don’t really include games like Demon Souls or Super Meat Boy that are sold on the basis of being hard and unforgiving.)

MMOs and target audiences

A commenter on Tobold’s recent post about the future of raiding (note to self: feminism and posts about whether raiding is dead always get lots of responses :) ) as an end game encapsulated something that has been niggling me about WoW over the past few months.

Someone (I think Krisps, sorry too tired this morning to read through comments slowly) commented that after all was said and done, the Cataclysm raid model was perfect for their guild and playing style so obviously they were pleased with it and hoped that Blizzard stuck with it.

And others commented that they had preferred Wrath because raiding in that expansion had been perfect for their guild and playing style. (This was true for me also.)

And it occurs to me that there is an element of spin the bottle in who Blizzard will decide is their target audience inbetween one expansion and the next. The game that was perfect for you in one expansion might morph into something that can’t keep your attention or your guild together in the next, and largely players accept this as the price of entry. If you don’t like it, you can always leave.

And yet, there is another view of MMOs which is that they could be providing a range of activities catering to a wider range of players and preferences. I do think Blizzard have dropped the ball on this in Cataclysm to some extent – they cater for ultra-casuals very well, and solo players who like pet collecting. Tight-knit 10 man raid guilds (or 25 man) are also catered to pretty well. I’m not sure how the PvP scene is at the moment but there are certainly options for arenas and battleground play. So there is definitely a lot there.

But there’s still the notion of the expansion having a target audience. It suits some types of players more than others, and they aren’t really fighting hard to keep ‘the others’.

Maybe it’s because Rift is so new and I’m nowhere near the level cap but the game feels more forgiving for different playing styles to me right now. There are certainly activities for casual guilds to do together, plenty for soloers, and collectors, and people who like instances. It is entirely possible that all mature MMOs tend to settle out the playerbase into something less flexible (some more hardcore, some more focussed on endgame, etc) and then devs decide which segment to focus on.

For sure there will be some kind of target audience. A military MMO like World of Tanks is looking at military buffs, probably mostly male. Lord of the Rings Online was always expecting a different type of audience.

For all that, I think I prefer MMOs when there is less notion of a target audience in terms of gameplay and more of a “something for everyone” and the simple reason  is that I might feel like doing different activities when I log in for the night. If I’m stressed, I want to do something chilled out. If I want more of a challenge, then I’d like that option too. The tyranny of WoW’s model is that endgame raiders (if they’re in the right sort of tight knit guild) will tend to log in for raids at fixed times and … that’s mostly it.

25 man raiding – End of an Era

Last night was our last scheduled 25 man raid. Various factors have taken their toll on the raid group including (but not limited to):

  • People getting bored of Cataclysm
  • People preferring their 10 man groups to the 25 man raid
  • Difficulties in recruiting – does anyone really want to run 25 mans any more? Or is it just a general lack of interest in raiding?
  • People being inundated by work/ off to travel round the world

The end result is that it’s already a struggle to set the weekly raids up, and it’s been agreed that 25 man raiding isn’t really viable for us any more. It was a sad time, the end of an era for a raid group that got together during TBC and went on to get our Kingslayer titles together (more of a high point than any of us guessed at the time, perhaps).

And it feels strange also because we hadn’t really been blocked on progression, which is the usual reason people fail to keep signing.

I think it was the right decision but it makes me feel strangely sad. Once these 25 man raids are gone, they won’t come back. All that may happen is the occasionally 25 man PUG in old content once the new tier of raids has been patched in, but it isn’t the same thing. A lot of people had predicted the death of 25 man raiding – it has come true for us.

[Cataclysm] 3 good reasons why vets are getting bored

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So, will Cataclysm mark the beginning of the end of Blizzard’s great warhorse?

Three months into the new expansion, are many players who have happily subscribed for years to WoW turning in their cards? Or even just players who subbed for a few months? Is it just the bitter veterans who are talking about bowing out, unable to cope with a game that has changed so that it can capture a new audience? Or is it just that a proportion of players will ALWAYS leave a few months into an expansion – not everyone is interested in signing up for the long haul of content patch to content patch.

We don’t have answers to those questions yet, except that it is really normal for lots of people to play a new expansion for a few months and then leave, uninterested in endgame. But there are some genuine reasons in Cataclysm why veteran players might be feeling the burn.

1. It’s not Cataclysm, it’s all the previous long delays between patches catching up with the playerbase.

In a MMO like WoW, there are plenty of activities on which players can spend their time. Even if you’re not interested in instances or PvP, there are mounts and pets to collect, alts to level, achievements to aim for, economic sides of the game to master … With three expansions under its belt, WoW offers a lot of content.

But if you were playing the game during those expansions, chances are you’ve already done all of that expansion’s content that you were interested in while you were waiting for the next content patch. For example, I happily ground out my Skyguard rep via daily quests for a nether ray flying mount during TBC – I enjoyed it at the time, dailies were shiny and new and so was flying. I cannot think of any reason why I’d ever want to do it again.

As another example, lots of people levelled alts during Wrath. Heirlooms were available for the first time, and there was a long delay between ICC and Cataclysm. So there’s a good chance that for many of those players, they already have level 80s of whichever classes they were interested in. So when Cataclysm rolls along and there is a bit of a gap between patches, that’s a time-filler they have no reason to do again. Yes, you could relearn to play those alts with the new talent trees and I’m sure that a lot of players are doing exactly that, but the 80-85 trip is fairly linear and fairly speedy if you have rested bonuses and guild perks to help it along.

And especially since many people are not really enjoying heroics, gearing an alt up through random heroics might not be as fun as it once was. (This is an issue with grinding heroics as a standard mechanic incidentally, even people who enjoy the challenge on their mains might not be as interested on alts that are intended for chilling out.)

What I’m saying is that for any individual player, there’s a certain amount of time filling activities in game that ever have the possibility to interest you. Once you are done with those, if nothing else has replaced them then you’ll either have to dial down the amount of time you spend in the game, get horribly bored by hanging around with nothing much to do, or leave and find a replacement. Blizzard has not really been replacing the long grinds which we now tend to associate with the earlier expansions. And even if they did, there would be an outcry from different sections of the playerbase which aren’t interested in grinds that might take months to complete. (Note: veteran players, already committed to the game, probably ARE interested in long term goals like this.) I think archaeology was Blizzard’s attempt to fill this hole. I’m not sure how successful it’s being.

2. Raiding ain’t what it used to be

My greatest disappointment in Cataclysm so far, bar none, has been zoning into Throne of the Four Winds. This is a smallish raid zone, located in the plane of elemental air, similarly to Vortex Pinnacle. Why the disappointment? See, I thought Vortex Pinnacle was gorgeous. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful 5 man instance, all airy, with arabian nights/ egyptian /djinni themes in the architecture. You can hop from one part to another by riding on whirlwinds. It’s just a lovely zone. And in the back of my mind while I was playing there I was thinking, “And if you think this is good, just imagine what the raid zone is going to be like!”

The raid zone is five platforms with djinn on them. That’s it.

To explain why this was a shock, you have to understand that raid instances in WoW have usually been just a bit more special than anything else in the game (yes, with the exception of Trial of the Crusader). AQ40, Serpentshrine, Black Temple, Ulduar, ICC, even Naxxramas. When you zoned into one of those instance you KNEW you were somewhere special. Throne of the Four Winds looks like Vortex Pinnacle but less cool. Bastion of Twilight is a cave. Blackwing Descent, to be fair, looks like the rest of Blackwing Caverns and does have a killer lift, making it my favourite of the raid zones so far this expansion.

I don’t have an issue with the encounters themselves which have so far been a good mix of intricate and tank’n’spank. (Well I do have issues with how melee is balanced with ranged but balance isn’t specific to this expansion.) I also have seen lots of feedback that Blizzard have generally done a good job with balancing out the difficulty of 10 vs 25 man raiding, which is a great achievement for them really.

But I feel there used to be something more special about raiding, and it wasn’t down to the percentage of the player base who was involved,  or the difference in scale between 40 vs 25 vs 10 man raids, because raids felt more special in Wrath too. And plenty of people were raiding Wrath in 10 man groups and/ or PUG raids.

That, I suspect, is going to affect how people feel about the endgame at the moment and whether it’s worth hanging in there. It is also something that Blizzard could turn around instantly with the next content patch if they come up with something like Ulduar. (Possibly even very like Ulduar, if Uldum is the next raid due up.)

If that happens, raiders may resub. It will after all still be possible to gear for raids via heroics at that point because the emblem gear will be upgraded.

3. Shorter term goals lead to shorter term players

I have identified before that I think Blizzard is deprecating long term achievements in WoW, which is (ironically) a long term trend for them. Emblem gear gets updated with every content patch. Gold and the economy is less important than it has ever been.

Players are being encouraged by this to feel that if they aren’t enjoying the game, the thing to do is unsub and see if it looks any better next patch – which might be in 6 months time. realID even means that you can easily keep up with your friends when you do get back, check who their current alts are, which servers they are on, and see if they’re interested in raiding again.

From being a game where people keep long term subs, I wonder if WoW is deliberately becoming one where a wave of endgame players will resub when the new stuff gets patched in, confident that they’ll be able to quickly catch up and join in. Other players, either enjoying the current tier of raiding more, not yet having run out of long term goals, or playing less frequently, will keep their subs up during the quiet times.

What do you think? If you are thinking of quitting, would you consider resubbing in 6 months time if they put in a cool content patch?

Can You Dig It?

Raptor mount

Recently I’ve been doing quite a bit of Archaeology on my Horde level 85 char. This is the same char I switched over from Alliance and duoing with Spinks, to join her much larger guild over on the Horde side. I love being a goblin, I seriously do. But I’m finding it quite overwhelming to be part of a really really organised guild, all of whom know what they’re doing. I loved getting to 85, but instead of plunging into gearing up and running dungeons and heroics, I’ve been finding solace in Archaeology, the latest profession added to World of Warcraft. It’s pretty fun, very relaxing and a hell of a pain to level up from scratch – but I’m sure fishing would take me just as long and not take me to such interesting places!

WoWScrnShot_012111_192448I started Archaeology on an alt and then quickly decided to pursue it on my ‘main’ first. I say ‘main’ like that, because I’m also playing a Dwarf Shaman with friends from LotRO, and I’m actually playing that more – possibly because I’m not ready for endgame at the moment. So Kizi the Goblin Shaman has taken to her bronze drake to seek out the corners of Azeroth that might locate artifacts that can make her some ready cash!! And once you get the hang of surveying and following little telescopes and lights to find items, and then how to make the various artifacts, then.. then you realise how clever the profession is – it shows you right at the start of every artifact what you’re going to be working on. So just as I was tired and going to take a break, I got to start working on the fossilised pet.

That spurred me on, and then a few sessions later the Fossilized Raptor showed up on my list, needing tons of fossils to ‘discover’ it. I looked up what it was, and when I found out it was a mount I spent a lot more time in-game, on the right server and doing as much surveying as I could. It took me quite a few sessions, cursing every time I was directed to Troll or Night Elf artifacts and dashing every moment I knew it was a fossil area. Until I eventually got the mount, and I love it! I have no idea what they’ll lure me in with next, but it’s a really nice way for me to hang out with the guild – all of whom I like a lot – but to distract them from the fact I’m not running dungeons, I’m busy, so that’s ok!

Finally, a little screenshot of the first thing in-game that made Archaeology stand out to me:

WoWScrnShot_120510_103726

[Cataclysm] Raiding Update with Bulletpoints

1. Good week for my raid group, we’ve knocked over Magmaw, Omnomtrom, and Halfus Wyrmbane in 25 man mode! Hurrah! (My kill of Halfus was in 10 man mode last week but I don’t think you can tell that from the Armoury feed.)

2. Still behind the ferals, rogues, death knights and enhancement shaman on the dps meters. Boo! I won’t keep droning on about this but it’s demoralising to be so far behind.

3. I’m not sure how I feel about the raid encounters I have seen so far. These are the introductory raid encounters for the expansion, and they’ve been fun enough on the whole. Omnitron has been the more fun of the fights for me, but it really is quite complex for an entry raid encounter.

My greatest beef with the content is that Blizzard could have made the interrupting job on Halfus much easier if they’d signalled his casts with better graphics. It reminds me of Vezax in Ulduar, but with that latter boss, the spells you had to interrupt were very very easy to spot, you couldn’t really miss them. With this one you have to squint at the cast bar.

Halfus also seems to have acquired the lion’s share of the raid trash. Wonder what he bribed them with.

4. I wonder how long before Vengeance gets nerfed (or warriors do). We tanked Halfus in 10 man with two warrior tanks, each of whom had Vigilance on each other. Hellooooo 90k shield slam crit.

Sorry for a brief post. Anyone else have any thoughts on the Cataclysm raids so far?