MMO nostalgia aka why you couldn’t pay me to play EQ

I’ve heard a lot of excited talk on the MMO blogs I read about the new EQ progression server. Yes, you too could travel back in time and experience what it was like to play a game with crappy graphics, arsey raiders, and where it was considered normal to camp a rare spawn for 17 hours.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a BBC article about it from 2002. (He’s talking about a 3-5 day wait for a single quest mob to spawn and believe it or not, some people actually waited and did not decide, “This game is shite.”)

So why are players flocking back to try the new (‘old’) servers?

I can only assume nostalgia, and an attempt to capture the memories of playing MMOs when communities were forced to be more tight knit, everything and everyone was new, and maybe to reclaim some of their forgotten youth, especially if other ex-players can also be cajoled into going back. You can’t actually go back to those times, people know now which the best classes are, what the best shortcuts are, and I wonder how many of them really do want to spend hours camping the same spawn of mobs to level. I suppose we’ll find out. SoE sensibly gave old players the first month for free, which explains part of the popularity.

To understand some of my disdain you also have to understand that MMO dinos (ie. old players) cut their teeth on a handful of games (note: I’m not including MUDs or MUSHes here). These in the west would typically have been Ultima Online, Meridian, EQ, Dark Age of Camelot, and Asheron’s Call. Whichever game you played will have shaped your expectations of how MMOs should be. And because games back then were so time consuming, typically you would not have played more than one if you were seriously into it.

So I think DaoC was the best old school game ever, despite its flaws, and EQ with its big breasted elven paladins, stupid long spawn times, crazy hardcore endgame players, and exclusive guilds was an evolutionary dead end which unfortunately caught on with new gamers who weren’t experienced enough to know better.

Tobold is enamoured with encouraging players to go back and try it to find out how awful it really was – actually he wants hardcore players to find out how hard it is, but I’m translating into english here. I actually think all of the elements on his list of good things about EQ have been improved by every single game since, especially WoW. And thank Thrall for that.

I would say skip it. Play the Rift open beta instead, it’s equally free. You’ll have more fun, you have way way way more chance to get the actual new game feel if that’s what you want, and you’ll be able to support a new company at a time they really need it.

Arb and I are both playing Rift at the moment so expect to hear more about that in future.

It came from the PUG: Northrend eats healers alive!

There’s something about moving on to Northrend that has broken the spell with my paladin. I still think that Retribution is a very fun spec at the moment but I am rapidly going off paladin healing. I will (not very) secretly be glad to get back to Spinks.

What happened, you say? Northrend instances happened.

I’m not sure why it is that so many level 70ish tanks feel the need to screw up the first pull in Utgarde Keep by pulling the entire corridor at once, but it’s happened to me three times now. And in none of those cases was it a mispull, they all deliberately grabbed every mob in the vicinity. In one case, a druid tank almost fooled me by pulling three of the mobs; just as I was thinking, “Oh good, a sensible pull” he charged in and got the rest too.

In case anyone was wondering, this is not a kind thing to do to a level 70 healer in green gear. At least, not if you plan to actually survive.

I’m feeling this as a blow to my morale. After all, I made a point of healing through Azeroth and Outland instances just so I could get some practice (I figured I didn’t need any practice as melee dps but paladin healing is a bit different from druiding) and I did fine, absolutely fine. So to keep having groups that wipe on the first pull of UK just makes me uninclined to bother in the Wrath dungeons. It just seems to make more sense to queue as dps, suck up the extra 10 mins queuing time (probably by doing some questing) and leave healing until I hit max level and both me and the tanks have better gear.

There is an alternative of course. One could always just ask the tanks to pull more slowly and explain that undergeared healers have limits and that I’m not as good as their best mate who heals their level 80 all the time in arenas. But I think I stopped feeling that it was my responsibility to teach random people how to play awhile back … in comparison, that extra 10 minutes wait is sounding like pretty good value.

In which I suffer class preference angst

Since the last patch I have now had some more time to play a few of my alts and there have been just a few cases where I’m now weighing up my preference order (ie. which classes I like most).

This has been most striking to me with paladins. It’s a class I never really got my head around, I was never even interested enough to get an alt to Outland, never mind Northrend. But right now, Retribution is way more fun than it used to be, at least at low levels. I keep finding myself comparing it with how the Arms warrior plays, and I think I prefer the paladin on the whole.

This tends to mess up my class priorities because I have always compared my warriors with paladins in the mindset that, yes they get more utility and a healing spec but I prefer how my warrior plays for both tanking and dps. So I stick with Spinks because she’s more fun.

It’s a checks and balances thing, you look at the shopping list of benefits and drawbacks (in which ‘most fun’ is probably the most important benefit for me) and make your decision.

But if I do prefer the paladin’s dps spec to the warrior’s – let’s not discuss Fury because that way lies the madness of feeling forced to roll on every single melee weapon that drops in the next expansion – that changes the weightings. I’m not that interested in paladin tanking but again I keep hearing that it feels closer to the warrior. And then there’s the healing spec, which is a bonus playing style.

I feel that with the plate tanks, because there is such a huge overlap of roles (Death Knights, Warriors, and Paladins can all be tanks or dps) that it can sometimes be a very hard call to make. When the playing style is very different, then you just pick the one you prefer and that’s fairly straightforward.  But if they start feeling more similar to each other, the extra utility of one class starts to trump the rest.

Are paladins popular enough yet?

I’m always fascinated when Zardoz publishes one of his regular Armoury Datamining updates – this is about as accurate a census as anyone outside Blizzard can hope to compile. It’s based on current armoury data, from which he can assemble tables of most popular classes, specs, races, and even most popular items of gear.

It’s a terrifically underused resource, but if you believe in the wisdom of crowds and want to know which are the most popular builds (for example) or which race has the most even gender split (blood elf, possibly because no-one can  tell the difference?), there’s a lot of current information to be had there.

So from Zardoz’ site, here’s the current state of the level 80 WoW population as of 21st Jan. There are ten classes, so a totally even split would give 10% of the population playing each one.

There is no information here about which characters are mains as opposed to alts, but that’s not such a big distinction as it once was.

% of level 80 characters Class
15.4 Paladin
13.8 Death Knight
11.4 Druid
9.9 Priest
9.8 Warrior
8.8 Mage
8.4 Shaman
8.2 Hunter
7.4 Rogue
7.4 Warlock

So, a few things that jump out.

  • Four out of the five most popular classes are (or can be) tanks
  • Three out of the four most popular classes are (or can be) healers
  • Four out of the five least popular classes can only dps.
  • The most popular class is over twice as popular as the least popular class.
  • The least popular class/spec combination is Subtlety specced Rogues which make up a mere 0.5% of the level 80 population.
  • Female Dwarf Rogue is still the way to go if you want to stand out, they are the least popular class/race/gender combination.

Zardoz also tabulates the most popular talent trees and specs for each class. So what role are those hybrids playing? It’s difficult for me to interpret Death Knight data since any talent tree could be a tank, so laying those aside.

Paladins: The majority are retribution, but both holy and protection are also popular secs. Paladins are relatively easy to play and have three strong trees at the moment, all of which are highly played. To put this in perspective, there are more people playing the second most popular paladin tree (Protection) than are playing the most popular druid tree (Resto).

Druid: The majority are resto, although feral isn’t far behind. I can’t tell how many of those feral druids are tanks, except to assume that it won’t be 100% of them. Balance lags behind – perhaps there are just plenty of options for people who want to play healer hybrids and not everyone wants to look like a fat owlbear while doing it.

Priest: Shadow beats out Holy for popularity by 0.4%, Discipline lags behind. So the majority of  priests are healers but a lot of people like the dps tree also. I think Blizzard has done a decent job on priest class design – fun dps, fun heals, and can use similar gear for both. I suspect that this is why they’re the more popular of the non tanking classes.

Warrior: Protection has always been the most popular Warrior spec and that’s still true. Arms and Fury are close in terms of popularity, I think well geared raiders are shifting back to Fury at the moment, but Arms is viable and still the preferred PvP build. Although Warriors are a less popular class than the other tanking classes, there are probably still more warrior tanks than druids or death knights. Clearly Paladins are by far the most popular tanking class at the moment, though.

Shaman: It has always been strange to me to see Shaman lagging behind priests and druids in the tables. They’re all healer/caster hybrids who can use similar gear for both roles. Shamans (like druids) also have the option for a melee dps spec, which is usually popular with players. Maybe people just don’t like totems, or shamans aren’t viewed as interesting to play?

So what has changed?

Here’s an older set of data from July 2009 (just after patch 3.1). Main changes are:

  1. Paladins overtake Death Knights. This is a large leap, so lots of people have levelled Paladin alts since then.
  2. Priests overtook Warriors. Not such a big percentage change, but they’ve clearly been popular alts too.
  3. Shaman overtook Hunters. Again, people looking to the hybrid classes as popular alts.

Solving the Tanking Problem?

One thing is very clear. The tanking problem isn’t that the classes are not being played, it’s that either the barriers to tanking are too high, people are enjoying the other specs more, or people just don’t want to do it.

So I’d expect to see Blizzard making tanking (even) easier, and exploring ways in Cataclysm to let tanks use melee dps gear (we know they are talking about this). People are evidently flocking to their paladins so that design has to be seen as a success.

But I do wonder how far ahead one class will be allowed to get in popularity. My guess is that paladins are a lock-in for the rest of Wrath and that Blizzard will be aiming to make other classes more appealing when they revise them for Cataclysm – we know that’s going to be a substantial amount of work.

Having said that, does it really matter if one class happens to be the most popular? Maybe people just like their knights in shining armour more than their demon-summoning warlocks?

The Way of the Shield

2615Stikfas-Paladin-in-Hell

There’s something about shields. It is not only a piece of armour that marks you out as a defensive fighter but also one that is traditionally decorated to identify the user. Is it any wonder that shield using fighters in games feel attached to their shields? More than that, even though offensive fighters and gladiators in real life did use shields, in MMOs the shield has become associated with tanks.

It is the armour piece that says ‘I’m here to protect other characters’, and ‘this is not my PvP spec’. It’s strange how bound up your online identity can be with one item. Often players like to show off their weapons (sic), and compare the glows, the stats, the size. And you’ll find the tanks in a corner eyeing up each other’s shields instead. Even in a game like WoW which has tanking druids and death knights, there’s always a sneaking feeling that you can’t be a real tank without a shield.

Shields have always been decorative as well as useful, even when the decoration was mainly to mark you out as friend or foe on the battlefield. Graphics guys have really come home for us with shields, even in games that don’t massively feature glowing, speaking, skull-laden equipment. On Spinks, I love that my shield is big and solid and unsubtle. No one could mistake it for anything other than a tank’s shield. And somehow it isn’t as aggressively butch as a glowy weapon. But still, my character feels badass when she picks up a shield. She’s not just getting ready for a bit of light self defence before running off and screaming, she’s a defensive warrior, gearing for action. When a badass monster turns up, she’s going to grit her teeth, find solid footing and stand her ground. She’s the first person into a fight and the last (wo)man out.

I imagine the shield being heavy and unwieldy enough that if any other type of character was to pick it up and heft the weight, they’d wonder at how it could be used in battle and look at our tanks with grudging respect because they shoulder the weight daily.

So, I love shields. I love blocking attacks, I love hitting people in the face with a shield slam,  and I wanted to show off a few of the cooler ones I have come across during my time in WoW.

shield 1

shield 2

shield 3

Draconian Deflector and Red Dragonscale Protector, from UBRS and BWL respectively.

shield 4

Bulwark of Azzinoth, also known as the fridge door.

shield 5

Hero’s Surrender (Naxx).

How to be Horde

We were talking yesterday about what it means to be Horde (and indeed, if it means anything at all). So in the spirit of the recently announced paid faction changes, here’s a list of things to do in game if you want to feel like a real old school Hordeling.

(Feel free to add more suggestions, I’ll add them to the list with an attribution.)

  1. Find Mankrik’s wife.
  2. Kill Ragnaros or Onyxia with no paladins in the raid.
  3. Kill someone with a pumpkin.
  4. Fall off Thunder Bluff.
  5. Fall off the lift in the Undercity.
  6. Fall off the Great Lift in the Barrens (you’ll notice a running theme here).
  7. Visit every Horde settlement. Including the hidden troll one in Stonetalon.
  8. Win three battlegrounds in a row, in PUGs. (Linedan notes that this depends on your battlegroup.)
  9. Get killed by a Son of Arugal in Silverpine
  10. Run from Hammerfall to Kargath
  11. Listen to Sylvanas sing (the blues)
  12. Defend The Crossroads from Alliance attack
  13. Don’t fall off the Aldor tier or the lift in Warsong Hold (by the time you get to those places, you should have enough experience to know better)
  14. Do the Mag’har quest chain in Hellfire Peninsula.
  15. Do the Greatmother chain in Nagrand.
  16. Get the For the Horde! achievement by joining a raid to kill all the alliance leaders.
  17. See Wrathgate from the Horde perspective. (Wonder if this will be possible for anyone who does a paid faction change, they’ll have to sort out the phasing.)
  18. (or 17a) At the Wrath Gate, realise that the blight that is raining down on people’s heads is the same thing you have been helping the Royal Apothecary Society to make *since you were level five* (Temitope)
  19. Rescue lots of foolish tauren princesses (moocows may be cute but they’re always the ones who get themselves kidnapped when there’s an escort quest to do -– I think the alliance equivalent is night elf women)
  20. Mock blood elves and/or paladins in trade chat. Bonus marks if you are playing one at the time.
  21. If you are Tauren, get stuck in a doorway somewhere. If not, then get stuck behind a Tauren.
  22. Get your free fishing rod from the Horde-only quest in the Hinterlands.
  23. Noticing that when the quest involves killing humanoids who are not explicitly alliance, they are usually trolls or fel orcs or grimtotem clan tauren, but never “blood gnomes” or “fel elves”. (Gevlon)
  24. If you’re a hunter, tame a Horde-only tamable creature like Echeyakee. (Tesh)
  25. If you’re orc, troll, or Tauren, being Horde means that you can make it 30 or 40 levels before ever seeing a proper inn, or even a chair. (Linedan)
  26. Unleash the Necromancer in Southshore graveyard to go on a rampage of destruction (Stabs)
  27. Smugly watch Alliance try to invade Tarren Mill, only to then become overwhelmed by the zerg-like spawn of your deathguards. That’ll teach ‘em! (Jennifer)
  28. Let’s not forget falling off the lift in Warsong Hold… or falling off the cliff near Bloodvenom Post (Sharon)
  29. Accidentally crossing the Bulwark as a lvl 10 and lower, because you’re curious what’s on the other side. (Tim)
  30. Find Rexxar somewhere in Stonetalon Mountains, Desolace and Feralas while doing your Onyxia chain. (Bethryn)

There’s a lot of very good Horde-flavoured quest content in Northrend also, so it’s hard to pick out any specific questlines. The Conquest Hold (in Grizzly Hills) and Vengeance Landing quests are particularly good in this respect.

One thing I  noticed after writing this list out is how strong the faction flavour really is in the new expansion. (I’m quite looking forwards to checking out the Alliance side.) And the other is how much I think that specific quests are important to the storytelling — even though the real core of the experience is having spent time mixing with the rest of the Horde through however many levels and knowing all the familiar names, guilds, and chatter.

the little paladin who didn’t

This is a guild drama (well, not really drama, just minor rant really)  issue that I read about from Tobold. The basic story is that a paladin was in a raiding guild, he got geared up quickly and then got bored with the content and let his guildmaster know that he was taking a break until the next raid instance was patched into WoW — for the record, we don’t know when this will be, estimate is a few months yet. Matticus, his guild leader, lets off some steam about it here. The Greedy Goblin defends the paladin, but I’m going to do it better ;)

Storm in a Teacup?

As an experienced drama consumer, my first reaction is disappointment. If this is the best we can do for drama these days, then my friends, we have some work cut out for us!

Really this should not be worth ranting about. People come and go from raiding guilds all the time. Real life throws up hurdles, people burn out, sometimes they decide to hop to other guilds or other servers; it’s a fact of life. If you are a guild or class leader, you are basically always recruiting.

In this particular case, Spinks’ spidey sense of over-reaction is going through the roof. OK, a raider left. On entry level raids which the guild has on farm. So how long precisely would it take this guild to gear up a new replacement holy paladin (it just so happens that they are the only class/spec which does not share loot with anyone else — so if holy paladin loot drops, it has to go straight to the new guy)? A couple of weeks. That’s ALL.

So what’s the big deal here? Shrug, move on, say to the old guy, ‘Thanks for all the time spent raiding with us, we’ll look forwards to seeing you back but we will be recruiting to fill your spot so we can’t guarantee you a raid place.” And then recruit an enthusiastic new guy and throw some loot at him/her. It’s not that hard to recruit this early in the expansion cycle and if Matticus’ guild has a good rep — which I am sure it does, he seems like an upfront guy — where’s the problem?

It’s not as if he left to go to a competing guild or a different server. He just got bored and wanted not to burn out.

But we geared him! We own his soul!

I see this attitude a lot among raid leaders and it’s dumb. Once the gear has been distributed it is history. The person who got the shiny earned it by being in the raid where it dropped. By being in that raid, they helped the rest of the raid too. They don’t have to keep playing five days a week for the next six months before ‘everyone’ agrees that they own it.

Sure, this doesn’t apply when a new guy really is being boosted but if the player was pulling his/her weight and contributing to the raid where the gear dropped, then they’ve earned it. In the case of the holy paladin, what else are you going to do with the loot? There’s no one else to give it to. If you run a DKP system and a raider earned enough DKP to buy a drop, then they have already earned it. They’ve earned it from what they did in the past, not from what they may or may not do in the future.

There is certainly an unwritten contract in some raid guilds that when you join, you’ll attend regularly for at least X months but at the end of the day, real life does intervene, players do burn out, and things happen that a person might not have anticipated.

He only raided for loot

My reading of this incident is that the paladin was burned out on the game and just didn’t communicate this well. So how much does loot have to do with burnout?

Well in any MMO, character progression is one of the big incentives to play. There’s always something you can do to make your character better. Some tradeskill to learn, some gear to aim for, some reputation, some realm rank, some achievement or tome unlock (can’t remember what they’re called in LOTRO, mea culpa).

When you get to a point that your character is ‘finished’ it really does affect player interest in the game. I find also that hoping that some cool loot item will drop keeps my interest in raids long after they would otherwise get dull.

I mean, I like hanging out with my friends in raids too, but the loot does add something to it. So I can easily imagine that spending X nights a week in raids that you could run blindfold (I’m projecting, they aren’t that easy for us :) ) where there is nothing left to drop that you could possibly want could lead to burnout.

So, are people getting bored with WoW?

The problem here is people in advanced raid guilds being bored with the content. In a way, it’d be easier if he had made up some story about exams or moving house or wife aggro. But this way, it sends a message to the rest of the guild, who may or may not be getting bored also. ie. ‘He took a break because he was bored — hey good idea, I’m getting a bit bored too, maybe I’ll do the same!’

So it’s a problem for the guild leader. But there’s no reason not to try to be as classy as possible about the whole thing. The guy did not stab anyone in the back (literally or metaphorically). He just was honest.

And if we’re honest, how much of the fun in MMOs is about getting new stuff for our toons and watching them progress to bigger and better things. Higher levels. Shinier gear. Fighting bigger and more exciting monsters. When you can’t do that any more, do you not get bored even a little bit?

The lure of wondering if that awesome bit of shiny loot will drop this week can stave off the boredom for awhile. Or at least it’s something else to focus on. But when there isn’t anything like that to look forwards to? Yeah people are reminded that they’re actually ….  a bit bored.