[Cataclysm] Praise where praise is due, and the high cost of tradeskilling

So I was home a bit earlier last night which meant less of a wait in the queues (or rather, that I could start queuing and then sort out supper).

I’ve enjoyed my time in the undersea realms very much. I’d have been thrilled with a whole underwater expansion! Although the questing is fairly directed, there is also plenty to explore.

One interesting thing I found is that although in the new lower level zones, all the travel time has been cut and loads of new flight points added, in Vash’jir they’ve gone back to an older style of doing things. Flight points (sea horse points?) are more hidden, you’ll need to explore a bit to find the things you are looking for, and of course it’s more 3D so don’t forget the up and down dimension (z axis, for those keeping score). Quest NPCs, mobs, and items might need a bit more searching out as well.

(Incidentally if you love 3D – or pseudo 3D – combat and would like more of it, check out Star Trek Online. They have a very cool implementation of space combat.)

Some people will hate this and find it frustrating. I thought it was ace. Until I came to a point in the quest line where one of the quests was broken.

It was frustrating because I knew I was fairly close to the ends of the zone so I didn’t want to just give up and go on to a higher level area. I decided to sleep on it, so I left Spinks logged in near the offending quest and went to bed.

When I logged in the next morning, there was a note on the screen that they had restarted our servers at about 5amish (“Oo, maybe a hotfix”, I thought hopefully). And sure enough, my quest was fixed.

In my experience, it’s been very rare for an MMO team to be that on the ball with hotfixes unless there is some kind of critical potentially game breaking issue. And still, it’s the basic expectation I had with WoW, and I was right.

Tradeskills and Materials

I was selling stacks of Obsidium for over 600g each last night. I think leaving Blacksmithing for a few weeks while people are still crazy enough to pay these amounts was quite a good plan.

So if you are levelling a tradeskill at the moment, that’s your opportunity cost.

Screenshot of the Day

cata_daypic1

Do new tradeskills ever really work?

All that signs are that Blizzard has done a really good job on Archaeology, the new secondary tradeskill which will be introduced in Cataclysm. It combines gathering and collecting, and rewards players with lore and the chance of cool minipets and shinies.  And best of all, it doesn’t create a forced new market to make sure that the new tradeskillers have an eager base of customers.

WoW certainly isn’t the first game to have introduced new tradeskills in expansions. I remember in DaoC when spellcrafting was introduced – it was roughly similar to jewelcrafting/ enchanting in WoW – suddenly everyone needed all their gear spellcrafted if they wanted to stay remotely competitive. The difference in DaoC is that in order to maximise your spellcrafting potential, you needed 100% quality crafted goods to begin with. So the other tradeskills were involved also.

Let’s look at the newer WoW tradeskills and note that they’re actually the best moneymakers. It’s unsurprising, unfair, and badly designed.

Jewelcrafting: Introduced in TBC, alongside sockets on all raid gear to make room for the new crafted gems. It’s arguably redundant in Cataclysm because reforging actually fills the same purpose that JC was originally designed for, and does it better. It allows players to customise their gear for stats they actually want.  All that sockets do now is provide a guaranteed market for jewelcrafters.

Inscription: Introduced in Wrath. Glyphs themselves are fairly interesting, but there was never any need for this to be a tradeskill. Glyphs would have been just as interesting if they were gained via reputation or questing or even just bought direct from trainers.

The tradeskill itself was fundamentally screwed when it became possible to exchange high level inks for any of the lower level ones in Dalaran. At that point there wasn’t even any great interest to be had from speculating on different tiers of herbs. Which might have made a more interesting sub game for herbers. Sure, it was a good move for making sure that all the glyphs could be constantly available. But that’s the selfsame reason why glyphs as a tradeskill is silly. There is no real concept of ‘low level glyphs’ when they’re needed by max level characters.

So the pattern has been to introduce a new mechanic to force players to buy the tat that the new tradeskill produces without any attempt to involve other, existing tradeskills. So naturally the new tradeskills are guaranteed to be crazy profitable. This isn’t the only reason for in game inflation, but it’s crazy to think that it won’t affect the wider economy.

Also, although Blizzard are aiming to make WoW more comprehensible and accessible in Cataclysm, they don’t go out of their way to explain glyphs, enchants, or gems to newer players. They won’t simplify those things even if it might be more sensible to do so (how many choices do you really get when enchanting an item?). At least not yet.

Adding new tradeskills into a game has often also added more complexity. Tale in the Desert is a good example here, although most of their tradeskills are fairly independent. Each new one is an entire new type of minigame, but adds to the complexity of the whole thing. And gives more of an advantage to experienced players who aren’t faced with having to learn all of it at once.

Tradeskills in WoW are overdue for a redesign. They’re not fun, they’re not balanced, and they’re not all that accessible to new players (it’s not easy to understand what some of the tradeskills do, which are the best for different classes/ roles, or which are easiest or more profitable). Perhaps that will be something to tackle in the next expansion …

Phasing out the raid consumables

patisserie

Let’s face it, consumables in game are nowhere near as fun as consumables in real life.

Clicking on an icon doesn’t compare well to choosing from a menu or window display. Aside from the fact that you can’t taste it anyway, there’s no feast for the senses, no visual appeal. You can’t get excited about clicking a potion the same way you can from looking at a patisserie window.

Even aside from the pictures of cakes, consumables fill an odd function in MMOs. They provide some benefit to the consumer – maybe a short term buff, or faster healing. They are often player-created via a tradeskill, so a constant demand keeps the tradeskill viable. And they are usually optional for soloing, but considered important in any really challenging content. Like anything which provides stats in a game, consumables can be min-maxed. So if you end up in progression raids, part of the skill of raiding is knowing which consumables to bring and where to get them from.  Some may last different amounts of time, be easier to get, be defunct, or be buyable with tokens.

This is all very obscure if you are a new player. You could easily level to cap and have run many instances without anyone ever saying a thing about consumables and without really having them mentioned in quests either.

In LOTRO I’m terrible at remembering the raid consumables. I usually try to load up on them when I can, but some of them affect your whole group, others can be over-written, and yet others come in varying strengths and durations. So it’s guaranteed that the one time a raid leader asks you to use one, it’ll be the one you don’t have.

I am assuming that with more practice (read: more whining at Arb) I’ll know what to bring. But right now, it all seems so random. I keep wondering – would this be more fun if the consumables were just kind of … baked in to the game. It’s not as if there’s really much choice once you know which the optimal ones are. Turbine have made things easier. You can buy most of the potions with Mirkwood emblems (of which I have several hundred in my vault, and I can’t actually remember how or why).

Warcraft is going the same way. In Cataclysm, food buffs will be provided by feasts (only one person in the raid needs to bring them) and there are hints of cauldrons (only one person in the raid needs to bring the elixir), flasks will be very cheap and also last through death, and spell reagents get more optional also.

I know this is more grist to the mill of complaints about dumbing  down, but raid consumables were just an extra list of “stuff you have to do before you raid.” They represented a kind of secret raider knowledge that regular players didn’t need to know (in Vanilla WoW, most people would never have needed to use a flask, and might have no clue about where they came from or what they did.) The discipline of having to farm your own raid consumables did add something to the raiding experience. It was more than just turning up on raid night. But it was also time consuming, obscure, and doesn’t really fit in modern games.

I’d see the phasing out of raid consumables as a bell wether for where MMOs are drifting. Being pressured to look information up outside the game is the next big element which devs will attempt to optimise out of MMOs in future.

For all that, I have a soft spot for cooking as a trade skill. In WoW, it’s probably the best fun of any of them. It combines the fun of collecting ingredients with having lots of different recipes to make – and many of them do sell at end game (less now that feasts are available though.) It’s just that once stats are involved, any of the fun of window shopping at patisseries disappears. They’re just like any other boring old MMO stat item.