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

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 …

Is your character race purely cosmetic?

There is a long tradition, stretching back to the earliest MUDs, that players have a choice of fantasy races for their characters. It has become part of the MMO scenery, even though in many games it will never much affect your play. So is a race just cosmetic, just another way to customise your character visually?

PvD posted awhile back about how races are sold in the cash shop for EQ2X at the moment. You can buy options for that game in packs of three, and each pack is arranged to offer one popular race with two less popular ones. Other than that, there’s no rhyme or reason in the selections. This puzzled me as a concept – the idea of picking a race because ‘it was included free in the pack with the one I actually wanted’ feels like a very unintuitive way to make that choice.

I was minded of this because I have a friend who has a really strong preference for playing elves. If a game doesn’t offer elves, her interest drops. One of the things she is most excited about in Cataclysm is the ability to play a blood elf warrior for the first time. And this has nothing to do with game elements like racial abilities. She just likes elves. If she played EQ2X I don’t think she’d be too thrilled to see the elf races split between packs (she’d probably just pick the one she liked best and not bother with the others, whereas she’d have paid more for a pack that included all of them.) I know others who always play humans, and prefer to pick a human character who looks as close to themselves (in some idealised form) as possible. So some players go into the game with a vague idea of how they want their character to look or act and pick the race that fits it most closely.

For other people, the most important thing about picking a race is any in-game advantage. So optimal racial abilities or starting areas would play a bigger factor in the choice. If racial abilities change, these guys may take advantage of a paid race change in game.

Others are more interested in aesthetics. Which race looks prettiest or most badass? Which race/ class combination has the coolest looking armour?

And in some games, that’s pretty much it for racial identity. It’s all about how you look and whether you get any minor mechanical perks. EQ2X for example does have racial lore, but it isn’t equally emphasised for all races. You can easily go through a starting zone that seems to have been designed for another race without learning anything about your own.

When races are more than a collection of stats and a skin

Warcraft certainly wasn’t the first game to emphasise racial starting areas and lore. But their commitment to doing so has always been quite impressive. When you pick a race, you’re also picking a starting zone in which you’ll have about 20 levels worth of race specific content. (Unless you’re a gnome or troll, in which case hang in there for Cataclysm!)

This is fertile ground for roleplayers, who might go with the strongest lore or most appealing backstory. As well as their own starting areas, races have their own architectures, racial leaders, history, and in-game racial stereotypes. So gnomes are not just small and squeaky but also crazy scientists with silly names. Forsaken are sarcastic, deadpan, and have no moral compass. Dwarves like beer and blacksmithing (is there any game in which this is not the case?).

Racial lore is about to get a huge boost in Cataclysm with the addition of Archaeology to the game. I think this is going to be one of the most popular new mechanics that the expansion brings. And as a side-effect, it adds more oomph to the races and their backgrounds.

Why is this big at the moment? Because of course Cataclysm will add in two new races to the mix. They’ll have very solid racial abilities, new lore, new cool models, and since players like new stuff anyway they’re bound to be heavily played. And also, many classes will have new racial options in the expansion.

This is most striking for druids, who soon will be able to pick from two races per faction instead of just one fixed choice. And one of the most asked for screenshots from the beta was the picture of the new troll and worgen druid forms. I’m thinking this shows that a lot of people are mostly about the aesthetics with their racial choices.

Is it mostly about the looks for you? I wonder if people tend to pick their first character based on look/feel/ prior idea and maybe explore the lore of other races after they’ve played the game and are making alts.