[WoW] Something old, something new: life as a returner

Demons in Well of Eternity

Story of my life

Last time I wrote about WoW, I touched on my first impressions of the game as a returner. The overwhelming chaos, rudeness in groups, how intimidating the game can feel when you’ve been out of things. This week I have persevered with things, played around on some alts, and had my hand held in one of the new heroics by a very patient guild group. I don’t feel as much like a fish out of water any more, and while I’m better able to appreciate some of the things I always liked about WoW, there are mechanics from SWTOR that I really do miss.

  • AE looting (this is coming with Cataclysm I think)
  • Every class having a way to heal up quickly when out of combat.
  • Every class being able to res out of combat.
  • Sending your companion to sell your vendor trash
  • Ressing near your corpse or outside the entrance to your current instance, rather than miles away at the nearest graveyard.
  • A built in configurable UI. Yes, WoW has addons, but this would be easier. (I don’t think there’s anywhere in WoW where players are advised to check out addons incidentally, you just have to know what everyone does and where to find the current popular ones.)
  • I do miss having a companion to heal/tank/CC/ dps but WoW PvE is just easier than SWTOR so it’s not really a big deal. I’d only really want a healer or tank in WoW.
  • Writing that generally makes sense. WoW has some very well written quests but the consistency isn’t really there and in some zones they messed up quite badly (Dragonblight can get very confusing if you do the questlines in some orders rather than others, for example.) It was also rare in SWTOR that an NPC would send me off to do something for some reason and I’d think ‘how did he know that?’
  • Stories that I care about. SWTOR can also be hit and miss with these but they hit more than WoW does. This feels like more of a Cataclysm issue to me, because I remember Wrath feeling a lot more focussed and motivating.

I still feel a bit overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information that WoW throws at players. My characters all seem to have zillions of abilities. Running heroics feels as though it requires memorising hundreds of encounters (possibly multiple times if you play more than one role). How on earth do people remember it all??

As far as the community goes, I have had enough slightly less bad experiences in groups so maybe I was just unlucky before, but I also feel the game is less friendly than it used to be.

I have also spoken to several players who have just returned to WoW after breaks of up to a year – amusingly we were all in the same random instance together and since I’d run it once before, I automatically became the expert who got to explain it to the others. It was a much friendlier group though, and we did get through it. So it may well be that quite a lot of people are heading back to WoW now in preparation for the expansion.

I also spoke to one actual new player. This was after he had asked a question in Orgrimmar and had a few people mock him in general chat (this is not actually the sort of thing I’d have expected to see on Argent Dawn last time I was around, some mockery sure, but not of basic/ sensible questions). He whispered to me after I’d answered the question to say thanks and mention that he hadn’t been in the game long.


The easiest way to pick out some addons is firstly to ask around guild/ friends. Or secondly, head to curse.com and check which are the most popular addons. It’s as good a place to start as any, and you can always go hunt around blogs if you’re not happy with the ones you have.

I think I ended up checking a few out but ending up mostly with the same ones I liked previously:

Wot I Did

The easiest way to explain what I’ve been doing in WoW over the last week or so is to look at achievements. That may say something deep about the nature of the game, but I think shows again how well implemented the achievements are. There really are achievements for every play style.


So the top three here are from heroic instances, and the bottom one is from a daily quest – I imagine every Tom, Dick and Harry can finish off that dragon in under 90s these days but I was pleased with myself for doing it solo when the achievement came up.

I want to talk a bit about how I tried to get the confidence together to run heroics. My guild were great, and we did run the first new heroic together, with voice chat and lots of advice and reassurance. At that point I was thinking “That wasn’t too bad, maybe I’ll try another run with them before I do those on my own.” So I queued for a regular Cataclysm heroic, and the LFG threw me into another of the new ones (I didn’t know it could do that.) At which point I just followed everyone else and hit what they were hitting, and it seemed OK and no one complained.

So presumably with a bit of practice and a couple of upgrades, my dps has gotten beyond the ‘omg what is this doing in my instance’ level to the point where no one is talking to me, which I imagine means it is OK. After that, it felt that a barrier was broken and I was OK with just queueing for them like everyone else. I  feel that I am getting the hang of them now.

Blizzard is clearly going for some ambitious storytelling here with instances set in the far past, far future, and present day. Whether or not you can actually FOLLOW the story I’m not sure, you might need to know what the Dragon Soul artefact is for a start. Or maybe I missed the part where they explained that. I found them all a bit shorter and easier than the classic Cataclysm heroics, assuming your gear is high enough level to get you in the door.


Another new tweak is that the instance maps (as shown above) are really very slick now, with brief explanations of the backstory for each boss when you mouse over them. Basic boss guides are also now in the UI, so you can look up every boss in the instance both in normal and heroic mode and find out what it does mechanically.

Of the three, Well of Eternity is a particularly strange instance, which gives every indication of having originally been designed as a raid. It’s  that bit more epic than you’d usually expect; and you get to meet/kill quite a large number of important lore figures along the way. I suppose you can always go back to Outland and kill Illidan later on if you want to see him again, I half wondered whether the game would take into account whether you’d done that (in his far future, obviously) when you met him in the instance. But it doesn’t. The instance also features time travel, stealthing around hordes of demons, and extended NPC dialogues after the final boss has died (ie. when most players have probably already left the instance.)


Here we’re just chilling with Illidan in Well of Eternity when he … dude, was that really a good idea? (Also we are disguised as night elves, which I personally found quite traumatic.)

I still haven’t had the nerve to try a random raid yet.

Nights at the Circus


Darkmoon Faire now has its own minizone, and portals to the Faire open where the Faire used to be. This sounds confusing (and is) but basically when the Faire is up, an NPC will be in every capital city who can transport you to your nearest portal – why he can’t just transport you straight to the faire I do not know.

As you can see from the screenshot, it is very purple. This shows Spinks standing on a hill looking down at the Faire. There are minigames, none of which really grabbed me, quests you can do which raise your crafting skills, and some achievements to be gotten.  The crafting perks will be particularly great for people trying to eke out those last few points when raising tradeskills.


Spinks is shown at the bottom here, to give an idea of the scale.

Preparation H

The whole process of getting ready for a new expansion can be seen in two different ways.

  1. It doesn’t really matter whether you put any effort into it or not, the new expansion will render most things irrelevant and you’ll be just as able to make gold and farm materials after it has dropped as before.
  2. Get everything ready so that you can level your characters/ tradeskills etc as quickly and smoothly as possible.

I’ve never been big on overdoing the preparations so I am mostly just looking at clearing my inventory of things I’m not going to need any more and deciding if I want to level any alts. I figured it was a also good idea to level my alt with Enchanting so that he can disenchant any drops I pick up while levelling, which also gives me a good excuse to check out the Cataclysm levelling zones again to see if I didn’t properly appreciate them last time round. (Poor warlock, he only ever gets levelled at the end of expansions, to just high enough level where he’ll be able to buy the next tier of tradeskill.)

One thing I notice immediately is because of the transmogrification mechanics, I take much more interest in the green drops and quest rewards. Even if it isn’t an upgrade, it might have a really cool look that I’d want to keep.  I still feel piqued though that they put transmog in after I’d gotten rid of my Tier 10 warrior gear.

The only other thing on my bucket list is to attempt to get Pebble as a pet. This explains why I ended up getting that daily quest achievement, shown above. (It’s part of the same set of dailies that can eventually reward with the pet.)

What are those blue remembered hills…?

WoW is still a very pretty game, here’s a couple of screenies I took from levelling alts.



A tale of two expansions

expansion-mapvia Norman B Leventhal Map Centre at the BPL

It is always an exciting time for MMO players when a new expansion is announced or released. Expansions unlock new lands and continents to explore and colonise, new monsters to slay, new stories to tell, and of course newer and better loot. But new zones alone will not grab players’ attention any more – we also expect to see new gameplay, new classes, new professions or a variety of other new things to do in the game.

The most successful expansions are accessible to a wide variety of players, with something new for low level characters as well as the hardcore endgame crowd. And because new expansions succeed by catching the attention of new and ex-players as well as existing ones, there needs to be a smooth path into the new content for returning players too.

What’s not to be excited about?

This week, LOTRO players are taking their first steps into Mirkwood, an expansion which sounds as though it will deliver handily on all fronts. Arriving with a timely (oh who am I kidding, it’s at least 3 years overdue) revamp of the unpopular Lone Lands zone, the lynchpin of Mirkwood is the new notion of skirmishes.

A skirmish is a PvE instance with some random elements, that can scale for different numbers of players (including solo versions) and can also scale with levels from 30 up to the level cap. I haven’t tried them yet myself, although Pete@Dragonchasers is a huge fan, and played some in beta as well as in the live version. Still, I’m excited at the notion that as I level up my character, I can hop into a skirmish if I get bored of questing. Naturally they also reward players with tokens that can be spent on … stuff. I assume it’s good stuff.

One of the other facets to skirmishes is that players will be able to gear and trait up a companion NPC to help out. Pete describes experiences with his healer in the link above, but if you play a healer and would rather have a pet tank, that option is also available.

LOTRO have been experimenting in Moria with PvE content for soloers and small groups. There are single player instances which play neatly, like puzzles where the player has to figure out how to manage the pulls, avoid the patrols and see what effect different mobs have on each other. There are short three man instances. I believe those have all been quite successful, and I know I enjoyed the ones we beat although there are issues with class composition for three mans.

Skirmishes take this concept and hit it out of the park. Let’s have solo instances! Let’s also have group-based instances! Let’s have scaling instances! Let’s give everyone a friendly NPC to help with class balance issues! It’s potentially such a game changer that all MMO players should be curious as to how this will work out. Because if it’s a winner, expect this idea to get comprehensively nicked.

Mirkwood also offers the usual plethora of new zones and quests, new raids and non-skirmish instances, retweaking of classes and gear, some kind of reworking of crafting to make it easier to level, and a revamp of the legendary weapon system. Here’s the feature list.

So summing up: for levelling players, skirmishes are available from level 30 and upwards. The Lone Lands revamp covers characters from around level 20. For endgame players, there are the new zones, instances, and raids.

Having tried the welcome back week, I resubbed to LOTRO myself in time to see what all the fuss was about (we don’t get our expansion until tomorrow though, so I’m busy getting lost^D^D^D^D^D catching up with Moria at the moment.) I did appreciate the extra 25% xp given during the welcome back week and the company of arbitrary’s uber captain who basically killed stuff while I batted at it ineffectually, it was very nice to have a flying start.

Now let’s compare with Cataclysm. The really interesting thing about Cataclysm, aside from the fact that Blizzard is revamping the entire level 1-60 levelling game, is that we know very little about any new game play that is proposed.

It’s going to be a great expansion for returning players, or anyone who wants to start again from level 1. Loads of new stuff to do while levelling, and all the talent trees and gear stats are being reworked from the ground up to make them simpler and easier to understand.

Other than that… what endgame players are looking forwards to is more of the same. New zones, new quests, new raids, new instances. Blizzard will doubtless make great use of phasing to produce a stunning levelling experience, which has always been their strength. I cannot imagine that it won’t be a good expansion in that respect.

We’ve had rumours of a few cool ideas in the pipelines. Rated battlegrounds (so you can PvP with your raid group) and dance studios (design your own emotes) both sound fun, but they aren’t the meat and drink of an expansion.

So Tobold commented in his recent post on Cataclysm vs Mirkwood:

But if LotRO had a Cataclysm-like expansion which added lots of low-level content, and thus breathed life into the low-level zones, I’d be back.

Well frankly, I see new zones, skirmishes from level 30, and plenty of other revamps, if you have a lifetime subscription, what are you waiting for?