Hell — I am not a fan

Spoiler alert. There are some very minor 7.3 spoilers in this post, don’t read any further if that bothers you.

I have not played a lot of WoW the past few days, but I did get a chance to dip my toe into the 7.3 PTR. As a disclaimer, it was just a taste, I did not even get out of the starting area — I completed a couple of quests and looked around a bit. So I really can’t comment on anything to do with content. What I can comment on is the environment: Argus appears to be yet another ugly, rocky, brimstone-spewing chunk of hell. In fact, to me it seemed remarkably similar to Broken Shore in its landscaping and artwork. It is not a genre I am fond of.

In general, I am impressed with Blizz’s zone designs and the incredibly painstaking detail they put into every aspect of a new zone — geologic formations, roads, vegetation, building structures, animals, even insects. As I have mentioned before, I was positively blown away by the majestic, sweeping vistas of Pandaria. I think that was the high water mark of zone design for Blizz.

I understand that it is a matter of personal taste, but I just do not like slogging through dark, dismal, or scorched-earth areas. To enjoy the experience, I much prefer jungles or woods or farmland or deserts or mountains or even urban areas. I still love Uldum, for example, with its oasis areas interspersed with vast desert landscapes. I love that you can see the blowing sand and even hear it. Similarly, I am drawn to Pandaria’s Kun-Lai Summit and to the beaches of Krasarang Wilds. These zones are balm to my brain, and I still visit them every couple of weeks just to experience the peacefulness they impart. I select my favorite flying mount, and I swoop and soar and just immerse myself in the beauty.

I guess what I am trying to say here is that the esthetic experience of the game is important to me. As it happens, I like the kinds of zones I just described, but I know not everyone is alike, so there are undoubtedly many players who prefer dank, depressing, dismal zones devoid of vegetation, where the only “wildlife” is a species of cockroach that crunches under your feet or creepy spiders and vicious hyena-like creatures. To each his or her own.

But personally I don’t like it, and to me nothing represents this barrenness more than Broken Shore. So I was disappointed to see that at least the starting area on Argus is just more of the same.

There is another aspect to this, and it is what I perceive to be a fascination with destruction on the part of the WoW developers. Time and again, we have seen beautiful zones made ugly with destruction in the game. Some of it certainly has to do with the story of how evil and nasty “they” (Deathwing, the Legion, etc.) are, of course. But Blizz seems to take special delight in destruction scenarios. I will never forgive them for what they did to the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, for example. They took what was a fantastic end of quest line — a triumphant and emotional homecoming to an ancestral land of surpassing beauty — and rather than allow this small victory to stand, they turned the homeland into an ugly, scarred area of desolation and hopelessness.

Expansions like Pandaria and Legion start out with beautiful imagery in their zones, but seem to disintegrate into ugliness, at least in part. Broken Shore is only a bare-knuckled place of struggle and death, not a place anyone would choose to spend time in voluntarily. And now, the very image of Argus — a huge fire-spewing planet on the verge of exploding, filling the Legion sky — is a constant reminder of even more destruction to come, destruction that will be carried out, apparently, in a grim landscape devoid of beauty or softness or the gentle warmth of sunshine. It will be just another chunk of hell.

I know Blizz is hardcore on the philosophy of being on a constant war footing in WoW. I get that it is conflict that is interesting, not peace and happiness. But honestly that is getting kind of old for me. I am weary of always operating out of beleaguered temporary camps or cities in hiding.  I need respite once in a while, a break to appreciate beauty and peace even in small corners of this virtual world. I don’t want every end game quest to occur on barren chunks of rock. I don’t want the places I find attractive to be destroyed — because it seems like our side in WoW will never win, and the destruction will linger forever. Blizz should at least give us some hope.

As I said, I only dipped my toe into the PTR. Maybe there will be places of surpassing beauty on Argus. I want there to be signs that beings actually live there, raise their children and build their homes there, even if those beings are enemies sworn to destroy us. I would like to see some signs of life once in a while, not constant death and decay. Unfortunately, I am not optimistic. The next time we get anything close to that in a new zone is likely to be the start of a new expansion.

See you all Monday.

So many questions, so little time

Looking back over my education, I think the single most important skill I learned was to ask questions. The Jesuits who schooled me were big believers in the Socratic Method, so we were not only encouraged but required to ask questions as part of every learning process. Sure, fractions and Shakespeare and the date of the Magna Carta and the underpinnings of an agrarian economy are all good to know. But when it comes right down to it, asking the right questions at the right time of the right people has saved my bacon in life more times than I can count.

So today I have been thinking about Patch 8.x. Yes, I know we are not even a year into Legion, and the hints from Blizz are that we have a lot of time left to experience it (my bet at the start was that we are looking at Legion being with us for very close to 3 years). Still, I feel like speculating a bit, in the form of a series of questions.

Location.

  • Is the 7.3 excursion to Argus a prelude to the next expansion, or is it just that — a one-off adventure?
  • Will we ever see the other side of Azeroth? Is there an other side?
  • What if any lessons did Blizz learn about time-travel worlds like Draenor and underwater zones like Vashj’ir? This is less a question than it is a hope — I hope they learned both these ideas were big mistakes.
  • Will Blizz expand its recent trend of making classic parts of Azeroth relevant to current game play? 

Stats.

  • What will be the nature of the next stat squish? I think a dev mentioned that much of the code has been rewritten to accommodate very large numbers now, it still is cumbersome for humans to speak of character health in the millions and boss health in the billions, for example. What about ilevel? Very soon even in Legion we will break break into 4-digit ilevels. Will secondary stats and damage/healing numbers be squished in 8.x?
  • Will stats be simplified in the next expansion? What is the official Blizz view of the complexity of stats in Legion? Do they understand the frustration of players when a higher level piece of gear is not an upgrade? Are they happy with the proliferation of web sites and apps designed to do the intricate math necessary to determine a piece of gear’s worth to a player? 

Quest hubs and population centers.

  • Will we see new faction capitals? Blizz seems — both in WoD and Legion — to have concluded that faction capital cities are too resource-intensive to justify them. If Sanctuary Cities are the norm for the foreseeable future, will we see more of them in Horde areas, with Horde racial architecture?
  • What has Blizz learned about the garrison concept? It was innovative but not well liked in WoD, and it was extended — as Class Halls — in Legion. Is this idea now a core game mechanic going forward? Will we see the concept applied as guild halls in 8.x?  More wishful thinking on that last one, I am afraid.
  • Why is Blizz so dead set against player housing? This is really more of a pet peeve question and not so much of an insightful one about the next expansion. Certainly the technology is there — that was proven with garrisons, and with Sunsong Ranch before that. And there is player demand for it, though I am not sure how much. Yet Blizz steadfastly refuses to do it, citing from time to time the “war footing” nature of the game as being antithetical to cozy homesteading. My own opinion, completely biased, is that there is a culture at Blizz that insists WoW is a “hardcore” game, and to give players housing is just too girly and frilly for them to contemplate. They put it in the same category as playing house or cutting out paper dolls, and that would destroy the manly studly war aspect of the game. (Yeah, yeah, let the hate mail begin. But deep down you know I am right.)

Class development.

  • Will there be another major rewrite of classes in 8.x?
  • What is Blizz’s long range vision of class roles and balance? Are they on a path to achieve this, or do they have none and merely make change for change’s sake each expansion?
  • And the big question: Can Blizz stop screwing with hunters for at least one expansion? (Sarcasm flag.)
  • Will we see the pendulum swing once again towards class-provide raid buffs?

Gear.

  • Is the concept of artifact gear a one-and-out for Legion, as Blizz has claimed? 
  • Are there any big contemplated gear changes in 8.x, for example cutting the number of gear slots, maybe by eliminating necks and rings?
  • Will we see some sort of non-RNG mechanism for getting gear in 8.x?
  • After the debacle of legendaries in Legion, what is the future of legendaries going forward? Will we return to a single long-questline legendary, or have we crossed a line and henceforward they will fall like candy?

Miscellaneous.

  • Is Blizz happy with the complexity level of the game now? If not, in which direction do they think it should go?
  • Are there in-game advertisements in the works? Tie-ins with other Activision franchises, such as the King line of games?
  • What is the future for professions? Will we see them get less relevant and more complex, or will we see some semblance of a return to their classic role? Will Blizz move towards a Final Fantasy approach? Are they indeed an integral part of the game’s economy, or would it be possible to eliminate them altogether?
  • Will alt play remain viable in 8.x? It is narrowly so in Legion, but Blizz’s clear preference is for players to have very limited number of alts.
  • Are there significant quality of life improvements in store for 8.x? Off hand, I can think of a few: account-wide banking, better group finder interface, unlimited quest log, *coughplayerhousingcough*, removal of that ridiculous talent-changing tome requirement, improving exit process from caves once a quest is completed, increasing the number of stable slots for hunter pets, adding mythic dungeons to the auto-group finder, probably lots more.
  • Will Blizz help to make the role of guilds more robust? Like alt play, the trend since mid-Mists has been to make guilds less and less relevant, with the removal of most guild perks and advantages to guild membership.
  • With the apparent advent of interplanetary travel, will we eventually see honest-to-goodness actual working space ship “mounts”? Will space actually be a working environment — like an underwater area only without water — or just more of an abstract concept?
  • What will be the eternal-grind mechanism of 8.x? Because we know there will be one, just a matter of how Blizz repackages AP (like they repackaged garrisons into class halls).

And last but certainly not least:

Will we get a concept of the next expansion at Blizzcon this year?

What questions do you have?

Profession changes and cataclysmic changes

This will be a very strange post, I am afraid. On the one hand, I feel more or less bound to comment on yesterday’s dev interview on professions in Legion. But on the other hand, I feel like yesterday’s world-altering changes in Britain simply cannot be ignored. Major changes, whether in a computer game or in the existing world order, are always unsettling, and honestly it is impossible to foresee final outcomes from any of them while they are in progress. It is that uncertainty, I think, that makes such changes so difficult for most of us — nations as well as individuals, games as well as real world.

Let me deal first — and briefly — with the dev interview. As with the first one last week, I found the format to be very good, and I thought the overall tone of the answers Paul Kubit gave was quite positive as well as informative. I do think that the Legion profession changes are generally favorable, and that Blizz is making a good faith effort to reverse the profession slide we saw in WoD.

This does not mean I agree with all the changes. I think Kubit did some very fancy dancing on the whole Blood of Sargeras subject. He first went to some pains to explain that no, of course Blizz does not want to dictate that players “should” have one gathering and one crafting profession on each character. No, no, no. Then he went on to say but of course you should suffer some slight disadvantage if you do not. He outlined several changes being made to make the BoP situation with BoS somewhat more equitable, and in the end it will probably work out. That is a positive thing, because it shows Blizz is listening to the very real concerns of players in this matter, and that continues a trend we have seen pretty much throughout the recent Legion development — a welcome turnaround from WoD.

Still, in the end he did not really have a good answer for why BoA is not an option for Blood of Sargeras. I am willing at this point to just accept that this mechanic will be a continuing pain throughout Legion, and to prepare to deal with it.

A couple of other comments that I noted:

  • It looks like we will not get much of a break from the huge annoyance of RNG-dictated secondary stats. As in WoD, there will be no real way to ensure you get the secondary stats you need on your crafted gear. In fact, the reroll mechanic is going away, and instead you will just have to craft piece after piece until you get your optimal stats. I hated that part of WoD, and I hate that it will continue in Legion. The only possible bright side, if there is one, is that Multistrike is also going away, so I suppose we can hope that there will be fewer possible stat combos to roll the dice on.
  • Mass resurrection is going away. I did not know this. It more or less completes the rollback of guild perks and thus helps to drive another nail in the coffin of robust guilds. About the only thing left is the mail perk, we will see how long that lasts. The engineer-crafted Failure Detection Pylon is the presumed replacement, and while it has a couple of cute features, I think it will turn out to be a poor substitute. For one thing, it will only rez players within 5 yards of it. Kubit opined that the way to use it would be for the raid leader to call for everyone to head to the pylon if it looked like the raid was going to wipe. That was just a stupid comment, in my opinion. Typically, raids wipe incrementally, with players dying off one or two at a time in different places throughout the boss space, so by the time it becomes apparent that a wipe is in the works, it is too late for most of the raid to gather in a small space to die.
  • Kubit was a bit overly coy about the fishing artifact, if indeed there is one. He hinted that Blizz has deliberately put out some misinformation about this — for example, you will not need to complete the coin-fishing achievement in Dalaran as part of the quest line (if there is one, haha). Okay. Very clever, Blizz.

I have to be honest. My heart is not in this today. Changes to a side game within a computer game are less than insignificant in the face of the geopolitical earthquake we have just undergone, and in the face of what will surely be a long period of aftershocks, many of which may be as significant as this first quake.

This blog is a gaming blog. I do not use it as a political platform, nor do I intend to start now. I am not going to venture an opinion on the rightness or wrongness of the Brit vote, it was what it was. But I know for a fact that we are in the midst of a cataclysmic change in the world order, and whether Brexit is the cause of it or just a symptom of a change that has been in the works for some time, remains to be seen. It will be up to future history books to trace the seeds of this change’s actual beginnings and to describe how it finally unfolds.

If you are not someone who usually pays much attention to current events, think about starting to now. It will be important, I think, for you to be able to tell your children and grandchildren what it was like to live through this geopolitical shift, because there will be the big picture but there will also be the small picture that affects you and me and everyone living in the world. Let us hope that the stories you will tell will be about the bad old days, not about a time of relative peace that is unimaginable in the chaotic world of your grandchildren.

Let us hope that this cataclysm is not the worst expansion ever in the real world.

Thoughts while leveling

For the past month or so I have been very slowly leveling a Paladin. It is a class I have always been attracted to but never been able to stick with, probably because it is basically a melee class and I just do not enjoy melee.

Let me admit up front that I know zero about Paladins as a class, other than the most awesome one I ever knew was a Holy Paladin that was not only a fantastic healer but also a really fine raid leader. Of course, that was back in Cata, and I have no idea really of the relative power of the various specs now. I know I see a lot of Pally tanks and have not noticed many healers or damage dealers, but maybe that is just because I have not been paying attention. I selected Retribution for leveling purposes, but I am still drawn to the idea of Holy, partly because of the influence of my old raid leader and partly because I feel more comfortable in a healing spec than in any melee damage spec. But final spec selection is a ways off, as my little Pally is still hovering around the 30 level.

Anyway, herewith my random observations while leveling.

I have always thought of hunter leveling as easy, but having recently leveled a Rogue and now this Pally, I see that all leveling is face-roll easy these days, especially with heirlooms now. I know there are people who consider this development a bad thing, but I am OK with it. I still feel like the process lets me learn a new class at a nice easy pace, lets me explore all the specs without paying a huge price for it. If I want more challenge, I can always play around with pulling lots more mobs or dipping a toe into a zone higher than my current one.

The one thing I don’t like about the current leveling process is the nutty way that new spells are learned. It just seems to make no sense. I think my Pally had a grand total of two damage spells until well into the level 20’s. I do not get bored grinding quests for leveling, but I do get bored punching the same two buttons for level after level. Also, it seems to take forever until you get any AoE spells, which gets a bit annoying.

One of the coolest things Blizz has ever done is give us that Chauffeured Chopper reward from getting a certain number of heirlooms. It certainly makes the very early stages of leveling much more fun. If you are leveling in Eastern Kingdoms, it even makes that marathon run to get to Wetlands and Menethil Harbor seem a smidgeon less than an all-out death march. I always imagine my driver chatting with me when he picks me up, asking how did my quest go, pointing out scenic points as we travel, asking have I ever been here before, what’s our next stop,  when is lunch, etc.

In general, I think I prefer leveling in Eastern Kingdoms to leveling in Kalimdor, although I have done plenty of both. My least favorite zones, though, are Duskwood and both the Plaguelands. I am not a fan of dark, gloomy zones, nor am I fan of any of the multitude of zombie creatures so many people today seem enamored of.

Even though there is no longer much point to it, I usually try to level my professions as I level my alts. For one thing it gives me a small income, but for another it just seems like the right thing to do.

My Pally is my only plate-wearer (or will be once she gets high enough level), so maybe that will give my blacksmith something useful to do for a change. Also, I might get to finally use all those BoA Baleful plate items accumulating in my bank.

I haven’t yet run any instances with my Pally. I am hesitant because I know so little about playing the class, but on the other hand dungeons seem ridiculously easy at low levels now, and likely I would do just fine. OK, now I talked myself into it, I’ll run a couple this week.

One of the most annoying low level quest lines is the set from Abercrombie in Duskwood. The guy has like 4 or 5 quests, and as expected none of them are very challenging, but the thing is he lives a fair distance outside of Darkshire, and for some reason I find the seemingly-endless trips to see him very tedious. I feel like, Dude get a phone for crying out loud, I’ll call you with the quest results! It’s not like he lives in some place nice to visit, either, it’s a big old burned-out tower thingie surrounded by zombies (see above on my feelings about them).

I just always try to get through Duskwood as  fast as possible.

While leveling — especially at low levels — I always keep my hearthstone set to Stormwind, mainly for trips to the auction house and for profession training. I like the inn in Dwarven District, but I have never understood how it could be an inn when it has no place to sleep? One of the fun things I like doing is to get myself to an inn just before I log off, then lie down on a bed and do /sleep. It’s kind of a semi-superstition, makes me feel like my character really is rested when I log back on. But in Dwarven District, I have to find a corner of the floor to sleep on.

With all my new characters, when I reach level 60 I have to make a decision: Do I buy a boost or keep on grinding? Lately I have ended up buying the boost, mainly because I just do not like any of the Cata zone leveling, except for Uldum. I like the Mists leveling, but getting to that point is just very painful in my view. Still, I am conflicted, because I feel like boosting cheats you out of a big chunk of learning your spec. If it is a spec you have played a lot, well no big deal, but if it is a new spec I think it has a slight detrimental effect on your proficiency.

I haven’t yet decided whether or not I will keep my Pally. Usually for me the decision point comes somewhere around level 40. By then I have run a few dungeons, have played with all the specs, and have had a chance to get a basic feel for the play style. So we’ll see.

Meanwhile, I am (mostly) having fun with the leveling process. And getting a good idea of what it consists of these days and how it has changed over the last couple of expansions.

The demise of guilds

I don’t think I would get much argument if I said that Warlords of Draenor was very hard on guilds. And so far I have not seen anything in Legion that will reverse that trend. In fact, if anything, the implementation of Order Halls will further hurt guilds.

Before I continue, a disclaimer — much of what I will say is anecdotal, derived from my server and my WoD guild experiences. I could not find any place that tracks the number of guilds in the game historically — WoWProgress follows something like 700k guilds, but I could not find any historical data on change in numbers. So I am left with my own analysis, influenced by my experiences.

The relevant personal experiences are, I left two failed guilds, and am now part of one that is struggling to maintain viability. The failed guilds had gotten to the point where frequently I was the only guildie logged on most nights, the raid teams had disintegrated, the GM and officers were ghosts, and all planned activities disappeared. My current guild maintains some semblance of social play, and there are 8-10 guildies on a few times a week, but the raid team — formerly in the top 25 on the server — ceased to exist even before Hellfire Citadel came out. So please understand that what I say is certainly colored by my own experience. Yours may be completely different.

For me, guilds have always been one of the bedrocks of social play in WoW. I did not join one until I was about level 50 on my first character (back in the early days of WotLK), but once I did, I was hooked on them as integral to my enjoyment of the game.

I think guilds reached their peak around the end of Cata and first part of Mists. Indeed, it was during that period when Blizz seemed keen on promoting guild membership, because they instituted a host of enticing guild perks. Cata saw the introduction of guild leveling, from 1 to 25, with perks awarded at each level. But by the time of Patch 5.0.4, Blizz began to remove or nerf several of the perks, including the wildly popular Have Group Will Travel, which allowed a guildie to summon other guildies to their location. In WoD, Blizz eliminated the guild leveling system along with many guild perks.

In particular, they axed the Cash Flow perk, by which the guild earned a small amount of gold every time a guildie looted gold in the world. The stated reason was that some GMs were using this to exploit their guildies and enrich themselves. I suppose what they really meant was that illicit gold sellers were using the mechanism to generate gold, but whatever the reason, it was a pretty serious blow to many guilds, causing some to revoke the free repairs privilege, which in turn hurt retention and recruitment.

Guilds were also indirectly — but seriously — impacted by some of the design features of WoD. For example, the lack of repeatable content, such as rares and such as the irrelevancy of dungeons, meant there was less reason to get up guild groups for some romping-about fun for an hour or two. This of course was compounded by the lack of flying, meaning it became a pretty major commitment to get a group together in the same place at the same time, and then spend most of your time just traveling to wherever your target was. Not to mention if you had just an hour or two to play, you probably felt you had to spend that doing your garrison and follower chores, not running about with a guild group trying to find an objective. And everything was further compounded by the widespread perception that WoD was just not very fun, which caused fewer and fewer guild members to log on, that is if they remained subscribed at all.

To make matters even worse, raid design in WoD was very detrimental to casual raid teams, be they “hardcore casual” or “laid back casual” in nature. For the laid back casual teams, most of the mechanics were too demanding for a flex-style pick-up group of guildies, unless there were a significant number of very good raiders to carry the group. Normal level was much harder than Blizz told us it would be when they introduced the new raid levels. Thus, the promised “friends and family” mode became progression, and players just looking for an evening of fun and camaraderie stopped trying to raid.

Ten-man teams with core members trying to do progression also faced a number of obstacles:

  • Blizz failed to follow through on its design promise that progression teams would be able to start on Heroic (since in theory WoD Heroic was previous Normal). You simply could not be properly geared for Heroic unless you had first cleared Normal, in most circumstances.
  • WoD raids were horribly tuned, such that small teams were at a disadvantage. But the mechanics were such that bringing in  guildies who normally did not raid with the team was impractical, since it significantly slowed progression while the augmentees learned not to commit the single-player raid-wiping errors nearly every boss had. Pugging via the Group Finder was tedious and annoying, not to mention going this route pretty much destroyed the feeling of team accomplishment people sought when they joined a progression team in the first place.
  • Overall decreased player participation in the game meant getting even ten players to show up on raid nights became difficult, which meant trying to plug the holes with more non-core members, which in turn meant there was even less team spirit in the group, etc. It was a continuous downward spiral.

All of these factors contributed to the WoD demise of many guilds. Social guilds no longer had enough active players to be really social any more, and casual raiding guilds found it increasingly difficult to field a viable team.

Looking at Legion, I don’t see anything so far that gives me hope that guilds will be revived as a robust social mechanism. Indeed, the focus on Order Halls would seem to be at the expense of guilds.

I have to admit, I still don’t see the real game design reason for Order Halls, except as a quest hub. And some aspects of them are downright stupid, such as the ridiculous notion that every class member on your entire server is the primary class leader, the one with the “unique” artifact weapon. Puh-leeze.

For myself, I would have preferred a simpler quest hub mechanism, and put the “home base” dev effort on something like Guild Halls. Now, there may be a technical reason that Guild Halls are not doable, but if so  I would like to hear it. As it stands, it appears to me that Blizz is just fine with the dwindling relevance of guilds in the game, and in fact their actions over the last two expansions indicates they are actively promoting such a trend. I think this is a shame, given the avowed social nature of the game. It would be nice if Watcher or someone would address the future of guilds, and how Blizz sees their continuing role, if indeed they see any role for them at all.

 

Timewalking — still fun

Last night when I logged on I was astounded to see a double-digit number of guildies on, after months of maybe 3-4 at any given time. And people were actually engaged in the game, not just logging on to check some garrison work orders or run a quick weekly ring quest. There was chatter, questions and observations about various aspects of the patch, and just general socializing.

We put together a couple of guild groups running Timewalking dungeons. I always liked the Cata dungeons (most of them), so I was predisposed to like this TW event, and I was not disappointed. I ran it on my main for the valor, so none of the gear was useful, but I still enjoyed it. (No one got the mount.) And the 500 valor quest reward allowed me to fully upgrade a third piece of gear.

I didn’t do much gear switching before we started, but I did haul my legendary cape out of mothballs and donned it. I always thought the blue wing effect for it was kind of hokey — and I still thought so last night — but I had forgotten how much fun the actual damage proc visual was for hunters. It made you feel like you were actually doing some special damage, like you were really getting a decent benefit from completing that long quest line. Even though the proc was passive and thus not something you controlled, it still felt like you were personally contributing something special to the group. Not like this crappy ring, almost always controlled by someone else, and with close to zero visual effect except for a tiny flash of light at the end, which is usually obscured by all the other fight visuals.

I ran the Cata dungeons so often when they were current that I thought I would remember every detail of them for years, but I was surprised last night when I found I had forgotten some crucial mechanics for a couple of bosses. I actually died in the final boss in Vortex Pinnacle, because while I remembered to jump during static cling, I completely forgot about getting into the lightning triangle when he casts his big AoE. I was a bit embarrassed.

Not as embarrassed as I was, though, when I stupidly caused a wipe in Lost City of the Tol’vir by pulling every mob in sight when I failed to properly calculate my firing angle for Barrage. A split second into it I realized my mistake and stopped the channel, but it was too late. Noob hunter mistake, I am ashamed to admit. I apologized to the group, and since it was a guild group they laughed at me and made fun of me instead of kicking me. So nice to be among friends!

I was hoping to run End Time, but we didn’t draw it, nor did we get Grim Batol. Instead we got the other three plus Vortex Pinnacle twice. No worries, I’m sure I’ll get a chance at those two sooner or later this week as I run the TW quest on some alts.

All in all, I still think Blizz has a hit with the whole Timewalking concept. Sometimes I think it would be better if they were available all the time instead of just every few weeks, but then I suspect they would lose their fun and become just another grind. I do think it might be cool, though, if you could select which set of TW dungeons you want to run when TW comes up in the bonus event rotation. Not a big deal, but it might be kind of a fun tweak at some point in the future.

Anyway, last night was fun. It was terrific to be playing the game again within the social structure that drew me to it in the first place. It was a warm and welcomely familiar experience, like coming home after a long trip and getting hugged. I don’t know how long it will last, but it sure was a good feeling.

 

 

Weekend wanderings

I played quite a bit this last weekend. Mostly I finished leveling my rogue, the first melee spec I have ever max leveled. In the process, I had a lot of time to think, because honestly I have found the combat rogue rotation to be pretty much automatic, with the interesting parts coming only when you have to execute some fancy defensive moves.

On the rogue, I have to admit leveling was kind of fun. I only died once, and that was when I wasn’t paying attention and wandered too close to a horde settlement in Hillsbrad Foothills as I was on my way to Western Plaguelands. It’s been a while since I leveled a new alt, so maybe every class is very easy to level these days, but I found the rogue had no problems at any stage of leveling. (I did have him decked out in full heirloom gear.) The only times I felt like I had to plan any attacks were when I needed to deal with groups. I don’t really have the hang of rogue AoE yet, it seems clunky and ineffective to me, but then I am used to a hunter so I am spoiled there. I do like the rogue stealth thing, though, it is a very fun mechanic. When I can’t use it — like when I was dragging the tadpole sled in Blasted Lands, I find I feel very vulnerable. I haven’t tried any spec other than combat yet, so I will probably try the others just to see about them. Combat is going away in Legion, but I have not really paid enough attention to know if it is a significant spec change or more of just a name change. It doesn’t matter to me, I will certainly not be expert enough playing a rogue by then that I will be bothered by having to learn new talents and rotations.

I wish that was the case with my hunters. Maybe I should try and look at hunter changes the way I look at rogue changes. Hmmmmmm……nope, can’t make it work for me.

One of the things I noticed while I was leveling was that it seemed like Blizz has gone back and removed some of the traditional annoyances from many of the quests and zones. I remember, for example, many times needing to kill or collect X number of things, and lo and behold only X-2 of them would spawn, even if no one else was on the same quest at that time. So you had to sit and wait for respawns. I didn’t run into any of that this time. Also drop rates for some of the collection type quests seem to have improved, for example the drop rate of those beads in one of the early Winterspring quests. I can remember spending an hour or more killing what seemed like hundreds of those stupid bear creatures trying to get 10 beads to drop, wiping out the population of them and having to wait for respawns, but this time I got the quest done in about 10 minutes. I like that some of the behind the scenes work Blizz does is maintenance and quality of life upgrades to old zones and quests.

The other thing that struck me about the leveling process was how invested you have to be now in an alt if you want it viable after it is leveled. I am not even talking about making the alt raid ready, I am just talking about making it useful for  professions, or even as your relaxing go-to alt when you just want to have some non-goal oriented fun. There are a lot of hoops you have to jump through to just play in a zone now. This trend I think started in Mists with the patches that added mini-zones (the islands), when every character had to complete certain scenarios in order to even see the content. In fact, it even happened with Pandaria itself, you could not get there unless you completed the opening scenario, it was not like the rest of Azeroth where your alt could go anywhere even if it would get its ass kicked in some zones.

Come to think of it, in some limited ways this mechanic was also part of Cata, in that some new zones were only available from a very short quest, even if that quest was the command board that opened up transportation to, for example, Deepholm.

In WoD, though, Blizz really upped the cover charge for alts getting into the game, mainly with the whole garrison structure, but also with the rather extensive quest line to get access to Tanaan. It just seems like maintaining alts has become very cumbersome indeed. I know when my rogue got to 90, I just felt depressed at the prospect not of leveling to 100 but of setting up the whole garrison structure yet again.

I still think WoD might have gotten a better rep with players — even given all its other shortcomings — if Blizz had somehow made garrisons account wide from the start. Of course, that is toothpaste that will not go back in the tube, but hopefully it was a lesson they have taken to heart. I would love to see alts be more viable as fun auxiliary play in Legion, without the need to grind away at them even after they have leveled. Unfortunately, it is looking like Blizz is doubling down on alt grinding, what with quests to obtain each new profession recipe, and with artifact weapons. In fact, the other thing I did this weekend was to delete two of my level 90 alts — brewmaster monk and a shammie — not only because I did not want to go through the whole garrison building routine with them, but also because I know I will never be able to get them their professions and artifact weapons in Legion, they will just get further and further behind.

It’s a shame that Blizz has made the investment in alts so expensive. It’s a play style many people enjoy, but one that is becoming harder and harder to engage in.