Mixed alt messages

Over the weekend I spent a few hours on my outlaw rogue alt. I like this alt, but he is not one of my “main” alts, if there is such a thing. He was already at 110 and had worked through the basic parts of Broken Shore and the class hall quest lines (but not the class mount one), but he had done nothing more than the intro quest to just get him aboard the Vindicaar.

The reason I hauled him out of mothballs is because he is my inscriptionist, and I usually provide most of the vantus runes we hand out in raid while we are doing progression. I craft them and send them to the RL, who passes them out to the raid just before whichever boss we think will be the toughest one for the week. They may be a crutch, but we have found they often make that small bit of difference — especially early on in a tier — that lets us walk away with a kill instead of a series of wipes.

So I dusted him off and ran a quick LFR to get the level 1 vantus rune recipe for Antorus the Burning Throne. My experience, if anyone is interested, is that it takes approximately 100 herbs at level 1 to mill enough mats to make one vantus rune, maybe a bit less with Dreamleaf which gives a bonus, or Astral Glory which seems to have a higher drop rate. So about 2000 herbs — 10 full stacks — for 20 vantus runes. Last tier I never did get beyond the level 1 recipe, mainly because of course the higher levels are random drops in the raid itself. (*sigh* RNG is such fun™)

Of course, if I regularly ran LFR on my rogue, I would theoretically increase my chances to get the level 2 technique, paving the way for level 3 and greatly decreased mat requirements. To make that LFR experience a little more pleasant, I figured doing Argus dailies and invasions would help gear him up (he is currently sitting at something like 905 ilvl) and increase his artifact level/effectiveness.

Unfortunately, for some reason Blizz has seen fit to require that every character has to unlock the various Argus dailies. It is not an account-wide achievement. At this point someone will inevitably assert something like, “Oh, you can knock those quests out in 20 minutes,” but trust me that is just not true. It takes me hours, and I suspect that is the case for most people. My rogue is the 4th character I have taken through the process, and it is starting to get old.

Blizz will proudly list for us all the “alt-friendly” changes they have made to Legion, and I do not deny they have made quite a few. But the fact remains that Legion started out as probably the most alt-hostile expansion in recent history, so to throw us a few bones that serve to make it only slightly less alt-hostile is not much to brag about in my opinion. Ion Hazzikostas believes that the only legitimate way to play alts is to force them into the same end game cattle chute as a main, and he has finally shaped the game to implement his personal opinion on the matter.

Now, finally, my point. Legion — by design — discourages alt play. I suspect (of course I do not have any publicly disclosed numbers to back this up) Blizz has seen the number of alts at max level take a nosedive in this expansion. By introducing Allied Races, suddenly Blizz is encouraging us to start brand new alts. Why the new ones? Why not just make some more changes that will nudge us to finally spend time with the ones we have?

As an aside, I am totally confused about what Patch 7.3.5. will bring. Suddenly it seems like it will include a whole bunch of things I could swear we were told at Blizzcon would be part of Battle for Azeroth. What gives? Has Blizz discovered they cannot possibly meet a reasonable BfA deadline and thus need to give us a bunch of new shinies to keep us busy? Are some of the promised changes so complex that they need to use 7.3.5 as a testing ground for them? Have they given up on making significant class balance changes — as they told us every “dot 5” patch would be — and need something else to make it seem like a major patch? Maybe it is all part of a grand plan for 7.3.5 to ooze into BfA, but it sure is confusing.

It is true that players have been whining for new races for a while now, so certainly this will be a popular move. But consider:

  • You cannot start one until you have met some rather lengthy max-level rep requirements on your main (and possibly other requirements, too, we don’t really know yet for sure).
  • The new alt leveling will coincide with what from all reports is a significantly lengthened leveling process due to Blizz’s zone leveling and increase of XP required for most levels.
  • Just encouraging players to play with alts they already have would absolutely not require as much play time as leveling a new one under these circumstances.
  • It will come at the end of an expansion, historically the time when players lose interest and go do other leisure activities until the next expansion.

Yeah. It is almost certain that the Monthly Active User (MAU) metric is at work here, notably the need to maintain high MAU numbers as a corporate measure of a game’s success. Although Blizz has often said the nature of WoW is that it is cyclical, and it is something they plan for and accept, clearly they are working furiously to change that business plan.

Will I level a new Allied Race alt? Sure, and I expect it will be a nice distraction during the waning days of Legion. My choice, even though I know I am being manipulated: Blizz discourages me from playing alts, except the ones they approve of, at the time they approve of, at the leveling pace they approve of, with the preconditions they have set.

I love Big Brother, and there are five lights. Life is so much easier when you accept these things.

Testing the game for Blizz

Today Blizz has posted a rather long and ardent plea for WoW players to create characters on the 7.3.5 Public Test Realm. Blizz has made similar basic requests for other patches in testing, so this in itself is not really new. What does seem a little out of the ordinary, though, is the slightly desperate tone in this one. The announcement is quite a bit longer than usual, with detailed instructions on exactly how to download the PTR and create a new character, along with the usual how-to-give-feedback directions and the promise that players’ comments are extremely valuable. As the PTR has been up for a while, my tea-leaves reading is that not enough players are participating, and in particular that the “usual crowd” is not likely to be the kind of players interested in leveling a new character.

Lots to sort out here.

First, let’s think about the kind of player that usually is active on a PTR. Of course, I have no hard data on demographics here, but my anecdotal experience is that most PTR participants are not part of the vast majority of casual players. There are hard core types that form PTR guilds and want to get a good look at dungeons and raids, there are theory crafters and min-maxers who want to check out class changes, some people wanting to figure out profession changes, some who are curious about new quality of life changes. And there are a ton of tourists, players who like to get a quick look at the whole smorgasboard of changes, but once they have seen them they are pretty well done — they are not players with the time or the interest or the patience to spend hours on the PTR, deal with the inevitable crashes and major bugs, document the details of their observations, and so forth.

Blizz must certainly know this, but this time they really need players willing to take a new character through a big chunk of early leveling, because one of the major parts of 7.3.5 is the new low level zone leveling throughout Azeroth. Absent some pretty heavy testing of this system, Blizz knows they could have a mess on their hands when it goes live, just due to low traffic not discovering major shortfalls.

Second, there is a perception that when Blizz requests feedback, they really only care about obvious bugs, not what players experience in a squishier sense. I can certainly understand Blizz’s emphasis on “hard data” versus comments like “it feels boring”. In one sense, there is nothing they can do with a comment like the latter, but from another perspective if they get a lot of similar such comments they certainly ought to take them seriously and do some work to figure out the basis for them.

And then, of course, there is the example of the alpha/beta and the PTR for Legion, where hunters as well as other classes documented many, many playstyle problems — these were serious players who offered a ton of details and theorycrafting numbers to back up the claims — and Blizz blatantly ignored them for months even after Legion went live.

If there is a widespread perception that Blizz ignores player feedback on the actual play experience — which in the end is what really matters to most players — it is going to be difficult to convince large numbers of players to keep beating their heads against that brick wall. I think there is an implicit contract when a company uses its customers to do quality control of their product: the customers find the obvious product errors for the company, and the company in turn makes the product more pleasing to the customers even if “pleasing” does not involve immediately quantifiable product errors. You want us to find the bugs in your code, Blizz, fine, but in return we want to feel like we can actually shape the game.

Sure, it is impossible to incorporate every player’s WoW wish list, but when a huge number of players express the same set of dissatisfactions, Blizz needs them to know they are being taken seriously. And a boilerplate statement such as “We take every comment seriously” — absent any evidence of that — rings hollow.

Blizz has steadfastly refused to address widespread player concerns, has arrogantly declined to give feedback in any kind of organized fashion. When large numbers of players point out virtually the same thing, even if Blizz has no intention of changing it, they owe it to players to explain why. They have underinvested in structured player feedback mechanisms, preferring to rely on what seem to be random events once in a while to make a short cryptic comment on a few carefully selected items. It’s almost as if they are applying their beloved RNG even to this aspect of the game.

Third, a dearth of PTR involvement may be one of the real downsides to Blizz’s Legion interpretation of “content”. I usually like to participate in major patch PTRs, often spend quite a lot of time working my way through various parts of them and giving what I think is reasonable feedback. But I feel like I simply do not have the time to do this now — my play time for months has been consumed with chasing rep or doing long drawn out quest lines or grinding out profession requirements or bringing a few alts to minimal play level or grubbing for AP or gizmos to upgrade legendaries.

Blizz’s emphasis on MAU means my game time is spoken for just doing the live server, no chance I am going to spend hours leveling a new character on the PTR.

So, yeah, I understand why they are begging players to spend a lot of time on the PTR. But strategic decisions sometime have unforeseen consequences, and here we are seeing a possible negative consequence of Blizz’s decisions to cater mainly to hard core players, to undervalue regular customer feedback mechanisms, and to force feed “content” to players.

Friday scattered thoughts

It’s Friday, it’s been an especially long week, and my brain does not seem particularly focused, so today’s post is just some scattered thoughts on this and that.

Antorus the Burning Throne. Last night our raid team finished up the Normal raid. We had done 7 bosses on Tuesday, and the last 4 we downed certainly did not disappoint, in my opinion. I found the last 2 (Aggramar and of course Argus) to be great fun, they just seemed to be well designed and had some interesting mechanics. And the artwork, especially for Argus, is simply spectacular. Whatever other shortcomings we may eventually complain about for this raid, the visual design will remain, in my opinion, one of the best Blizz has ever done. Do yourselves a huge favor when you first get into the Argus area, and look behind you up into the skybox. It is not only beautiful, but it gives you a sense of the entire story of Legion — even me, who generally has no interest in lore.

And, without revealing any spoilers, the cinematic after you kill Argus is excellent. It rivals, in my opinion, the Battle for Azeroth cinematic we saw at Blizzcon.

We had enough trouble (something like 4-5 wipes) with both Aggramar and Argus that I think they will be quite tough for us on Heroic. As with many of the fights in the raid, there is a definite team learning curve

Overall, from a very limited point of view, it seems to me that very few of this raid’s bosses are even close to friendly to BM hunters. They seem either to involve single-target pew-pewing or a lot of very scattered adds. Several of the fights involve phases with high-priority adds placed all around a room or platform, and I really noticed a drop in my DPS just due to my melee-bound pets taking their time getting to the next target. Even switching to Blink Strikes as a talent did not seem to help much, partly due to the cooldown on that ability, and also to the ambling nature of Hati. Classes with robust DoT abilities and wide cleaves will shine in many fights in this raid.

As to the vaunted Argus trinkets from the final boss, our raid of 20 got 4 drops (not me, I got the useless quest legendary ring along with gold and AP), and none were Aman’Thul’s Vision (The One Trinket That Binds Them All).

Patch 7.3.5. This is up on the PTR for anyone that wants to try it out. I am somewhat disappointed that — at least as far as we know so far — it will not involve any significant class balance fixes, in spite of Blizz’s pronouncement early in Legion that the “dot five” patches would be mainly targeted at class balance changes. Some of the recently-announced changes include:

Patch/Expansion confusion. Honestly, I am kind of losing the bubble on what is happening in Patch 7.3.5 and what is just development for the next expansion. Blizz could probably be a little bit clearer on this. So the following comments may apply to changes coming in the next xpac, or to changes coming in the next patch. Who knows?

Changes to the early leveling experience. Zone scaling is implemented in Azeroth leveling zones, and XP to level is being increased for levels 10-59. I know this is a popular change, but I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I like the idea of being able to keep questing in a zone I enjoy, and still continue to advance. On the other hand, I find I generally like pretty much roflstomping through a zone at low levels. I have done these quests so often that they no longer hold much interest for me, and the only really fun is becoming familiar with my alt’s abilities. (And remember, Blizz has taken away a great many class abilities at lower levels, so that many specs go through a lot of levels with only 2-3 major abilities.) I don’t know that having every mob fight take longer is really an improvement.

I also get a kick out of leveling quickly, and I am not sure why Blizz thinks stretching that process out is desirable.

It almost seems like Blizz is enforcing a small part of the “Classic” experience on all of us now.

More backpack space. Okay, this is minor, but remember when Ion Hazzikostas promised us we would be seeing more space in our grubby old original backpacks? Yeah. Turns out, it appears, that the extra space will be tied to having an authentication attached to your account. In principle, I think this is a pretty good idea. Blizz wants to do as much as they can to stop account theft, which in turn makes life harder for illegal botters, gold sellers, and the like. So it’s not a bad idea to offer a little perk to people willing to add this bit of security to their account. (I have had the phone authenticator for years, and it in no way hinders my access to the game or my enjoyment of it. It is not an absolute guarantee that my account cannot be hijacked, but it greatly complicates the process for any hackers. Which means, I think, they would be more likely to go after someone who does not have an authenticator. So please, if you think an authenticator is a bad idea, for my sake continue to have an unprotected account …)

The quibble I have with this is that Blizz is really chintzing out on the offer. Their miserly “gift” is a whopping — get ready for this — FOUR extra bag spaces!

Sheesh.

Upgrading 970 legendaries. This is nothing more than a big Blizz gotcha joke, in my opinion. In the few comments Blizz has made about this annoying and tedious process (it will take many people literally months to upgrade all theirs, even assuming they max out Wakening Essences every day), they have rather smarmily intimated that maybe we should just pick a few legendaries to upgrade and forget about the rest.

Really?

After you handed them out like candy, after you refused to back off the RNG aspect of which ones we could get, after you nerfed the “good” ones so that they are all more or less equal in certain circumstances? After all you have done to encourage us to use all of them depending on the fight and our individual gearing and talents, NOW you say we should just pick a couple and stick with them?

If Blizz is going to stick with the system they have on this, the least they could do is make the Wakening Essences more plentiful. They could ensure we get at least 10 in the emissary chests. They could award them for every world quest we do instead of just emissary ones, or alternately they could award several as the actual WQ reward, like they do with gold or Blood of Sargeras or class hall resources. They could give us a shoulder enchant that awards a few bonus ones periodically as loot.

Even better, Blizz, quit nickel and diming us on this stuff and do like you did in other expansions — when the new numbers hit, auto-upgrade the ones we have. What the hell would it hurt to do that? If you really do want us to switch out these items as situations dictate, then you should upgrade them all so we will actually do that, not encourage us to just stick to the two or three we have managed to grind out upgrades for. Put your money where your mealy mouth is.

And on that note of cranky annoyance, I am off to start my weekend. Enjoy yours.

Chasing the carrot

I am not what anyone would call an achievement hog (or the other terminology where you leave off the “g”). I do not really go out of my way to check off unfinished tasks in my WoW log. Most of my achievements are there as a by-product of my normal play style, and in any guild ranking by achievement points I am pretty far down the list. I am happy to participate in guild achievement nights, and I am always ready to help others get special achievements, but left to my own devices I generally do not directly pursue them unless they lead to something else I really want. (Achievements to unlock flying would be an example.)

But that does not mean I am not goal-driven. It’s just that I prefer to set my own goals rather than have Blizz list them out for me. As I have explained before in this blog, I set pretty much the same goals for myself at the start of every expansion, roughly:

  • Progress through every raid tier at whatever level of play my raid team is doing.
  • Gear my main to approximately whatever the “max” level is for the level of raids I run.
  • Max out all my professions on all my characters.
  • Level all my alts, at least to LFR minimums.
  • Spend enough play time with my alts to be minimally proficient with them.
  • Develop one or two alts to be able to do normal raid mode.

I get a real feeling of satisfaction when I judge that I have reached these goals.

My frustration with Legion is that, for many of these goals, Blizz has either vastly increased the time necessary to do them, or they keep moving the line to where I can never really feel I have completed them. Both factors tend to make most of these personal goals unattainable. I only have so much play time available, for example, and if gearing up an alt (mainly artifact AP) takes twice as long as in a previous expansion, then I will only be able to gear up half as many alts. (That’s not the actual ratio, but you get the idea.)

But the most frustrating part of all this has been that it is not possible to “finish” my main’s artifact (and thus gear) leveling because Blizz keeps introducing more and more levels of power to it. Consider:

  • They initially told us once we got all the basic traits done and got to the final gold trait, anything beyond that would be minimal and we should not feel we had to diligently pursue it.
  • Then along came a patch and lo and behold they added a whole new set of traits we had to build until we got to “Convergence” on our weapons.
  • But after that, said Blizz, no worries, anything beyond that would be minimal and we should not feel we had to diligently pursue it.
  • Then of course along came patch 7.3, and Blizz once again yanked the football away and pushed us to chase billions and billions of AP every week to fill in — yes, you guessed it — another trait table, this one based on relic slots!

As usual, now they are reassuring us that once we get all relic levels unlocked, any further increases to artifact power are minimal and we should not feel we have to bust our sweet little asses pursuing AP after that.

Mmmmmmm-hmmm. Sure.

This is all old news, of course. We should no longer be surprised when Blizz lies to us time after time. (Remember their progressive lies about the role of garrisons in WoD.) “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” We have all rightly complained a lot about the endless AP grind in Legion, and even Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas seemed to realize it in a couple of oblique comments in yesterday’s dev Q&A.

The thing is, this will not change in Battle for Azeroth. We will not have an artifact weapon, but instead we will have at least 4 pieces of artifact-type gear. The mechanics will be different, but these things will not:

  • We will be required to have one certain piece of gear (the neck piece) in order to even function in the expansion. This is like our being required to have an artifact weapon in Legion. It is not possible to participate in the expansion without it.
  • The neck piece will in effect control the trait tables for at least 3 other pieces of gear. We will have to “progress” the neck piece in order to unlock various traits capabilities for other gear slots. Sound familiar?
  • Our artifact weapon special gear will gain power by our accumulation of massive amounts of artifact power azerite. We will get this by participating in the MAU-enhancing activities Blizz designates. For the entire expansion.

No matter what Blizz says about powering up the new gear, you can take it to the bank that the enhancement process will be never-ending. For anyone wishing to raid or even to do Mythic+ (Blizz’s new stealth raiding activity), there will be no logical stopping points. As soon as there starts to be a slight dip in MAU, Blizz will introduce an entirely new set of powers to be unlocked by diligently chasing more azerite. Count on it.

And so, finally, here is my point: I do not know how much longer I can continue chasing something I can never catch in this game. I am not sure I can reset my brain to give up a set of personal goals that have served me well ever since I began playing WoW. There is a slow burning anger in me that Blizz so cavalierly devalues my goals and my play style, and a growing nugget of rage that not only do they tell me what my goals will be but that they keep moving those goals further down the field. 

No, I am not going to rage quit. I will wait and see what BfA brings. In the big picture, when I engage my logic rather than my emotions, I know it is still an amazing game. I must certainly be having fun with it, because otherwise I would have quit long ago.

But I cannot shake the feeling that each time I log on I am being backed into a smaller and smaller corner, being forced into a play style and set of game activities set not by me but by Blizz. If I may shift metaphors here, I am sick of having a carrot tied to my head so that no matter how fast I run I can never catch it, and I am sick of Blizz telling me a continuous stream of lies about my chances of doing it.

I want the damn carrot, Blizz!

Next week is American Thanksgiving week, and I will be taking a blog vacation during that time to tend to relatives and cooking and football. Look for me back here on November 27th. For those of you who celebrate turkey day, enjoy!

Nostalgia

I am not a let’s-join-an-illegal-vanilla-WoW-server kind of person. I think the game is what it currently is, and if I really dislike it I am at liberty to not play it. It would never occur to me to try and find a retro version of it, partly because I tend to look forward not back, but also because everything — the game, me, the tech world — has gone beyond those early days. Whatever great times I remember about my first months in the game cannot be fully recaptured because those times were a result of a whole array of circumstances. Going back to a vanilla — or even Wrath era — game in and of itself cannot replicate my level of knowledge or game proficiency then, nor can it make me unlearn my current expectations of graphics, server reliability, and other technical advancements.

Part of the reason misty memories are so alluring is because they are just that: misty.  If we really remembered everything about the times we yearn for, we probably would not hold them in such high regard.

Nevertheless, I do fall prey to nostalgia in the game from time to time. One such time happened yesterday as I was leveling my baby priest through Northern Stranglethorn. I was doing some power leveling and thus was pretty focused on the immediate quests at hand, but at one point for some reason I stopped and took in the scenery. And there above me, taking up most of the sky, was the ugly scar of Argus. It completely destroyed the moment for me.

I have been using my priest as a stress relief valve, a way to forget about Blizz’s insults to hunters and the grind the game has become — basically as a cheap way to recapture as much of the game’s simplicity as I can without going completely retro. And I have been successful at it until I looked up and was reminded of all the things awaiting my baby priest if I should actually get so far as leveling her up. Not to get too dramatic about it, but it was kind of soul-crushing.

This same burdensome feeling happened to me as I considered getting a couple more of my leveled alts able to do the Argus world quests. The whole series of quests necessary to do that just seemed not worth the effort. I read where Blizz is considering making this process easier for alts, but honestly I am not holding my breath over it. It would, after all, cut into their MAU stats.

Except maybe it would increase them. In my case, for example, if my alts were able to do Argus world quests without the heavy overhead necessary to unlock them, I would be far more likely to crank out some extra time every week doing a few more WQs on alts.

Short post today — lots going on in real life, both personally and nationally. In all areas I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the present and nostalgic for the past, but almost certainly I remember that past very imperfectly. We have the game that we have, and the ugly scar of Argus is now part of it.

My new Panda priest

My last post awakened some nostalgia in me, so the night I wrote it I rolled a brand new character, a Panda priest. No real reason for that particular combination, except I don’t have a priest (other than a bank alt which does not count) and I like Pandas. Generally I think of clothies as difficult to level up, but honestly nothing is difficult to level up to at least 90 or 100 these days. I took my time and last night hit level 25 on the new alt. I have opted thus far for Disc as a spec, but I have zero idea if that is a wise choice or not, or even if it makes any difference at low levels.

It has been a while since I leveled a brand new character, and my overwhelming impression thus far is how rapid the process is. I am not really a purist when it comes to leveling, so I outfitted my alt in as much heirloom gear as I have, sent her some decent size bags from my tailor, and started her out with 1000 gold. Oh, and can I just say that the chauffeured chopper is one of the coolest things in the game!

I have always liked the Panda starting area, and I think the whole choose-your-own-path approach to factions was a great idea. However, having started something like 4 or 5 Pandas by now, the process is starting to seem a little tedious. On my priest, I found myself just rushing through the initial quest line in order to get to the end of it and select Alliance as my faction. (Also, annoyingly, I could not use the chauffeured chopper until I selected my faction.) I did not initially equip heirlooms, so I was close to level 11 or 12 by the time I escaped the big turtle island.

One of the big decisions I had to make was whether or not to identify my new alt to my guild and seek an invite. On the one hand, it is kind of nice to just have some alone time in the game, when you can lose yourself in questing and exploring and leveling, with no need to follow guild chat or respond to requests for “one more dps for timewalking” or “need healer and dps for M+12”, etc. On the other hand, such anonymity is hard to achieve these days even if you opt out of guild matters, since apps like Battle.net and Discord can make you available to others even if your character is not part of the guild. Yes, I know no one forces me to use these and there a couple of settings that will camouflage me a bit, but they are so damn handy that I am loathe to attempt to deliberately drop off the grid. (This, I suppose, is the seduction of social media and locational apps in general. They are just too nifty to actively avoid. We know advertisers and others feed off our addiction to them, but we can’t seem to help ourselves.) So in the end, somewhere around level 20, I opted to whisper an officer for an invite on my baby priest. I have no willpower.

Anyway, back to my leveling experience. In addition to the astonishing rate at which I accumulate XP, the quests seem completely trivial. Mobs die almost instantly, even for a clothie with only 2-3 offensive spells. The only real reason to try and avoid them is for efficiency — it takes longer to get to where you are going if you stop and kill things even if they die quickly. I remember doing these same quests on my early characters, and they were challenging, making me map out safe routes and strategically plan which mobs to kill and which to go around. Some of the easiness of it now is due to me being smarter about how to play the game, but clearly Blizz has greatly nerfed the difficulty also.

In some ways I regret this easing of the process, but for the most part I don’t mind it. If the leveling process took as long as it did in vanilla or in any of the then-current expansions, it would take months level up a new alt, and most people would not bother doing it. As it is, if I want to take a long time leveling, I can, just by doing all the quests in a particular zone before moving on to a new one. (There is no real reason to use heirlooms, for example, except to crank up your XP and eliminate the need to gear swap when you get an upgrade.) I can take my time — if I want — developing the classic parts of professions. I can try to max out rep for the classic factions. The point is, if I want to take a long time developing a new alt, I can, but if I want to make the process faster I can do that, too. So I like what Blizz has done with the classic parts of the game in terms of leveling.

I don’t know if I will keep this Panda priest or not. I have a long history of rolling new alts only to abandon them somewhere around level 50 or 60. Mainly I tend to lose interest in them, since I have never really found a class I love as much as hunters. And now, to be honest, getting an alt to level 110 only means that the grind begins. Maybe what I really like is the feeling of newness, of potential, with a brand new alt.

Currently I have six characters (main and 5 alts) at level 110, and two sitting at 100 (but one of those is 100 only because I used my boost on her). But I have found that once most of them got to 110, I lost motivation for playing them since doing so requires so damn much time in Legion. In Mists, I played all of them enthusiastically, taking them all to Timeless Isle for dailies and weeklies. (I even did the quest line to get the legendary cloak on 7 characters.) But getting to Timeless Isle did not require long quest lines to unlock the place, and there were areas that were not lethal even to undergeared alts. That is not true of either Broken Shore or Argus. Just getting to those places is tedious for an alt.

So, yeah, I am having fun going back to classic zones in Azeroth with a new alt. I am going to try and stretch that fun out a bit, and I am going to use the priest as a pressure valve — a way to take a little vacation in the game when I am frustrated with Legion’s grind dujour.

And speaking of relaxing, it is time for a weekend. Yay!

Childhood and journey

I remember when I rolled my very first WoW character and lost myself in the game. It was my night elf hunter, back when hunters didn’t get their first pet until level 10, and by the way level 10 took a lot longer than the twenty minutes it now does. I remember those early quests in Teldrassil, figuring out how to move around, getting the concept of “targeting” something, coordinating that with a standard key bind to “shoot” the mob. I remember the surprise I got when eventually the target mobs actually attacked me if I got too close, rather than stand passively and wait for me to kill them. I remember getting almost hopelessly lost in my first cave quest, and to be honest I have disliked caves ever since.

When I made my way to Darkshore as a level 7, I got in a bit over my head and learned the tried and true technique of dying, getting back to my corpse, resurrecting at the absolute edge of where it was possible, and running like hell for about 5 seconds before dying again, then repeating the process until I made it to a safe area. It was harrowing.

I had been blow away when I discovered Darnassas — surely it was the game’s largest, most beautiful city? (I remember those ?level 60? NPCs majestically patrolling the road to the city on their gorgeous white tiger mounts, and I was in awe of such a high level. I could never aspire to that!) But then I accidentally got on a ship that took me to Stormwind, and an entirely new continent, and that was my first glimmer that the game was vastly larger and more complex than I had ever imagined.

Still, I was not intimidated by it. I loved that it was virtually infinite, that there was always something new to discover, something new to learn about the game, another level you could progress to.

I remember when I learned about groups. There was a Looking-for-Group chat channel, as I recall — some sort of very primitive precursor to the LFG mechanism we have now. I subscribed to it for weeks before I got up enough nerve to actually join a group for an instance. I think I was about level 20, but I am not sure — it was such a horrible experience that I have blotted it from my memory. I had no concept of group roles, so I immediately shot at anything that moved until some kind soul said something in chat like, “Hunter making it tough for the tank,” a hint that I was — thankfully — smart enough to take.

About halfway through (I think the instance was Gnomeregen, but as I said I have tried to block it all out) I ran out of arrows and was reduced to melee weapon and fists. Yeah, that was when hunters had to carry arrows in their bag in order to use their bow. If you ran out, shame on you. That was also when you could actually level your fists as weapons — you did this by unequipping all your weapons (hunters had both ranged and melee back then) and killing mobs until your fist proficiency level matched your character level.

Back to the group, there was some sort of mechanism where we had to jump from a machine to a specific spot, and of course I missed and died. I was told to run back, and I got so lost that I never did find the group again. I just ran around periodically aggroing mobs and dying and running back again. And again. And again. Sometimes it took me forever just to find my corpse. Eventually they kicked me, I guess, because I was no longer part of the group. I am surprised they had such patience, really. Not one of my best moments in the game…

It was even later when I learned about gear. By this time I had joined a guild, and I was invited to quest with some of the guildies. One of them noticed that I was wearing very low level vendor gear and was horrified. He opened trade and gave me a bunch of green gear closer to my character level. I honestly had never even considered that gear made a difference. I was perfectly happy with buying a bow or whatever from a vendor. I had no clue there was a difference between the stuff labeled in gray and the stuff labeled in white or green. (I had never seen anything blue or higher, so that was not even a question for me.) The notion that green gear could help you kill stuff faster was truly a revelation to me.

I won’t even discuss my epiphany when I realized that cloth or leather gear was worse for a hunter than mail. Or that eventually you had to repair gear or you couldn’t use it. Yes, I really was that clueless.

I am not sure I have much of a point here, but it strikes me that that kind of innocent discovery and leisurely exploration are really no longer part of the game. The days of it being all about the journey, not the goal, seem over. As vast and complex as I thought the game was then, it is immeasurably more vast and complex now. It is also more fast paced, players as a group seem to have little tolerance for anyone who exhibits ignorance of the game’s traditions and mechanics, and Blizz seems to design now mainly for the end game, not for the process of discovery.

Think about it, when is the last time you saw a guild advertising itself as a “leveling guild”? For that matter, when is the last time you actually ran across a low level player who was experiencing the game for the first time, without a RL friend to help and guide them?

Like Thomas Wolfe said, you really can’t go home again — the bygone days of youth, whether real or virtual, are — well — gone by. I know I can’t recapture the innocent wonder and joy of my early days in WoW, I know too much about end games and Wowhead and how to develop professions and how to use heirlooms and what to expect at every level of a character. I have chosen to raid on my main, and so I am now completely steeped in the endgame gear chase, in getting to the next gear goal as fast as possible. I no longer take the time to discover, I just look it up on Wowhead or some place and get it done, then move on to the next thing.

So yeah, I have done this to myself, I admit it. But I also think Blizz has encouraged me, along with a lot of other players, in this mindset. They are fixated on the end game, on an endlessly-expanding artifact weapon, on accumulating legendaries and tier gear and battle pets and mounts. They seem to promote a sense that leveling a character is only a means to the end game, and they — and we — have lost the joy of the journey itself. I can’t shake the feeling that WoW, while never a “sandbox” game, was once a game of process and discovery, but that it has morphed into a Type A personality kind of game, where getting to the end is the sole definition of “winning”.

To quote that noted American philosopher, Louis L’Amour, “The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail.”

And try to remember to stock up on arrows before you go.