Legion – the good stuff

In my last post, I said I would eventually publish something about the good aspects of Legion. As I am at a loss for anything else to write about today, and as things seem to be moving rather quickly with the pre-expansion patch now on the downloader, I suppose today is as good a day as any. So here goes.

New content rollouts. I think Blizz did a commendable job with the pace at which they rolled out new content in Legion. I may think some of the content stunk (Argus, for example, and the class patches that consistently failed to address significant problems for some specs/classes), but I can’t fault them on their almost-lockstep timing on rolling it out. At times, I felt almost overwhelmed by the pace, but they really did set a schedule and stick with it.  Except for the last patch, 7.3.5, major patches (I include the “dot 5’s” in this) came out almost exactly every 11 weeks. This may be a reflection of how badly Blizz was burned by the charge of “no content” in WoD, and thus they set content release as their primary objective for Legion — but whatever the reason, Legion gave us a lot of new content on a regular basis.

Emissary quests. In Legion, Blizz bundled up a bunch of dailies world quests in a zone, and gave out a bonus for doing 4 of them (3 for Kirin Tor, but the less said about those the better). I did like this mechanism, probably because it gave the illusion of being able to log in every 3 days if you wanted, and still not feel like you were getting behind. In that sense, it was Blizz giving a tiny bit of notice to the fact that most of their players are casual and do not have the time to play the game every day.

That said, there were plenty of flaws. For one thing, emissary quests really did nothing to help players still grinding AP — if you wanted AP you were pretty much required to crank out every world quest that offered AP every day, as well as do some raids and dungeons for it. Also, rewards from the emissary quests — except for holding out the ever-dangling carrot of a legendary drop — were pretty yawn-inspiring most of the time. It says something, I think, that Blizz used them as the vehicle for accumulating the tokens for upgrading legendaries — likely it was about the only way to keep players even mildly interested in doing them.

Still, overall I think emissary quests were a decent innovation.

Zone scaling. This was not new in Legion — it was introduced in WoD — but I was glad to see it reappear, signaling that it is now almost certainly a constant feature of the game. During the leveling process, it is nice to be able to vary your path, especially if you are leveling some number of alts. The process does eventually still get pretty boring and stale, but zone scaling helps a little. Also, I do give Blizz props for realizing that players want to feel they are getting more powerful as their gear increases, and for scaling back the scaling so that at some point mobs all become quite trivial.

I was not, however, a fan of the 7.3.5 spread of zone scaling (along with the big xp nerf) to every area in Azeroth. To me, this was Blizz once again taking a good thing and jamming it down your throat, taking something you kind of liked and rubbing your nose in it enough to make you hate it. I leveled a void elf from 20-110 under this new system, and it was one of the most miserable experiences I have had in the game.

Mythic+ dungeons. As a matter of personal taste, I do not like these and tended to run them only enough to get the max weekly chest for them each week. But I still think they were a creative and positive mechanism for the game. There is no denying that they kept some players active in the game far longer than they would have otherwise been. More importantly for Blizz, M+ competitions almost certainly increased player interest in WoW-related esports. They have clearly been a winner for Blizz. Let us hope Blizz will leave well enough alone and not take their usual path of overdoing a good thing and forcing them upon us.

Class mounts. I thought the ones I did the quests for were fun little diversions. They were not especially tedious to do, and each of the final scenarios did seem designed to fit the individual class. Of course, some of the mounts were, well, “hideous” comes to mind, and druids really did get a bit screwed over (not to mention the unfortunate Wilford Brimley resemblance). But still, I liked the idea of class mounts and had some fun with the ones I did. And I love my mage platform, especially the fire mage version!

The whistle. Genius quality of life improvement. ‘Nuff said.

Raid tiers. In general, I think Blizz did a decent job hitting the sweet spot with each tier. One or two bosses (Kil’Jaeden and Mistress Sassz’Ine are examples) were a bit overtuned at the Heroic level in my opinion, but they were not insurmountable. (Yes, I know a couple were almost impossible for a while on Mythic, but I don’t raid at that level.)

And in hindsight, raid tiers were released at about the right points in the expansion. I did feel like sometimes I was burned out on one before the new one came out, but that really is a personal situation, and honestly it gave me an excuse to take a raid break every few weeks. I also remember feeling Antorus was a little rushed, but it was the last tier and we have had a ton of time to finish it and get bored with it. All in all, the release pace has seemed decent.

Extra hearth stones. Again, this idea was not new with Legion, but I was glad to see Blizz carry it through. Giving us the extra Dal hearth stone was a good idea, and I hope we will see more of these special stones in future expansions. The thing I did not like, though, was that certain classes also got a class hall hearth stone of sorts, while other classes did not. And since every class hall has a portal back to Dal (and some even to other locations), this meant that some classes were favored with two special hearth stones, while other classes were in effect made to pound sand. If Blizz is no longer going to keep mages as the only class with instant portal ability, then they need to give all classes equal abilities for travel.

Okay, that is pretty much it. I suppose if I really wracked my brain I could come up with one or two more positive thoughts on legion, but the ones I listed are the main ones. On balance, I think for me Legion had about an equal number of significantly good and significantly bad design features. I am still too close to it to be completely objective or to have a decent perspective, but I am willing to give this expansion something like a B-minus final grade. There is no question but what it has been better than WoD, but in my opinion it does not come close to the high level set by Mists of Pandaria. Legion, though, has started some major design threads that seem to be taking the game in a new direction. I like some of these and hate some. We will see how they develop in Battle for Azeroth.

 

Thoughts on war mode in BfA

One of the new features in Battle for Azeroth is something called “War mode”. Blizz seems to have given up on separate PvP servers and will soon make all servers both PvE and PvP (not sure if RP really has any meaning any more). The idea is that there will be a toggle switch in game settings that allows you to flag yourself for world PvP if that is your preferred play style either always or just temporarily. When you throw the toggle, in theory the server becomes pretty much a PvP server for you and everyone else who has thrown their toggles. Meanwhile, the people who have not turned on PvP mode will be able to happily go about their normal PvE business with no fears that the many, many asshats in the game will hound them every step of their questing or gathering or what have you. Presumably, the actual mechanic will be that when you toggle PvP on, you are transferred to a PvP shard similar to the current PvP-only servers.

Will this mean that if you turn on PvP, you will be invisible to your non-PvP friends on the server? Thus, if you love PvP, will you have to continually switch if you want to do things like join groups with your non-PvP friends? *shrug*

There are some additional details to this, of course. For one thing, you can only toggle the PvP switch while in your faction capital city. So if you do decide to try it and go out in the world, bear in mind you will have to keep it on until you get back at least. (Not sure if there is a cooldown similar to hearthing, but I suspect there may be. You all know I am not a PvP person, so I have not tried anything about it currently available in the beta.) Also, Blizz intends to implement a gear leveling mechanic so that gear alone will not determine the outcome of your ganking spree — while you are engaged in PvP combat, there will be some sort of gear level adjustment to even the fights a bit, then when you are in normal combat your gear returns to its regular level.

Bear in mind that I absolutely hate PvP, and I have always hated when Blizz forced me to engage in it because it was a requirement for some other normal PvE-based activity. But I understand that hardcore PvP-ers have felt the same about PvE. And I totally get their angst with Legion, where they were pretty much forced to engage in hours and hours of PvE activities every week just to keep up with the AP and legendary grinds, even on PvP servers. That does seem wrong to me. There definitely should have been enough PvP activity to allow them to gear up decently without having to give up a big chunk of their PvP time.

But the fact is the majority of players do not enjoy world PvP, and many of us will go to any lengths to avoid it. Much of this is because of the disconnect between fantasy and reality of world PvP, in my opinion. I think of world PvP as maybe a small group of one faction attacking another faction’s outpost or even another group, or rather evenly matched one-on-one duels. Maybe you call in some friends and the skirmishes escalate to larger battles. To me, that is reasonable world PvP.

But it turns out to be very different in practice. It turns out to be ganking, free for all zones where everyone — even your own faction — can target you, and camping at certain places like graveyards or exits from a sanctuary city for the sole purpose of killing low level players as they emerge. I have been in BGs where I literally could not get out of the graveyard because some butthole was camped there picking off emerging players for the entire BG. I have joined quick world boss groups that happen to be on a PvP server, and immediately when we are done or even when we are still fighting the boss an opposite faction player or group has shown up and harassed the group. I cannot imagine being on a PvP server, just wanting to crank out some quick world quests, and being constantly dogged by some jerk who finds his self worth in applying pixels to kill a computer avatar over and over again.

In other words, my experience sadly has been that world PvP players are, by and large, gigantic asshats the equivalent of the eighth grade bully who loves to take away the second graders’ lunch money but who cowers and runs when confronted by someone his own size.

None of this is fun. And, on the flip side, I really do not even see the fun in killing players you know you can beat because you vastly out level them either in character level or in gear.

Nevertheless, it seems that Blizz is greatly concerned about the number of players who refuse to participate in PvP (largely for the reasons I just described). In Legion, they got rid of PvP-specific gear stats (like Resilience) and also made some significant changes to gear scaling, all to encourage more players to do PvP.

And I know I will get pushback from PvP players over this, but Blizz really does seem to go out of their way to cater to the slightest small whine from the PvP community. For example, at the start of Legion PvP-ers threw a tantrum about the injustice of being awarded gear on the basis of — hold onto your hats — RNG! Oh, the horror! Imagine not being able to select the gear you need! No fair no fair no fair!! They sniveled that they could no longer accumulate currency to buy the gear they wanted. How awful for them! So Blizz, even though they have steadfastly ignored every PvE complaint on the same subject, decided that they would indeed bring back currency for PvP players — thus they brought about the token system that allowed PvP-ers to obliterate their old gear and accumulate tokens to buy some of the new gear they wanted. (This is in spite of repeated pronouncements from Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas that currency for gear is evil incarnate and we should be ashamed for even asking for it.)

Imagine if in PvE we could do the same. Instead of crappy old obliterum chunks whose only use is to combine them and upgrade shitty crafted gear to a slightly higher level of shittiness, what if we could accumulate tokens to buy gear we actually wanted?

Apparently we did not throw as good a tantrum over this as did PvP players.

In BfA, Blizz seems to be making yet another stab at “encouraging” players to do PvP. For example, while in War Mode, you will get a 15% XP boost, and also some kind of AP increase boost. It’s not entirely clear if there will be a lot more PvP world quests in War Mode, or if it will essentially be the same WQs as PvE only in a wPvP environment. I do think PvP players deserve some consideration for the bread-and-butter activities in the game like world quests — these things should reflect wPvP actions, not just be regular PvE quests transferred to a PvP shard. However, I am not in favor of great advantages like significant XP boosts — that begins to smack of yet more Blizz dictating how we should play.

I am not entirely sure why Blizz wants to push more players into PvP — as with their stance on how to play alts, I cannot see why it matters to them how we play the game so long as we are not violating the ToS. Every time in the past when Blizz has tried to push PvE players into PvP, it has been a disaster — the PvE players hate it and really do not know how to perform adequately, and the PvP players hate having a bunch of idiots in their BG or whatever screwing things up for their side. A classic lose-lose situation.

I suppose I understand why some players prefer PvP — it is challenging and unpredictable in a way that PvE is not. (And of course for far too many there is the asshat potential — you can indulge your schoolyard bully fantasy as much as you please.) What I don’t understand is why Blizz gives a damn if most players do not want to participate in it.

At any rate, stay tuned for PvP changes in BfA. Let us hope, at long last, that the changes will make both PvE and PvP players happy.

More on BfA professions

Standard disclaimer — if you want to be completely surprised about everything when Battle for Azeroth goes live, don’t read this.

Over the weekend I did a little more investigation of professions in Battle for Azeroth. For myself, it is one thing to read a general description of how they will work and another to actually see the system in action. There is still not a lot I could find, but I did get a couple of screen shots and saw a bit more of the new system in play.

Crafting professions

Recall that the next expansion will see the compartmentalization of professions into groups organized by expansions. The basic groups are:

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This is a tailoring screen, but the categories are the same for all crafting professions.

In the screen shot above, the little boxes are for keeping track of your progress in each category. I do not know if “progress” for each means a sort of leveling up to a proficiency  number, or if it is more of a tally of the number of each pattern or recipe or what have you for each category. It is, however, expressed as x/y (for example, 1/100).

(As we are not yet permitted to import Legion characters into the beta, and as I have not maxed out any new characters in a profession, all I can show is what the interface looks like when you first learn a profession. I assume when the expansion goes live, if you have characters who have had the same crafting profession for several expansions, that most or at least many of the categories will be already maxed out.)

As you can see from the screen shot, there is a baseline “vanilla” category and one for each of the expansions — BC, Wrath, Cata, Mists, WoD, Legion, and BfA. You have to get training for each category, and when you first do so you are given a few of the recipes for that expansion. To complete the category, you simply pursue more recipes and experience in that geographic area — visiting trainers, making items, getting random drops, or soloing old instances and raids. In other words, you learn the profession for each category the same way players did when the particular expansion was current. I think this means — though I am not 100% certain — that includes earning the appropriate faction rep for some of the recipes.

Here’s an example of what I am talking about when I say you get “a few” basic recipes to start you off:

bfa-tailor-learned

Where do you train for each category? You can train vanilla and Cata in your capital city. For the other categories, you must visit the geographic area of that expansion to train for that category. However, you can train in a new profession anywhere there is a trainer — in that case you will train in vanilla and in the baseline category for the area you are in. You go to the same trainers players went to when that particular expansion was current, so that means sometimes they are scattered about in the expansion’s geographic area. For example, I took a character to Hellfire Peninsula, to Shattrath, and I was able to learn baseline vanilla blacksmithing as well as baseline Outlands blacksmithing from Kradu Grimblade in the Lower City. I had to go back to Stormwind to train Cata blacksmithing baseline.

I have not yet discovered how you unlock the quest lines for crafting professions. For gathering professions, you get the quests the same way as you did for Legion — that is, the quest breadcrumb pops up randomly for you when you gather mats and you turn it in back at your trainer, where you will get some follow-ons.

Gathering professions

Gathering professions will eventually — I think — work pretty much the same as crafting professions — that is, they will have expansion categories you can level up in, and in general you need to train for them in the geographic areas for the particular expansion. So for example if you train herbalism in Tiragarde Sound, you get baseline herbalism plus Kul Tiran herbalism. That is how I think they will work.

However, they seem thus far to be incomplete.  Skinning and herbalism offer only some of the categories thus far. Mining seems to offer all categories, but you can only train in vanilla. Same with skinning as far as initial training goes, plus even when you train, you do not get any skill ups for actually skinning beasts (possibly due to the fact that you cannot train in Kul Tiran skinning).

Here’s what I mean about skinning categories — note these are “unlearned” even though I trained with the Tiragarde Sound skinning trainer.

bfa-skinning-unlearned

And the only categories I was able to learn were vanilla and Cata (though I had to go to Stormwind to learn that — if you train in KT you only thus far get vanilla):

bfa-skinning-learned

As to abundance of gathering mats, it is too soon to tell. Blizz is still working on node locations, so sometimes you will not have any mining nodes, or you may have masses and masses of herbs.

And of course the bad news is that, when you do finally get profession quest lines unlocked, nearly every profession (gathering included) will require running group activities such as dungeons and eventually raids to complete them. Most players absolutely hated this feature in Legion, so of course Blizz doubles down on it in BfA.

Still, that horrible Blizz practice notwithstanding, I do think professions in BfA are a slight improvement over Legion. I will try to level my LW up a bit as I continue leveling my character, so as to have more info on crafted items at higher levels.

That’s it for today.

Dusting off alts

Last night I pulled out my poor neglected mistweaver monk and ran through a couple wings of Antorus the Burning Throne with her. It was pretty grim, but thankfully even really nasty LFR groups seldom pay any attention whatsoever to healers, so I have found it is easier to be very bad on a healer than on a damage dealer or certainly a tank.

Usually within the first half of an expansion I level all my alts. (I don’t have tons of them, only 8 not counting my main or my banker.) I was a little slower doing this in Legion than in previous expansions, mainly because the overhead was so high for my main. But I managed to level all my alts except my demon hunter, which to be honest I am thinking of deleting. (Not a big fan of the DH play style.) After an alt is leveled, I try to gear them up a bit and develop their professions, but then they pretty much sit on the bench until much later in the expansion. Also, I tend to ignore my melee classes longer because I am basically a ranged player at heart. (This is my main objection to monks — I like the mistweaver healing style, but I dislike having to maintain the melee windwalker spec for soloing.)

So in Legion, besides my main hunter, I leveled: another hunter, two mages, a warlock, a rogue, a monk, and a druid. Seven “working alts” total. My “main alt” this expansion is my druid, though I only play resto and balance on her. I’ve never felt the need to have one of every class, although I know a lot of players use that philosophy with alts. I do, though, have at least one of every profession except blacksmithing (because I don’t have any plate wearers, I suppose). In Legion, most of my professions have all the baseline recipes, but they have not progressed to level 3 on all of them. Still, I am pretty self-sufficient for gems, enchants, runes, raid food, etc. (*shhhhhhhh*, don’t tell Ion!) And earlier in Legion, when crafted gear was still relevant, I was able to outfit my cloth, leather, and mail wearers decently.

At any rate, last night I summoned my monk off the bench and put her in the game. Over the years I have developed a definite process for doing this. It invariably goes something like this:

  • Check gear/profession/questline status of alt. Make note of glaring gaps and set those as short term goals. For example, I noted my monk had not done anything beyond the initial Argus quest line. Also her gear level was sitting right at around 900, which I consider to be the minimum, so I will work on increasing it. And of her 3 legendaries, only one was level 1000, so 2 needed to be upgraded.
  • Determine which spec will be main and which will be off for the alt. In Legion, of course, sometimes this requires running through the artifact quest line for a spec you did not level as.
  • Head to Icy Veins or Wowhead for some book learning on the main spec’s crucial stats and baseline rotations. Both these sources often have a section that gives just the “Dummy” versions of recommended rotations, sort of a quick start guide. The main things I try to understand/relearn at this point are the spell dependencies and interrelationships, along with a lifeline rotation I can hang onto until I get more familiar with the spec.
  • Set up my action bars with the spec’s spells.

I actually study this stuff as if there were going to be a quiz on it. I have a notebook with a section for every class/spec I play, and each section lists the stat order of importance, recommended enchants, important spell dependencies, and my basic rotation. This last is very detailed, listing my actual keybinds in order of execution. So it looks something like “1-1-2-2-4-shift1 on CD-6 when it procs”. Sometimes I also copy the rotation sequence to a large sticky and put it on my monitor.

Yeah, I know, I am a nerd. Quit rolling your eyes.

  • Determine the things I will need to keep track of or be reminded of,  check online for an appropriate set of WeakAuras, import them and tweak to fit my needs. If no good ones already exist, I take the time to create my own.
  • Spend some time (usually about a half hour) at the target dummies, developing some initial muscle memory for the baseline rotation(s). Adjust keybinds and/or WeakAuras as necessary.
  • Venture out into the end game world. In Legion that has meant running some world quests and invasions, completing some emissaries, and progressing a bit along content expansion quest lines such as Argus, or part of Broken Shore, or Suramar far enough to get the mask.
  • Take a deep breath and plunge into the current tier of LFR.
  • Continue working on goals set way back in the first step of the process.

In Mists and WoD, I would run each spec through the Proving Grounds, but I have not done that in Legion, as what I need early in my learning curve is practice, not frantic time tests. Usually by the time I have run a couple of LFRs and done several emissaries, I have a good idea of whether or not the alt will be viable for one of our guild alt raids. If I feel it is not ready, I will either take a couple more weeks or just consign it to the “LFR-only” category. (My rogue is like this.)

I do like Timewalkers for alts, because everyone is more or less equalized for gear and whatnot in those, and they yield decent rewards for an undergeared character. Also, if my guild happens to be running groups for the Mythic instance weekly, I will sometimes jump in on one of those with an alt. But I rarely look for Mythic pug groups (even regular Mythic) with an alt. I guess I think if even my main hunter is frequently denied entry to these groups, there is no way I want to put up with the hassle for an alt. Also, I almost never run an M+ on an alt.

Anyway, that’s my prep sequence for dusting off unused alts and getting them into the game. And now it is time to dust off a beer and start the weekend. See you on the other side.

Whose line?

A couple of weeks ago a WoW player created an addon to inject a little pizzazz into quest giver voiceovers. You can read more about it here and here, but the basic story is this:

The player created an addon that substituted player-created voiceovers for standard Blizz voice-acted quests. The community was invited to upload their own voice renderings of quest dialogs, and these could be added to the repertoire in the addon. I did not use the addon, nor did I submit any voiceovers, so I cannot speak with any authority about the details of how it worked in practice. But the bottom line was, this was an attempt to inject some player whimsy into the game.

Predictably, Blizz shut the project down pretty fast. Here is the Blue post explanation, courtesy of MMO-C:

Hello TioMiklas,

I’m Josh Allen, from the World of Warcraft Community Team. We came across your Voice Acted Quests project, and I have to say, the work you’ve put into it is very impressive!

Unfortunately, I’ve been told that this project infringes on our intellectual copyrights in a way that we can’t allow. You may recall a similar situation with an addon called “Warcraft Tales” a few months ago. While your project is slightly different, it’s still considered a re-performance of our established works.

Because of that, we have to ask you to stop production and distribution of the Voice Acted Quests project. Rather than going straight to delivering a legal notice, they’ve asked me to contact you directly to deliver the news and answer any questions you may have. Like I said, it’s a very impressive project and we recognize the amount of work you’ve put into it, it’s just not the sort of thing we can allow to be created using our copyright.

Sorry for the bad news.

Hey again, sorry for the delay in getting back. I managed to sync up with the higher-ups here again with your questions.

The issue isn’t about any potential monetary gains. The issue is simply that Blizzard doesn’t want third parties to create in-game story content for WoW, and creating a vocal performance for existing lines falls inside that. No one here thinks you’re trying to be malicious – I’m being completely honest when I say we found your work impressive!

That’s about the extent of what I can comment on myself. Anything further would need to come from our legal team.

I am completely with Blizz on this one. The addon does seem to me to have been an infringement on their copyrighted intellectual property. I suspect they were more or less amazed to find out such a project could be created using their approved API. I think there was some back and forth between the author and Blizz about the author making money off the project, etc., but I believe Blizz when they say the main issue was copyright infringement. And it appears that they handled the whole thing with understanding and finesse — they simply told the author to cease and desist, they did not bring any legal proceedings against him, did not ban him for life.

Having said that I support Blizz in this, I can’t fault the addon author for giving it a try. Perhaps I am being naive (it would not be the first time), but it strikes me that his project was exactly what he said it was: a chance to inject some community fun into the game. Maybe he was trying to make a few bucks off it, maybe not, but it doesn’t feel like he was deliberately trying to infringe on Blizz’s copyrighted material. He saw that the addon interface made the project possible, and he went for it.

Couple of thoughts on this. First, it is clearly a gray area that Blizz did not anticipate. I suppose that is one of the reasons they have an army of lawyers on staff. But when you think about it, the project was really only a tiny step over the line that represents Blizz’s intellectual property. For example, anyone engaging in RP is essentially adding to Blizz’s copyrighted story line. Same with some of the fan fiction.  And addons like DBM and Bigwigs inject additional voice drama/warnings into the game. The difference, of course, and the part that put this particular project over the line, is that none of the examples I cited actually alter existing game art or story. But the Voice Acted Quest project did.

The other thing that strikes me about this affair is that it shows how engaged in the game some of the community remains, and how attracted they are to enhancing whatever escapist fantasy the game represents to them. This desire is not something Blizz should treat lightly. We have seen it manifested time and time again. It is the foundation, I think, for such things as:

  • The desire for player housing
  • Tailored music (the WoD jukebox)
  • Individual interpretation of “class/spec fantasy”, and how Blizz implements it
  • The push for classic/vanilla servers
  • Much of the dissatisfaction with WoD’s “time wrinkle” story
  • The not-yet-dormant question of flying

All these examples, in one way or another, have their roots in how each player perceives the fantasy of the game. Of course, it is not possible for WoW to be all things to all players, nor is it possible to allow every player to configure major aspects of the game as they wish. Each small player option has the potential to bring the game to a halt by virtue of the cascading complexity of permutations it introduces. I get that, and I can see why Blizz is often reluctant — if not downright mule-headed — about allowing more player options. Still, I wonder if they truly understand the almost-primal desire many players have to make the game their own, to put their personal stamp on some part of it. That is a powerful force, and Blizz would do well to heed it whenever possible.

So yeah, Blizz was right to put a stop to the Voice Acted Quests addon. And from a personal standpoint, I am not big on listening to any kind of long drawn out NPC speeches no matter whose voice it is. But you gotta admit, it was kind of a cool idea.

Through the glass darkly

As I have for the past couple of weeks, I spent most of my game time this weekend continuing to chug away at leveling my Void Elf arcane mage. I thought maybe as I got more into the leveling mindset, I might come to appreciate the finer points of Blizz’s throwback leveling mechanics.

Nope. I find it needlessly tedious and stupidly boring. Blizz has changed or varied some of the quest lines, it is true, so those are of very mild interest when I encounter them, but I am finding a lot of quest lines designed to force you to spend inordinate amounts of time simply shuttling back and forth:

  • Get a quest.
  • Go far away and do the quest.
  • Go back to turn it in.
  • Get newly available quest from same quest giver.
  • Repeat.
  • Repeat.
  • Repeat.
  • zzzzzzzzzzzz…….. hmmm, what did I do with my toenail clipper?

I would have abandoned this whole project days ago if it were not for the fact I have all the Pathfinder achieves and thus can at least fly rather than gallop about. It seems clear that the “new” leveling protocol is all about stretching out the process as much as possible. Blizz can bray all they want about “restoring the experience”, but trust me, there is nothing interesting about commuting back and forth along the same path multiple times just to turn in and get new quests. (I am actually waiting for the change that will prevent us from skipping cutscenes, it seems almost inevitable it will happen. 🤨) Still, I suppose I am helping to contribute to Ion’s annual bonus by cranking out some MAU numbers for him, so at least that’s something.

Anyway, this post is not a rant about the ridiculous leveling changes (that will come later). It is about looking back and seeing expansions with the benefit of perspective.

I started playing WoW sometime around the very tail end of Burning Crusade. (I think I must have been about level 50 or 60 on my then-main hunter when Wrath of the Lich King went live.) One of the positive things about leveling my Void Elf is that it has given me a kind of retrospective on my history in the game. As I have gone through zones from each expansion, I am reminded of my first time through them years ago, and it is interesting that the things I see about them are not necessarily the things I would come up with if asked to list the highlights (or lowlights) of each expansion.

For example, if asked about Wrath, I think I would have remembered only two things. One, it was where I began my years-long search for Skoll and Arcturis. And two, it was where I finally found a guild I fit with and began regularly running instances and raids. That, and the Amberseed poop quest in Grizzly Hills.

What I would not have remembered, but which came back to me like a load of fresh Amberseed material falling on my head, was how much I detested nearly every quest in Zul’drak. Especially the seemingly-endless quest line where you put on that Ensorceled Choker disguise (you know, the one that keeps falling off exactly when you are surrounded by mobs that will kill a squishy mage in an instant) and run around playing with the Scourge. I hated it the first time I did it, and I hated it this time, too. If I had remembered how awful it was I would not have selected that zone to level in this time, but I only remembered about halfway through. I gritted my teeth and did most of it, but finally abandoned it prior to completion. It was just too long and annoying.

The main things I remember about Cataclysm are the zones — I hated the undersea one and loved Uldum. I spent hours in Uldum every week — even after leveling — gathering herbs and ore, and fishing. It was some of the most laid back, relaxing time I have ever spent in the game. I was having quite a bit of stress in my own life at the time, and putting on some music and flying my gathering routes was exactly what I needed to decompress.

I skipped all of the Cata zones leveling my Void Elf, opting instead for staying in Northrend until level 80, then going directly to Pandaria. I considered moving to Uldum, but I think I was loathe to overwrite what I want to keep as a sort of hazy pleasant memory.

The surprise revelation I got as I was leveling through Pandaria and now Draenor is this: I love the idea of a personal homestead in the game. When I got to Valley of the Four Winds, I couldn’t wait to get my cozy little Sunsong Ranch home. It was stupid, as I did not need to do any of the Tiller stuff for leveling purposes, but it was weirdly important to me to get a little place of my own.

Similarly, when I got to Draenor, I made sure to do the quest line to set up my Level 2 garrison. I did this mainly to be able to get the vendor for the XP potions, but I was astounded at the happiness that ran over me when I first walked into the gates of my Level 2 garrison. Yeah, I complained as bitterly as everyone else during WoD about the garrison burden, and if asked, I would have never listed garrisons as a plus for WoD. But there is no denying how good it felt to see this familiar scene of safety and sanctuary and know it was my own place. If I do anything with my Void Elf once she is leveled to 110, it will probably be to go back to Draenor and build up my garrison.

I am certain I will never have the same “coming home” feeling about class halls once Legion is finally history. I still do not understand why Blizz is so adamant about any form of player housing. They came so close with garrisons, but in typical fashion completely ruined the experience by ramming them down our throats. The unfortunate thing is, they now hold this venture up as an example for why player housing would be a bad thing — “See, we tried a prototype of it in WoD and you all complained bitterly and loudly about it! So no more of that, we promise you!”

Anyway, the best thing so far about leveling my Void Elf is that I am getting a renewed perspective on my history in the game, one that is frequently a surprise to me. Memory is often like looking through the wrong end of very dusty binoculars. We see tiny imperfect images and have a tendency to interpret them imperfectly, too.  And while we can never really go back, sometimes we get a brief chance to turn the binoculars right way round, and we can see the past a bit more clearly, and we can apply a proper perspective.

Disconnected thoughts

Today feels like kind of a disconnected day — we have a few flakes of snow, so of course most things in Northern Virginia come to a screeching halt. It is both amusing and annoying, since it inevitably entails rescheduling, postponing, cancelling, etc. So while my brain is multi-tasking those things in the background, here are a few scattered thoughts on WoW.

Addendum to my manners post. One other “rude clod” type that annoys me in the game is the raid slacker. I am not talking about actual raid performance, but rather the person who is chronically unprepared. You all know such a person. They always want to “borrow” flasks or talent books. They forget to update DBM. They never remember to get their seals before raid so have to go back for them and then demand to be summoned back to the raid. Even in progression, they are chronically short of Defiled Augment Runes, and they have never troubled themselves to get the permanent one from the Army of the Light.

If the raid usually provides feasts, they never ever contribute anything towards making them, and in fact frequently complain bitterly if a feast is not immediately set down, saying rude things like “Feed me” or “Where’s the feast?”. Same with repair mechanisms such as hammers.

On our progression team, we usually provide everyone with a weekly vantus rune to be used for the toughest boss of the week. But once we have the heroic raid on farm we stop doing that. Last tier, after we had downed KJ a few times, the GM announced that we would start doing the boss without handing out vantus runes. Our usual slackers were incensed when a few people used their own, claiming the GM had said we were not to use them. When someone explained that no, only the free ones would not be handed out, there was slacker indignation and piteous cries of “But I don’t have any gold, I’m poooooor!”

So yeah. Ill-mannered clods abound.

Patch 7.3.5. I have not actually done much yet with the new patch. By the time the servers came back up yesterday, it was already past our raid start time, so we all hurriedly logged in and started raiding. I did not do the new quest line or try out any of the old world zone changes.

New zone levels. I am still on the fence about the zone changes. I see why many players would be happy that they can now quest in a favorite zone for much longer and not be penalized in leveling. But beyond that, I think Blizz has pulled a fast one on us. Basically, by increasing the amount of xp needed to level in these zones, and by increasing the health and hit points for mobs as well as for instance and raid bosses in these zones, Blizz has stretched out the amount of time necessary to level a new character or to farm old content for mounts and transmog.

It’s all about the MAU, baby.

I do not know about you, but I actually liked being able to roflstomp through a zone with a new character. I have done nearly every quest so many times that they no longer offer any real entertainment value to me, they are just a means to get passingly familiar with a new class, and to get that new class or alt to a decently high level where the actual fun starts. The faster I can get through them, the better.

As far as I know, Blizz has not improved the mess of low-character spells and abilities, either. A couple of expansions ago, they changed the way/rate at which characters get certain key abilities, and the result for many classes is that you are stuck with one or two useful buttons for a pretty long time. This was annoying but not terrible when all the mobs died quickly and when you could rapidly level up and get a few more abilities. We will see how it plays out now that you cannot level as rapidly and the mobs are more deadly.

Also, if I am farming old raids or instances for a mount or some special transmog or old recipe, I couldn’t care less about “the experience” — I am interested in getting through the thing as fast as possible so that I can be disappointed again and quickly move on.

Basically, I feel like Blizz is testing out techniques for vanilla servers, and they are pretty much shoving “the classic experience” down our throats. And they are ensuring no one can rush through leveling allied characters when they become available, thus stretching out the inevitable end-of-expansion thin content.

Not to mention, if these changes annoy enough people, Blizz’s sales of character boosts will skyrocket. What’s not to love?

”More” bag space. What a scam this is. Ion Hazzikostas had the chutzpah to really hype this at Blizzcon — better sit down, here’s a big announcement: We are giving you more bag space, whoopee, just like you have been asking for!!

It’s four lousy bag spaces, for crying out loud. It doesn’t even begin to make up for the ton of gear and “things” Blizz now makes us carry around.

And if no one noticed, it comes at a price. Not only do you have to add an authenticator to your account (not a bad idea even if you do not get extra space), but you must also subscribe to Blizzard SMS Protect. Thus Blizzard gets a ton of very valuable phone numbers for the paltry expense of a small amount of server storage.

Blizz may have lost a step in game creativity, but they are making up for it in marketing genius.

Ulduar timewalking. Meh. I suppose I will run it once when my guild does it, but I was never very excited about this raid even when it was current. It was too long then and I am certain it will be tedious in its reincarnation. The only fight I thought was interesting was the first one just because of the vehicles (although I rarely got one of the motorcycles, the coolest vehicle….).

Once again, the people clamoring for this, I suspect, will not really love it — their nostalgia for Ulduar almost certainly stems from circumstances other than the raid itself.

Coven revisited. We took a few more shots at Coven last night in raid. Interestingly, we got Army of Norgannon as the first set of adds every time, even though the other add sequences remained random. It could have been a fluke, but it is possible this is an unannounced nerf. It is undeniably easier to get Norgannon out of the way very early, before the really uncontrollable mechanics kick in.

We had gotten a late start on the raid due to the server outage, and we cleared all the bosses up to Coven, so we only got a few pulls (maybe half a dozen) before we called it for the night. People were having a lot of lag issues, and even some weird bugs such as falling through the floor to the boss below Coven. Even so, our last pull — frustratingly — we got the boss down to less than 1% before wiping. Pretty sure we will get past this one Thursday.