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The goddess Arenjee clearly approves of my offerings, since she’s lavished me with love the past few weeks. On my regular ‘disappointment runs’, otherwise known as mount runs, I received divine bounty in the form of Ashes of Alar, Onyxian Drake, Vitreous Drake and Drake of the North Wind. This was all within a couple of weeks with Onyxia and Slabhide coughing up within minutes of each other last week. Some of these mounts I’ve farmed for years, so I’m surprised but grateful to the goddess for deciding she likes me – at least for now, but we know how fickle she is.

However, the shine is taken off my dizzy fervor slightly with the uncertainty still hanging over the fate of flying mounts in Warlords of Draenor. I’m still seeing a lot of debate on forums about it, and it seems to me the people stating ‘I’m all for flying going away’ are the ones who follow it up with ‘anything that annoys other players is good’, or sentiments along those lines. That says it all to me really. I also assume the majority of these posters are into PvP, since unfortunately that mindset seems to go with it snugly in certain players. I do see a few genuine posters talking about their preferred way to play is as a ground-bound pioneer, which is fair enough, but as has been said many times, it’s a player’s choice (at the moment) whether to fly or not. It’s disappointing that people are regarded as ‘whiners’ when they talk about anything they’re unhappy with concerning the proposed game developments. An opinion isn’t necessarily a whine. But of course that’s just the way a lot of the berating forum posters operate – do unto others as you would never do unto yourself, and then have a fit if anyone does unto you in the same way.

My gut feeling is that Blizzard are going to wait and see how things go with WoD concerning when, if ever, to introduce flying into the expansion. Will the players quieten down and just accept they won’t be able to get about quickly and easily, or will they continue to complain about it? Difficult to predict. I do wonder what the real reason is behind Blizzard’s decision over it. Part of me can’t help feeling the ‘flying destroys immersion in the game’ excuse is not the entire truth. It simply doesn’t rest easy with the lucrative store mounts, including very recent ones, being flyers, and all the other reasons I stated in my last post about it. What *is* the real reason and why aren’t we told? Still, really no point speculating any more – we’ll have to wait and see.

I think it’s peculiar we’ve not had any news about a Beta for WoD, never mind a definite release date, other than the vague ‘Fall’ that’s mentioned when you preorder the expansion. You just can’t help feeling something’s amiss, since most people expected a Beta to appear a couple of months at most after Blizzcon last year, with a late spring/early summer release to follow it. Silence is the worst thing, and the only times it’s been broken recently is to let out snippets of news that has unnerved the players. I really wish Blizzard had backed up these snippets with something like ‘We know some of these changes might sound startling, but don’t worry about them, because we’re aware of your concerns, know what we’re doing, and it’s far from our intention to cause upset.’ Even that would have been better than the lack of any reassurance at all.

It’s interesting, and worthy of an entire post on its own, how people take so seriously changes to the world of Warcraft. I’ve thought about it a lot, because I too sometimes have what can only be described as emotional reactions to changes in what is only a game… or is it? After pondering it, I came to the conclusion that for many players, perhaps even the majority, WoW is as valid an environment as that of the real world, because they spend a lot of their leisure time in there. Decisions made in that world affect their enjoyment of and participation in the game. If Azeroth is regarded as a valid yet virtual world, then the Blizzard team is her government, and decisions made by politicians, whether in virtuality or reality, affect their subjects. The Blizzard team comprises a feudal government, since we didn’t elect them. Their chancellors demand tithes – the monthly sub – and in return we are allowed to live on land we do not own. It belongs to the government. This body controls the world and although the subjects might have a say concerning potential changes, they know their voices can be ignored if the government chooses to do so. Mostly the governors are benevolent, because happy subjects are more likely to continue living in that world and paying the tithes, rather than packing their bags and seeking a different world. But ultimately the government has the final say on everything, and like in reality it might impose changes the population just has to accept and live with. You could explore this idea in far more depth and length – I find it really intriguing to think about.

Still, on to cheerier things. I’m really enjoying Reaper of Souls, the new Diablo expansion. It’s come at a good time to keep members of our guild occupied while we wait for news or materialization of WoD. The other night there were more players on our Clan roster in Diablo than there were on our guild one in WoW. At least we’re still all playing together, rather than people splintering off to do other things because they’ve got little to do in WoW. The new Act in the game is beautifully designed, despite the ‘yuck’ moments of having to wade through streets full of corpses at some points. Well, this is Diablo; it’s always had a high ‘yuck’ factor here and there. Killing a huge burrowing worm with such force that all that’s left is a bloody spine on the floor has both sickening and comedy value, I suppose, as do the heads flying off and bouncing across the ground now and again. I really like all the improvements and additions made to the game, and applaud the decision to remove the Auction Houses. Now you can just go to get your own gear, and not be hampered by the greed of players putting good items on the AH at daftly inflated prices. Gear drops have improved to accommodate this, although you do come to a point where you find nothing useful is dropping any more and you’ll have to punch above your weight a bit and go for a much harder level of play in order to get things moving again – which of course is the whole idea of the game. Legendaries appear far more frequently, as do really good plans for excellent pieces of gear to craft.

The new Crusader character is fun to play, although I’ve spent most time when I’ve been in there working on my Witch Doctor. She was a bit so-so before but seems a far more rounded character now and much more enjoyable. I’m accruing Paragon levels on her swiftly. All the new activities added for end game are great too – random scenarios you can solo or do with friends – to collect loot and also special shards that enable you to open a Nephalem rift for even greater rewards. Some of the ‘bounty’ scenarios are very short so are ideal for people with limited time to play.

The transmogging and enchanting systems are also good additions – I wish WoW emulated them. Being able to ‘learn’ the appearances of bits of gear you pick up, and add them to your private store, so that you can transmog into them on all your characters is a cool idea. No need to store bits of gear in your Stash or on your character any more – and in every game of this type storage is always an issue, so anything to help with that is most welcome. The enchanting is far more specific than the reforging in WoW, allowing greater customization into more useful stats. All in all, I haven’t found anything I don’t like. If there is a downside, it’s that the world of Diablo is far smaller than what you find in an MMO, so there’s a danger of becoming bored of the same scenery over and over, but the new random scenarios have done a lot to counter that.

I know there’s always the argument that MMOs are supposed to be games where you group with people, and I wouldn’t disagree with that in terms of large group ventures like raids, but I do like the choice you have in Diablo, of being able to solo everything or play with friends if you want to. It doesn’t make our guild any less social, but just adds a refreshing amount of freedom.

(A shorter version of this post appeared in the comments section of WoWinsider’s article ‘Warlords of Draenor: Gameplanet Interviews Alex Afrasiabi’ on 9th March 2014.)

In a recent interview with gaming news web site Gameplanet, Blizzard Creative Director Alex Afrasiabi slipped in a little morsel about the contentious issue of flying in WoW. For some time I’ve been reading the arguments for and against flying in the game and Blizzard themselves have apparently spoken of regret about its inclusion in the first place. The main arguments against flying mounts concern the world being made ‘smaller’ or players not being so immersed in the detailed landscapes Blizzard have created. Some anti-flying players even go so far as to say flying mounts trivialize the game, making it too easy to avoid hazards on the ground, such as mobs you might have to fight through to get to a destination. The pro-flying brigade has its own arguments, of course. I’m among the latter and will give some of my reasons below. Speaking of flight restrictions in the game, (areas such as Isle of Thunder and Timeless Isle), Afrasiabi’s words were “I feel like we can learn from this, in that is there a world where we have no flying, but people love it? You know? Is it a possibility? I think it is.” I’m not sure if what he said came out exactly as he intended – he did *appear* to imply Blizzard are thinking of a world entirely without flying, or perhaps he just meant Draenor – but there are lots of reasons many players would be unhappy with such a decision.

First, (but not necessarily the most important), people have paid real money to buy flying mounts from the Blizzard store. If flying was removed from the game entirely, which I sincerely hope was not the implication in Afrasiabi’s words, would those mounts disappear from players’ mount collections or just still be there as ground mounts – in some cases immense, awkward and totally inappropriate for ground travel? Anyone who’s tried to ride Heart of the Aspects or the Iron Skyreaver on the floor must surely agree they are not the most… er… elegant of ground mounts. No one in their right mind would use them for anything other than flying. That’s what they’re designed for, as are many other mounts in the game. I think it’s highly unlikely Blizzard would refund disgruntled players who’d bought flying mounts from the store if they were suddenly grounded or – worse – removed from or made inactive in the mount journal.

It can’t be denied or ignored that a lot of people really love their mount collections. I assume the alleged 50% who are eager to see flying go don’t care about collecting mounts, so their removal or greater restriction wouldn’t affect them one bit. And as is often the case with some, usually vocal, WoW players, if they’re not into something, they have no consideration whatsoever for those who are. If a player doesn’t like flying, they’re not forced to do it. They can still potter along on the ground if that’s their wish – so they shouldn’t try to impose their preferences on others. I know I’d be far from alone in being gutted if I lost all the beautiful flying mounts I’ve spent so long farming for, or had them reduced to wing-clipped, lumbering-about-on-the-ground travesties. If flying went, it would please those players who want to go back in time to when travel was tiresomely lengthy, but it would infuriate all those who think flying is one of the best additions the game ever had.

I find it hard to believe that players are split right down the middle on this issue. Just among my friends in WoW alone I know it’s more like two thirds enjoy collecting mounts – especially flying ones – and a third aren’t that bothered about them. And of that last third, I can’t think of one who’s said they want flying totally removed. Players still flock to kill Huolon on the Timeless Isle, more so than the other rare mobs over there, and that’s not just for the skinning potential, is it? No, it’s for the Thundering Onyx Cloud Serpent he might drop.

Once players have been given something they like, it hurts to have it taken away. Mass summoning springs to mind; our guild misses that a lot and we still grumble about it as we’re trying to congregate somewhere quickly. But that pales in comparison to the issue of flying mounts. As many players have said, if we’d never had flying, or the awesome mounts that came with it, we wouldn’t miss it. But we *have* had the convenience, and the sheer buzz of taking to the air. We *have* had the awesome mounts. We’ve had the showy phoenix of ‘Ashes of Alar’, we’ve had a host of different types of beautiful dragons, we’ve had gryphons, and hippogryphs and sinuous cloud serpents. Taking all those away would be a huge and controversial step by Blizzard. I imagine it would cause uproar and subs would take a damaging hit.

Another thing to consider is that not everyone wants it to take five times as long or more to get to a destination. Flight path taxis can take you all over the place on the ‘scenic route’, or they might not drop you really close to where you want to be. I’m sure a lot of people log on sometimes just to do a short stint of archaeology or to farm mats for their professions. Flying certainly helps to get the best of your time with that. And whether the purist players agree with me or not, I don’t want to go back to having to hack my way through lots of annoying little mobs to get to a mining node or an archaeology site.

Flying is fun for a huge part of the player base. Pretty much everyone will agree that it’s fine to restrict flying while leveling so you’re more immersed in the landscape that first time through it. I had no objection to that in any of the expansions that included such a restriction. But I do want to fly when I hit top level. I want to admire the mounts I’ve collected and enjoy riding them. And again, as many have and will say, the leveling content gets pretty exhausted in the fun department when you’re doing it on your fourth alt and beyond. It’s not unusual nowadays for people to have more than one account with a bunch of alts at top level. I can’t help thinking that Blizzard are just being stubborn forcing players to go through a whole expansion again and again without the convenience of flying. Once, yes, twice or maybe even three times… but after that, it’s just tedious.

Ultimately, I’m rather gob-smacked about what Afrasiabi said. If Blizzard are so against flying, why are flying mounts almost exclusively the prestigious rewards for completing difficult game content? Why do so many tricky raid bosses have flying mounts in their loot table? Why are flying mounts even on sale in the store if Blizzard are hoping to discourage their use?

Never mind the players, I have a feeling this argument might have been going on for some time between the developers, and maybe *they* are split right down the middle about it. But even so, ‘Mists of Pandaria’ was chock full of new flying mounts – fabulous ones at that – and we had quite a few new ones in the Blizzard store during this expansion, not to mention the fact that the Collector’s Edition of ’Warlords of Draenor’ will include a flying mount. This doesn’t make any sense to me. If Blizzard are so against flying, why do they keep feeding our addiction? If that’s simply to take it away, I’d really have to think seriously about whether I’d continue to play. Mount collecting is one of my favourite things in the game, and I’d feel devalued as a customer, if not betrayed, if that enjoyment was axed simply to please those who dislike flying or to force me to have a worm’s eye view of the world every minute I’m playing. We should all have the choice to play how we want to play. We pay for that privilege, don’t we? Blizzard do so much to improve the game and provide more and more content, which has resulted in a rich and complex world, and with many more players having access to a greater amount of content. I simply can’t see why they’d want to take this backward step and rile up a lot of their customers in the process.

I’m trying to convince myself that Afrasiabi just worded it a bit wrong in that interview. I hope he simply meant flying will be restricted until top level in the new expansion, and all of our alts will have to wait until then too. At worst, perhaps he was telling us in a roundabout way that Blizzard are still considering whether flying will ever be allowed on Draenor, even though previously we’ve been advised it will be reintroduced with patch 6.1. The idea of it being removed altogether is pretty much unthinkable when you consider all the points I’ve explored above. Whatever the outcome, while I’d prefer something similar to how it was in Wrath for alts’ to obtain flying, I’d rather wait to get it on every single one of my alts than see it go altogether.

This has been in my mind a lot recently as, while MoP winds down, I’ve been spending a lot of time on alts on a realm different to where my mains live – these alts are all well below level 90.
I have thought at times, while struggling with farming leather, that the only thing that needs to be retained about crafting professions is ‘making things with stuff.’ The rest is certainly open to improvement.

The main problem is that crafting hasn’t changed a great deal since Classic WoW, which has resulted in crafting below level 60 being virtually useless, other than a means to level the profession. Lower level crafted pieces, unless particularly desirable for transmog, can’t be given away on the AH. You probably wouldn’t even shift them if you suggested *you* pay the customers to get them off your hands.

Once you leave Classic WoW and venture into the expansions, you find that the only decent crafted gear is for what was then top level, and can’t even be made in most cases until the professions are maxed. The only reason you’d bother to try and get some of those patterns and recipes – apart from being a completist – is if they’re for useful items like the various types of bags that can still be sold on the AH or used to equip alts. Inscription always remains relevant, (perhaps the only prof that does), but the recipes for all the others are useful only for the expansion they were created for.

Added to this is the inescapable fact that you no longer spend over a year in an expansion’s zones, but only a couple of weeks, which means that you far outlevel the areas, and are looking to move to new horizons, long before you’ve farmed enough materials for your professions to move on with you. I have a druid who is ready to go to Northrend – apart from the 500 (at least) knothide leathers she needs to make the items to get her out of Outland. I don’t want to be going back there to farm, and on that realm don’t have much spare gold, so can’t buy mats on the AH, so have no choice but to stay there killing things and skinning them. Her skinning, incidentally, is almost at the top level required for Northrend crafting, so no problem there. But from what I’ve experienced recently, only skinning seems to keep pace with leveling. Herbing and mining still have their problem areas.

I’ve seen so many good ideas from players, many of which I’ve thought of myself too, so can’t list everything here, but these are my main suggestions for crafting improvements.

1. A thorough overhaul that keeps professions relevant to level and zone, with better return from gathering professions, i.e. more herbs per node, more skins per beast, more ore per node, more cloth per drop.

2. Crafted items to be competitive with quest rewards, with blue items that require more effort being competitive with dungeon rewards. Do people bother making any of the epic items from the earlier expansions other than for transmog? I doubt it, so these should no longer require raid materials or recipe drops from raids to make. Add the recipes to a vendor once an expansion is superseded by the latest one. If it’s deemed right to keep in the various orbs or whatever to make the items, have these on the same vendor. I think it’s ok to make players pay, but in the majority of cases their time is more precious than their gold. Only the current expansion’s level of profs should require out of the way effort. Let people scratch their transmog itches with the earlier stuff!

3. Crafted items below the current expansion should not require outrageously difficult-to-get or rare mats, and the amount of mats required, (especially the dreaded leather), to be reduced per item. Get rid of the hides from Leatherworking – just make the items require leather or improved leather. The same goes for rare ores – it’s fine to have those in the recipe list, but not when it means you hit a leveling wall because of it, which you can’t get past easily until you have enough of them.

4. When a new expansion comes out, top level crafted items from previous expansions could be shuffled down the recipe list so that characters don’t have to be maxed in their professions to make them. These items, being fairly decent, would help characters without heirlooms level in the zones they’re questing in.

5. In addition, players could craft their own heirlooms, so that you don’t need currency to purchase them. This would add a further bit of point and interest to crafting profs.

6. Allow crafters to ‘disassemble’ items they make so that they can salvage materials from them – not the full amount that made them, obviously, but some. This would be a handy alternative to just vendoring them.

7. A wider selection of node levels within zones. On a herbalist, I hit the problem of transferring from one zone to another and finding that the herbs were predominantly too high level to pick. Yet the herbs in the zone I’d left behind were either no longer or rarely giving me leveling points. Coupled with the extra population from Cross Realm, this made herbalism annoying to level. I had to swap continents and venture into a zone far higher than my character was in order to farm herbs, so she could go back and pick them where she was actually questing, which was several levels lower. I’ve no doubt I’ll find similar when I level my Blacksmith and Engineer. Some thought needs to go into node quality distribution and their abundance throughout the zones.

8. Engineering needs a radical overhaul. The fiddliness of the mats now seems silly for the lower levels of the profession. Streamline it, and leave the headaches for the current expansion’s engineering requirements. Again, this is just a relic of the prof not having changed at low level since it was implemented. It’s woefully out of date.

9. Enchanting suffers from being pointless until top level. You don’t really need enchants to complete questing zones or indeed while doing dungeons to level. Enchanting scrolls less than current can’t be sold either. Perhaps more toys, pets and mounts could be introduced into the profession, such as in engineering, which even has a few of these at low level. New enchantments could be introduced that players *would* want, such as boosts similar to what you find on heirlooms – experience gains, enhanced loot drops, extended rest time, rep boosts and so on. Doesn’t have to offer massive increases, but enough to make players think they’re worth having. And when you replace a bit of gear you’ll want a new enchant for it, so this ensures demand.

It would also be an improvement if older enchanting materials could be upgraded in the same way you can currently combine dusts and essences of the same level. Or it might even be better to do away with all those different Classic materials and just have one dust type, one essence and one shard for 1-60.

10. Jewelcrafting could also do with a big overhaul, for the same reason Enchanting does. Gems are irrelevant for everything except current expansion content. They’re not needed to complete leveling content, and players won’t buy them because they get through gear so quickly while leveling. As gems will be going through a big change in WoD, it would clearly be a good time to reinvent the entire profession. I expect Blizzard already has ideas for this, but my thoughts are that items could be introduced such as necks and rings relevant to level throughout and made with easier to find mats. Pets, mounts and toys are always desirable to players, and perhaps BoE crafted temporary pets like totems that provide a buff or a heal. These ‘idols’ could look cool so that people would be more inclined to pop them out while questing or in dungeons. How about items similar to the one dropped by Kang in the Vale that turns you and your mounts into stone for a short while? I’m thinking of ‘costumes’ that make a player appear they’re made of diamond or rubies. In our guild, people are forever getting their toys out to change their appearance. They’re clearly very popular, so would make a good addition to professions.

I think I could go on forever listing improvements and ideas – the scope is limitless – so I’ll stop now before this list gets too long!

One of the recent revelations concerning Warlords of Draenor is the controversial proposed change to casters being able to cast while on the move. Primarily – but not wholly – because of PvP concerns, (*again*), it’s been decided that casters should NOT be able to move so much while doing their thing. This of course significantly affects DPS, and in PvP will mean an enormous change to the mechanics of fighting. Melee players have complained that they can’t close the gap to the ranged players, so just get wizard-fired to death before they can reach their target. On the other hand, in previous iterations of PvP combat, ranged were often condemned to lengthy times of stun-lock while Rogues ripped off their faces. I remember those times because I used to PvP a little then. So, as is so often the case, fruitless attempts by Blizzard to balance PvP, (in my opinion an impossible task), will have repercussions in PvE play.

The way things stand, a percentage of raid encounters are nightmares for melee players, simply because of the inordinate amount of damaging ground effects from the bosses, which mean they spend a considerable amount of time in a fight running away from the action rather than being immersed in it. On the other hand, they view with envy those ranged players who can stand at a distance from said effects and deal their damage from there with no interruption. And when the nastiness might reach out across the floor to them, the ranged can skip away while still casting/shooting and doing damage. In response to melee players, ranged would say, ‘well, you can do white damage all the time on a target even when not using skills – I have to use skills to do damage. In that respect you have an advantage.’ But not, the melee players might say, if they have to move away from the target constantly. So it seems Blizzard’s answer to this problem is to wield the nerf guillotine, (forget the bat, it was retired years ago), and stop ranged classes casting as much as they do now while moving. As can be imagined this has caused a frenzied outcry on WoW forums.

I do see the arguments for and against, and the truth is this problem has arisen partly because the raid encounters have become increasingly complex over time, with a loud-voiced percentage of forum-visiting players continually demanding ever more innovative fights, rather like spoilt children hollering from their push-chairs for more toys. If Blizzard fails to produce these difficult encounters, they are hollered at for dumbing down the game. Then when the encounters are revealed as rather too difficult for the average team, with limited play time, there are more tantrums. Blizzard could legitimately enquire, in a confused tone, ‘but isn’t this what you asked for?’ The problem is that when Blizzard gives the vocal minority what they ask for it rarely ends in smiles, but rather the opposite. Also, the percentage of players actually yelping on forums *is* only a fraction of the entire community. The silent majority never have their say and in most cases probably don’t even know how they could do so.

Having to multi-task while on the move has become a staple of many raid fights, and I believe this makes it harder for newer players to break into proper raiding, (I won’t count LFR), because they can’t learn one thing at a time and become more skilled at it – the whole caboodle is thrown at them from the moment they step inside a raid. Rather than have classes line up for the guillotine, I think it would be better for Blizzard to think more about what happens on the floor of encounters and tailor them to be of equal difficulty for both ranged and melee. I quite like the design of a fight such as Malkorok’s in Siege of Orgrimmar. Sometimes you have to move, sometimes you don’t – and that applies to everyone. Some things you move into, some you move away from. And with careful raid-leading over player positioning you can control where the muck drops. It’s not chaos, such as you find on the Dark Shamans fight or Blackfuse. You feel that doing the encounter correctly makes it run smoothly, rather like a dance. The same goes for the General Nazgrim fight. You can’t really say that for Shamans or Blackfuse. It’s more like the players being prodded by tasers into agonized fits than a dance.

Hunters are slightly apart from other ranged classes, and I believe a drastic nerf could be more damaging to them. They have historically been a kiting class, and part of their MO is to do damage on the move, shooting as they run. Hunters are often given jobs to do in raids *because* of their class design and their mobility. Since mana was swapped for focus, which is in short supply in comparison to the resource of casters, Hunters rely on their focus-building shots. Currently, this can be done on the move. If this was removed it would have a big detrimental effect on Hunter DPS. They would quickly run out of focus using their high-cost instant shots, and then would then have to stand still to build it up again using their relatively low damage focus-builder. Hunters used to have Aspect of the Fox to help with this, but it was taken away when the ability to focus-build while moving was introduced. To avoid the very unhappy situation we had in early to mid Wrath, when Hunters were virtually unviable for raiding, something similar to Fox would have to be reintroduced, otherwise the class would be gutted. I dislike focus and its limitations as it is, but this incoming nerf, unless balanced in another way, could be a death knell to Hunters’ high DPS and functionality in raids. I can only assume Blizzard know what they’re doing and Hunters will be redesigned sensibly.

Of course the negative reactions from players we’re seeing at the moment are those of panic. Players see the proposed changes and then start running around with their arms in the air, crying, ‘The sky is falling!’ I think Blizzard should do a little to reassure them, supposing they’ll balance the movement nerf by applying something else. It’s been implied that moving while casting might be on a CD or else a talent choice. That, I think, should be fine, so no need to panic just yet!

However, one thing I’ve seen consistently in the more measured responses to the proposed head-choppings is players saying that the changes will lessen the *fun* of encounters. It *is* fun to cast and run about, rather than stand there dpsing for the scant moments you might get to do so, then haring around avoiding ground effects for 10 seconds at a time or more, doing nothing. But then melee players could legitimately say that’s their lot at the moment anyway. Also, I’ve read of some concern about the drop in DPS having a negative effect on beating boss enrage timers. Again, I think it’s down to changes in encounters rather than changes in classes that will ameliorate the problem. But that, of course, only applies to PvE. And if PvP is at the bottom of it all, which it usually is when nerfs are concerned, then all the shouting in the world by PvE players won’t change Blizzard’s mind about this.

If I had the ear of the Blizzard developers I would make some suggestions, from my own humble opinions. The first is that PvP and PvE should be entirely separate, as was found in the original Guild Wars. Players could have a separate PvP character(s) that unlock special skills in a different way to PvE – say through completing objectives in battlegrounds. If PvP characters were top level when they were created, players wouldn’t have to worry about leveling if they weren’t into PvE play. They could get into PvP immediately and start unlocking the best skills. If a model along these lines was introduced to WoW, PvP would have no effect whatsoever on PvE play, as there would be no need for this constant yo-yoing of abilities and talents, causing outcry from players on both sides of the fence. But then I’m not a game designer, so I don’t know how feasible this idea is. The way WoW’s designed, it might be impossible. But I think few would argue it would end the ruckus once and for all.

Another suggestion, to do with raiding, is that when encounters require melee to flee from ground effects, they’re given something else to do, such as dealing with adds, or perhaps running to click on an item that might channel a debuff on the boss, or something similar. I’m sure a creative encounter designer could think of lots of interesting and fun jobs for melee to do. One of the things I see melee most complain about is feeling they’re doing nothing. Ranged will feel the same if they spend a lot of time just running around avoiding damage rather than dealing it. Fights would be boring if there were no movement requirements at all, but like I explained about the Malkorok fight, if it’s more about careful execution rather than outright chaos, such as when things randomly burst from the floor or descend from above all over the place, players might complain less. Also, more ability for teams to control where the possible chaos might be placed would be a boon. That also would call for skill and level-headed raid-leading rather than running away madly and hoping for the best.

The final suggestion I would make to Blizzard is about who actually tests raids in Beta. At the moment, I think we can confidently assume it is players who have a lot of time to devote to WoW. Many no doubt beta test to give them an edge when the raids go live. The average raider, at the more casual end of the spectrum, is typically someone with a job and a family, with very limited time to play. Their guild perhaps raids only twice a week for 2-4 hours. Increasingly complex encounters require a lot of learning; limited raid time leads to frustration, team dissolution and guild fracturing. I know Blizzard are addressing this with the new levels of difficulty for raiding in WoD, but I think if casual yet committed raiders were given the opportunity to test the raids in Beta, Blizzard would get more realistic feedback in terms of the diversity of its player base. How about invitations to whole raid teams of middling yet competent skill? A few guilds per server of this type could test the raids and give honest feedback about them. I can’t see the point of the encounters being tested solely by the hardcore – they of course have higher expectations in terms of difficulty than the average player.

I’m fairly confident Blizzard has firm control of where the game is heading and is not just making arbitrary decisions for the sake of it, and I stand by the statement that most players are panicking needlessly at the moment, but unfortunately Blizzard does have a history of swinging to extremes when making changes. All I would ask is for the voice of moderation to have a say.

My love affair with the fantasy turn-based strategy game began in 1996 with the release of Heroes of Might and Magic 2. A magazine I bought contained a free demo of it. Jim and I played that demo through a weekend virtually without pause (mainly me watching him play!) and we bought it as soon as possible afterwards. Before then, I’d been hooked on games like Lemmings and Civilisation.

I’d never played a game like HOMM before; it reminded me of the best board games from when I was a child that had involved collecting ‘bits’. Flagging mines to earn daily resources for my towns, looting dead foes, picking up treasures – all this was completely new to me. I also loved the concept of building up cities and making choices about what fantasy race to be. As it was not a RTS (real time strategy) game, since you took turns with the computer for both world exploration and combat, you did not have to keep on your toes with events happening in all directions at once. In fact when later Jim became enamoured of RTS games, I found them almost exhausting, preferring the leisurely turn-based model of HOMM. The fantasy aspect of HOMM really appealed to me and journeying around its maps inspired story ideas. For the first time I had dreams inspired by a game, in which I was travelling through that world; this again fed into my creativity and helped flesh out stories and novels.

One thing I would like to say here before continuing with the story; contrary to what many anti-games people say, (and have even said to my face), computer games do not stifle creativity, or suck up a person’s life so much they are no longer creative. Most of the games I’ve played, and certainly the ones I’ve loved, have inspired me. It’s no different to watching a film that sparks off ideas. But anyway, back to the story…

The pinnacle of the HOMM franchise (which is still going strong) was for many of us the next release, HOMM 3 in 1999. By this time Jim and I had devoured all of what HOMM 2 had to offer, although we still played the game on different difficulties, or just to revisit maps we’d particularly enjoyed. When in America for a convention, we’d even bought the rather basic HOMM 1 (1995), just to play through it and see how it all started. HOMM 3 was far superior to its predecessor, bringing in new races and cities. There were eight different races to play, and you could choose to play the same campaigns but from different racial perspectives. I favoured the Dungeon race, wherein lived warlocks and overlords, commanding creatures of the underworld, culminating in the awesome black dragons. There were two levels for each of the seven creature types you could breed in your towns, starting off with the lower level variety. You could upgrade the spawn buildings when the city reached a certain level of development and you had the resources to build them. New troops were available to hire every week from the buildings.

The campaigns for HOMM 3 were quite difficult in their later scenarios, but Jim and I tended to work through them together so it never became too much of a strain – him being far more patient than me. On evenings when I played alone I would work through the single player maps, eventually discovering the cornucopia of player-created maps you could download from various fan sites. Generally, the best of these were superior to what shipped with the game. I even started creating my own maps, based on the Wraeththu books, which I shared with friends who also played the game. Sadly, those maps are now lost on some long dead computer and I never kept backups. You could tell a story through a well-designed map, and all of the game resources were available for their creation, so you could guide your players through them in exactly the way you wanted so that the story unfolded in a satisfying way.

Two expansions appeared for HOMM 3, and also a series of five stand alone campaigns, Heroes Chronicles. Two more downloadable Chronicles became available, but sadly only to American players. (If anyone reading this has the final two Chronicles, The Fiery Moon and The World Tree, sharable and playable for a European machine, please get in touch!) A player-created ‘expansion’ HOMM 3 and 1/2 was available for free as a download and kept people busy until the next version of the game. HOMM 4 appeared in 2002.

This game was a departure from the winning model of HOMM 3. A more 3D look was brought to the game and there were now only six playable races – all with new creatures and heroes to hire. While I enjoyed HOMM 4, it never really engaged me as much as HOMM 3 did, and some people I know were content to stay with the earlier game, continuing to download player-made maps. HOMM 4’s campaigns were much harder to complete and by this time I was playing the game alone more than not, as Jim had moved on to other games. I found the difficulty frustrating a lot of the time. I don’t mind a challenge but I’m not one of those gamers who love their games insanely hard and virtually impossible to win. I play for fun and part of the fun is being able to achieve objectives eventually without hitting your head against a wall of difficulty again and again. The so-called easy mode was not noticeably easy at later stages of a campaign. A lot of players resorted to ‘cheat codes’ which enabled you to boost your armies when faced with overwhelming defeat. A friend who also played showed me these cheats and I must admit that out of sheer frustration I would sometimes use those codes, conjuring a pile of dragons just to wipe the smile off the faces of the swarming enemies who had swamped me beyond rescue. That is not a great way to play, of course, but other than give up there seemed no other path to follow. Expansions to HOMM 4 followed, which I bought, but still found myself enjoying more the previous game and its player made follow up.

Eventually, my interest petered out and I started playing a similar game called Disciples: Sacred Lands (1999) and its sequel Disciples II: Dark Prophecy (2002). While remarkably similar to HOMM 3 in certain ways, the beauty of these titles is that the difficulty is matched by what it says on the screen. If you want ‘easy’ mode to learn the game, you get easy. There are no horrible surprises halfway through a campaign on the lowest difficulty setting, such as when the AI throws a bundle of foes at you, all twice your level and with armies three times the size of yours (the typical HOMM campaign scenario).

While my interest in WoW’s Mists of Pandaria is waning a little, since I’ve got nearly all my characters to level 90 and there is little more to do other than raid, I’ve been revisiting my old loves. Hauling my oldest computer out of the spare room (which is the only one out of our computer menagerie that still has Windows XP on it and is affectionately referred to as the ‘legacy machine’), I installed the HOMM 3 games on it and also Disciples II. Working through the campaigns on both, I ran into the same problems with HOMM yet not with Disciples. While the end scenarios of the Disciples campaigns pit you against some really tough foes, you have time to build up before being swamped by the enemy, so that you can take on the big bad in your own time. Even so, you’re not guaranteed a win; you have to be careful and make the most of the strategy part of the game to succeed. I realised this was what made Disciples more satisfying than HOMM, at least in the campaign department. But then I am perhaps not the most dedicated of gamers and don’t like things too difficult.

The HOMM franchise is still going, although under the leadership of a new company, and Heroes 5 and 6 are available to buy – in fact you can acquire all of the Heroes games plus expansions (minus HOMM 6), in one bundle now at a very cheap price. 6 is playable on a modern machine but Heroes 5 can cause problems on any OS later than Windows XP. However, having tried both HOMM 5 & 6 recently, I discovered the problem of difficulty not only persists but has increased. I found both of these games too hard, even on single player maps. The AI does the usual thing of throwing insanely tough foes against you before you have time to build up. I’m told by a friend who designs games that the idea is to rampage through maps, not bothering about enemies taking your towns, in order to reach objectives quickly and ahead of the enemy. Precise timing of when to do what is essential and you need to study a walkthrough of each scenario to succeed. That’s not the way I like to play. Reading up on strategy is fine for raiding in an MMO like WoW, but I don’t expect to find it mandatory in a single player turn-based strategy game. Surely the game should unfold as you play it, and conform to the difficulty level you chose when you started your map? I enjoy the town-building aspect and prefer to take my time to strengthen my heroes and armies before taking on the baddies. I do not enjoy being townless, with no way of getting more troops, and not being strong enough even to take a new town, as my armies are whittled away to nothing by foes along the road and I give up in frustration. While both HOMM 5 and 6 are more beautiful to look at than HOMM 3, with truly gorgeous new races and cities, they do not inspire me creatively, mainly because I’m so angry and frustrated as I try to play that I have no time or inclination to admire the scenery or the story-telling. Maybe I’ll have to find some cheat codes, eh?

Happily, I discovered very recently that the Disciples franchise is not dead either. Disciples III: Renaissance was released in 2010, with a sequel Disciples III: Resurrection in 2011. Apparently, both of these can be acquired through Steam and any bugs that had existed at release have been ironed out. You can also buy both Disciples II and III from stores like Amazon very cheaply, (which I did), thereby avoiding Steam’s more annoying and intrusive aspects on your machine. Also, you get to have the disks. Whether a Disciples IV is in the pipeline or not I have no idea.

Disciples III plays fine on a new computer and while its look emulates that of HOMM 6, being more ‘realistic’ graphics-wise than its predecessors, it is far more welcoming to the newcomer. It’s possible to play the game without being swamped by foes. The campaign can be played through from the perspective of three different races, and there are also player-made maps to download from fan sites, which is good since only one stand-alone scenario comes with the game itself. While Disciples II differed from HOMM in several ways, not least artistically, but was also very similar, Disciples III might as well be a HOMM 6 clone, only more forgiving. You have heroes, you build up towns, you hire troops, you gather resources and you fight foes in the landscape as well as the heroes governed by the AI. That’s HOMM by any other name. But I really don’t mind that. The city of the faction Legion of the Damned reminds me strongly of the fiery underworld of Diablo – the cities all in fact look great.

So for anyone looking for something to play until Warlords of Draenor appears, or whose WoW time is dwindling during this period, and/or who fancies a dabble in these older games, here are two cheap fantasy franchises to try. HOMM 4 onwards for those who like things very tough, HOMM 2 & 3 and Disciples I, II & III for those who like a gentler ride. If you do have a ‘legacy machine’ I highly recommend HOMM 3, as that really – to me at least – was the golden moment of fantasy turned-based strategy. And its fan base survives as people continue to play that game, despite its great age in computer game terms. While we talk about WoW being an ‘old game’, if it manages to keep going as long as HOMM 3 that will be an accomplishment!

Blizzcon was a week ago and players have had time to digest all the news about Warlords of Draenor and for forums to become stuffed with posts about it, either for or against.
I was happy to see 6 of my wishes for the expansion granted – a couple of the others I didn’t really expect to see anyway; they were just wishes.

1. the Mighty Wall of Levelling. It’s great this has been addressed and that people purchasing Warlords will be given a free level 90 character or the ability to upgrade an existing character to 90. I know that the grind from 1 to 90 (and soon to be 100) is a huge turnoff for many players, even if they do it all the way through by pugging dungeons. It’s also been implied, if not outright stated, that high level characters might be bought from the Blizzard store. This has been rumoured for a while and I can appreciate it’s inevitable, although I still wish the option had been given to roll a higher level character in game, even if not as high as 90. The 90s could be reserved for the store ‘micro’ transactions. (We know they won’t be micro.)

2. Guild and Player Housing. Blizzard gave more than I was expecting here. Well, I was expecting nothing, in all honesty. It’s a shame guilds haven’t been given the option to build some mighty edifice to be their home, but the individual player-centred Garrisons are a good compromise, since they can be visited by a raid team of up to 40. Guilds will easily be able to meet in them, unless they’re a guild of prodigious size. I like the idea that Garrisons augment game play and are not just cosmetic; the buildings will actually be useful. I won’t list their functions here, as I expect anyone reading this has already found about those. Another unexpected benefit is the introduction of followers – minions who will work for us and can be sent on quests and raids. I was glad to see that pet battling hasn’t been forgotten entirely, as one of the buildings will be dedicated to pets and have a tamer in them we can battle, probably a daily like other trainers, for the usual rewards.

3. Character Model Overhaul. This is coming sooner than I expected with at least several updated characters being ready for the release of Warlords. It’s good Blizzard has striven – from the preview we’ve seen – to maintain the look and innate character of the toons, simply by refining their existing appearances and improving animations. I’ve seen some players complain that we were only shown one face for each example (gnome, orc and dwarf) and that it will be bad if each race only has one face available on the character creation screen. I can’t see that happening. We were just shown previews, there will be a lot more to come. I can’t see every race being ready for the expansion release somehow, as even doing this much appears to have taken years, but even if half are ready, that will be great. The rest won’t be that far away and perhaps released with the regular patches to the game.

4. Vanilla Pet Overhaul. This wish wasn’t granted or at least not mentioned at Blizzcon. With all the work to be done to get the expansion ready for an early release, including the character model updates, I can live without the pet grooming! Will be cool if it comes at a later date though.

5 & 6. New Races and Classes. No new races were announced, or new classes. Neither was it suggested that existing characters would be given extra specs. Perhaps we’ll have to wait for the next expansion to see any changes in these areas.

7. Inventory Space. Glad to see that a lot of items will be going into the spellbook like the mounts and pets – tabards, toys etc. Quest items will also not be stored in our bags, another welcome change. No doubt they will be similar to how they are in Rift – perhaps a sort of ‘quest inventory’ line on our character window. Was also good to hear that many crafting items will be stored in larger stacks. Great news for tailors, I expect!

8. Gear Sets. This has been addressed and in a way I wasn’t expecting. Gear stats will change according to what spec you’re in, dispelling the need to collect more than one set of gear. I imagine items like trinkets and jewellery might still be specific to certain roles, such as tanking, but at least players won’t have to lug a whole gear set round with them, and it will make it far easier to gear up a warrior, DK, druid, etc, to have a tank offspec. There is a dearth of tanks in the game, and in our guild the perennial excuse when we’re short is ‘I don’t have a gear set for it’. That excuse will soon be well… inexcusable! The game sorely needs more tanks and speaking purely for myself the problem of gearing up a character when they’re not your main raiding toon is a big one. I refuse to take a tank into LFR – really, really just can’t stomach it – and melee DPS has never been my forte, so my performance as a non tank in LFR with such characters would probably get me kicked for low DPS. I don’t want to stomach that either. And the guild just doesn’t do heroic dungeons to the degree we used to. Consequently, I don’t have a fully-geared tank this expansion, capable of filling in for the newest raid content – the first time this has happened since Burning Crusade. So I’m eager to find out how beneficially this gear change will affect the tank problem – hopefully a lot.

9. I realised when I got this far into my article that I actually had 12 points not 10 in my original post and had accidentally numbered two of them wrong! Anyway… the next point was gear enhancements. Again my wishes were granted. I was absolutely delighted to see the death of reforging – which really is never much more than a costly juggling act with stats such as hit and expertise. These stats are going, along with dodge and parry for tanks, and will be baked into the class instead. So in Warlords it won’t be necessary to reforge every time you change one bit of gear. Gemming and Enchanting are also having massive overhauls, with fewer items being enchantable and fewer gem slots.

I have heard a lot of complaining about these changes, with people saying it’s yet another case of Blizzard ‘dumbing down’ the game and making things too easy. I strongly disagree with this. As it stands, modifying gear is a fiddly, overcomplicated procedure. It either requires big outlay on the Auction House to buy expensive gems and enchants, or else swapping what seems interminably between characters to enchant (scribe and enchanter for that) and gem (jewelcrafter and often alchemist to make new gems etc). Then you might need to swap again (or make further expensive purchases) to get leg enchants through Leatherworkers or Tailors. And after that you hit the reforger to make sure your hit/exp or dodge/parry are at cap, with a cost that might be hundreds of gold. All these gear requirements have built up over the years in WoW, and it seems odd to me that the majority of people bemoaning their loss are the same ones who grieve nostalgically for Vanilla WoW, when we didn’t have any of that anyway. Bizarre.

Enchants, while applicable to fewer pieces of gear, will offer far more choice for players, so that they will have to decide carefully what is best for their class and spec. In essence, enchanting gear will be more meaningful than just slapping on the single one that’s pertinent to you at the moment.

We can’t say for certain how these major changes will impact our play until we try it, but to me this seems like a quality of life change. I prefer convenience over complication, but I also hear players talking about how they like things difficult and fiddly. Personal choice, of course, and whatever they do Blizzard won’t be able to please everyone.

10. Cross Faction communication. No changes here. This is something I read a lot about, so maybe it could happen in the future, but it’s clearly not high on Blizzard’s agenda.

11. Mob and Resource Tagging. Again no change, which is a pity.

12. PvP on PvE realms. No changes. We’re still stuck with things as they are. Of all my wishes, I see this as the least likely to be granted, whether now or 3 expansions down the line.

Points I didn’t cover in my original list include the item squish. Players who sampled the new game at Blizzcon reported they didn’t even notice the item squish at first because game play felt the same as ever, healing produced the results they expected, DPS was as powerful as it feels to them currently in game. In Warlords our stats will be slashed dramatically, resulting in far smaller health and mana pools and damage output. This squish will also apply to weapons and armour generally. But our foes will be similarly squished so everything will feel the same as it does now. The reason this must be done is that stats have become ridiculously high – a tank at the moment can have 1 million health. It’s been stated the game will run smoother if all those zeroes are shaved off the stats to a more sensible level. I’ve seen some reservations expressed about the continuing ability to solo old content, which Blizzard insists will not be affected, but we’ll have to wait and see how all this is implemented. One post I read said that given the new health pool of a level 90, a level 1 character could only start at 0.5 health. That seems a bit daft, so I’m sure this new feature will have aspects players haven’t yet considered or been shown.

Raiding, of course, has also been given attention. The current Flex model they’re experimenting with will be absorbed into Normal mode. The current Normal will become Heroic. Both of these will incorporate the Flex feature, allowing for different sized groups. A new Mythic mode will be for a fixed group of 20 players and will replace the current Heroic mode. This is for players who like their game to be the ultimate challenge. LFR will also include a kind of Flex mode in that encounters will scale if, for example, a group is left waiting for ages for a tank or healers. Groups will be able to continue the raid without having to wait for those extra players.

Flex mode has been a lifesaver for our guild, simply because of its flexibility. I think it’s a sensible way forward for all modes of raiding to include this feature, but for the hardest mode for the most hardcore players aiming for realm/world first achievements. As Flex allows for cross realm teaming, it’s obvious that Mythic mode can’t be flexible in that way, with teams including members from several realms, otherwise it will muck up the realm/world firsts.

Raiding has changed so much since Vanilla WoW it’s virtually an entirely different feature to its original form. The encounters are far more difficult and require careful strategy, movement and positioning. In the days of the 40 man raids, which many claim to pine for, you might have had 10-15 good players with the rest of the group made up of anything with a pulse. Nowadays, players can’t be carried unless a group far outgears an encounter. Everyone counts. While this in itself has caused problems for guilds because of the varying ability and skill of their members, it has made raiding more challenging. So I really can’t buy the ‘dumbing down’ complaint. If anything, what we have is the opposite. What people refer to as ‘dumbing down’ is simply more convenience and quality of life enhancements being added to the game. If LFR gets nerfed, that’s because its reason for being is for everyone, regardless of skill or ability, being able to see end game content. I’m still astonished when I take an alt into LFR to see players, who claim to be doing heroic modes, expecting the same level of raiding in LFR and then being surprised by what they find in there. It was never meant for them, and has no impact on their game however easy it’s made for those for whom it’s intended. Blizzard tends to nerf all versions of the raids towards the end of an expansion, merely to give teams a catch up mechanism, so they can finish the current content before anything new appears. Again, this has no effect on the players who completed the content before it was nerfed, who can feel gratified they were able to do so.

I’ve not seen anything (yet) about Warlords with which I feel uncomfortable or disagree. While there might not be ‘showy’ new features such as new races and classes, it feels to me that a lot of work has and is being done on actual content and improving the player experience. I don’t see anything to complain about there.

Like everyone madly awaiting news of the new WoW expansion, I’ve got my own wish list of things I’d like to see to appear in the game or things that could be refined or changed. Here is my top ten!

1. The Mighty Wall of Leveling

Creating a new character now from level 1 is daunting to say the least. Maybe not so for a new player, who has so many exciting things to discover and explore, but for the veteran wanting to try a new alt it’s not a happy prospect. You might have leveled an account full of characters already, or even two accounts, or have another set of characters on a different realm. Do we really need to grind though all those quests and zones we might have done over a dozen times before? I think Blizzard should do something to remove that wall of leveling for alts. I’m not sure what, because there are different ways it could be implemented. I’ve read the suggestion that a ‘micro transaction’ of real money could be involved via the game store, but by experience we know that Blizzard’s concept of micro is rather larger than anyone else’s. I wouldn’t like to see another £15 cost added to the services. What would be better would be the ability to create a character of higher level, perhaps just before the level of the current expansion, or at least higher than Death Knights begin at now. If new races and classes are introduced, whether in the next xpac or one after, people will want to try them. But for many the wall of leveling will be a huge turn off. I wonder how many Pandaren are languishing unplayed just beyond their starter zones? I know for a fact in our guild it’s quite a lot.

2. Guild and Player Housing

As I’ve played several MMOs that already provide these features, it’s something I’d love to see in WoW. While it won’t be for everyone, many players enjoy creating imaginative homes. Buying items for such things can create another gold sink in the game – which we’re always told is needed. Again, as with some other games, items could be sold via micro transactions in the Blizzard store, as long as they’re not too expensive. I liked the way player homes were introduced in Rift, where you got a quest line to acquire your first one. During this, you were rewarded with a decent amount of ‘furnishings’ to start you off. Some players excel at landscaping and interior design and can create some pretty eye-popping domains. The best of player housing includes grounds to the main building that can be landscaped. In Rift, your ‘dimension’ (as your home is known) can be open to the public if you want it to be, so other players can admire your creativity. You might even pick up some commissions!

As for guild housing, I think it’d be fun to have a guild quest chain to acquire and start building your castle, palace, mansion, or whatever. Players could gather resources or donate gold to help with the construction. Features could be added as they’re earned, such as rooms like a Trophy Hall, where the heads of boss kills could be displayed, vendors, crafting areas and so on. In Runes of Magic, high level guild castles have grounds where players can farm resources, much like the farms we have at Halfhill in Pandaria now. Guild Housing in other games is instanced, so everyone enters through the same portal. It would be cool if the Guild Halls could be themed to particular areas, so (like in the original Guild Wars) you could choose the appearance and ambience of your Hall to suit your tastes. The Arathi model could be an old time castle, the Durotar one an Orc fortress, a Duskwood one like a haunted mansion, Stranglethorn like a jungle tree village, and so on. The potential is vast.

Blizzard has always maintained that guild and player housing would empty the cities, but if the portals for them were situated in cities, and things like the AH and the Bank (which let’s face it is the only reason players visit cities now) are still in the main square, I can’t see it making much difference. Especially if guilds could have ‘open nights’ (or days, weeks, whatever), so others could enter certain areas of their domains. This could aid in recruitment. Apart from Orgrimmar, Stormwind and the current City of the Year in whatever expansion we’re in, the cities are pretty much dead anyway. In Rift, on the housing interface, there is a list of dimensions you can enter. It couldn’t be that difficult for Blizzard to do something similar. It would be cool for guildies to have somewhere to hang out together that they have created themselves.

3. Character Model Overhaul

Well, we’re all waiting for this. It might happen in the next expansion, or partly, or it might not. I think we can conclude it will come eventually. What would be a welcome feature is the ability to customize your character much more, including the option to have different skins, i.e. Taunka or Yaungol for Tauren, and so on. The majority of MMOs now allow you to adjust all aspects of your characters, allowing for a more realistic array of different appearances in-world. While you might not be able to change the height of your gnome or goblin, (as a giant of either of those would be plain silly), you could perhaps adjust their weight or body shape. We could do with far more face and hair options, or the ability to tweak those ourselves.

4. Vanilla Pet Model Overhaul

Some of the original companion pets in the game are a pretty horrible lump of polygons – rabbits, prairie dogs, frogs, etc. Most of us use at least some of these pets for battling, if we’re into it. The humble rabbit can be a dreaded foe, hard as it might be to believe. It would be great if the old pets were tarted up a bit to look like the rest of the pets, i.e. realistic.

5. New Races

While I love new races being introduced, especially if they’re exotic, the point I raised first – leveling – is the only downside, unless you’re prepared to pay for a race change. I’m torn between the desire to have a cool new character, such as an Ethereal, Saurok, Naga, Vrykul, etc, and the heart-sinking prospect of leveling another character from scratch. So, for me, new races should only be introduced if an option is given to start at a higher level.

6. New Classes

While I read of players’ desire to have Demon Hunters, Tinkers, Battle Mages, Bards and so on, I wonder if any new class could be different enough to warrant its introduction. To me, those desired roles could be better fulfilled by offering them as new and exciting specs for existing classes.

7. Inventory Space

There can’t be a player in game who doesn’t want something done about our lack of storage options. If tabards, toys and other paraphernalia we tend to collect and carry about with us can be made like the pets and mounts and placed in our spell book, that would free up a lot of space.

6. Gear Sets
An extension of the above point, I think it’s clunky that we have to have different sets of gear for different specs, and these items have to be carried about with us in our inventory. Either make it that one set of gear functions for all specs or let us have a wardrobe feature like in Rift, where such gear sets are stored on the character, and easily changed, and not in the bags.

7. Gear Customization

We’ve got used to gemming, enchanting and reforging, as it’s been introduced a step at a time over the years, but it must be a daunting prospect for new players. I don’t like the way that changing only one piece of gear can mean a whole reforge is needed, which often doesn’t come cheap. Reforging is fiddly if you don’t use an addon like ReforgeLite to do the work for you. Otherwise, you have to use third party web sites to get the relevant information, unless you’re adept at working out all the stats yourself. Personally, I don’t want to spend a lot of time doing that. I think it’s time Blizzard overhauled the matter of stats on gear and made it more stream-lined and comprehensible. Do we really need 3 types of gear adjustment? Just seems like too much to me. Stats should be designed more cleanly so that reforging isn’t needed and gear enhancements are a boost rather than, as with reforging, a necessity to reach certain caps.

8. Cross Faction Contact

Perhaps the most controversial of wishes, and one shared by many, is the ability to team across factions, and in fact simply have communication between them. We have all these sophisticated races, yet they still behave like primitive bullies and, despite nods towards diplomacy, trade, co-operation and peace, WoW is still very much a school-yard us versus them scenario. I don’t think the rivalry should be done away with completely, and political relations could always be potentially volatile, but as so many NPCs of the opposite faction are willing to talk with, trade with and befriend members of the other side, why can’t players do the same? I know the argument against is that the second W in WoW is Warcraft, but after 10 years of virtual existence can’t the inhabitants of Azeroth start growing up a bit? PvP enthusiasts could still have their battlegrounds where characters fight for honour, perhaps in a more gladiatorial sense than we see now, (and on PvP realms still have their all out dog eat dog situation). Not everyone would have to see eye to eye, or join hands and skip among the daisies surrounded by chuckling kids, but there could be more realism by allowing players to make choices themselves about who they wish to hate, or not hate.

I prefer the Rift model of the factions, where the leaders of each regards the other with contempt for their views, politics and way of life, but out in the landscape, away from the politics, players are able not only to talk to those of the rival faction but play alongside them. You can’t actually team, but you can run around together closing rifts, taking part in world events, and such like. I would very much like to see this in WoW, but I’m aware the game population is probably divided right down the middle about this subject.

9. Resource and Mob Tagging.

Get rid of it. It works perfectly well in Guild Wars 2 that any player hitting a mob gets partial credit for the kill and therefore loot, whether teamed with other players or not. Resource nodes can be farmed by more than one player; they only disappear for you once you’ve mined them and another player can then come along and take their turn. We know that Blizzard can make mobs free for all in respect of tagging, as we see on the Timless Isle. There would be far less hatred and anger among players competing for limited resources and mobs if tagging wasn’t an issue. First nights of new expansions would be a far more joyous occasion if this was brought in – except for those whose pleasure is to turn on PvP flagging and make the whole experience more miserable for everyone. But we could do with fewer of those types couldn’t we?

10. Let PvE Realms be PvE

If people want to attack other players, what are they doing on PvE realms? Ah, of course, your average PvE player is easy meat for them. In my opinion, PvP should only be available in battlegrounds and arenas on PvE realms. Why make those of us who rolled characters on realms specifically to avoid that shenanigans have to put up with PvP players trying to trick us into hitting them and initiating combat and just generally making a nuisance of themselves, i.e. the notorious early days of new expansions and zones.

These are my ten wishes, and I know some of them are highly unlikely to happen, and there is massively divided opinion about others, but there’s no law against wishing, is there? I can also say that my wishes are not mine alone; I’ve seen them repeated across forums by many other players, as well as discussed with friends. Ah well, we’ll just have to wait until Friday when Blizzcon gives us the first of the revelations about WoW’s next chapter.

On the whole patch 5.4 has been a big success for our guild. We’ve teamed up with another guild to do Flex raiding and our two visits so far to Siege of Orgrimmar have been a lot of fun. We’ve got the first couple of bosses down and nearly got the third the other night before people had to leave because of work the next day. For a new team getting used to working together we’ve done really well, and most importantly we’ve had some enjoyable evenings’ play and have made some new friends on the server. While we’ve struggled over the past few months to get 10 people together for a raid, this Tuesday we had 19 in the team. Some people who’d given up formal raiding in favour of LFR have come back to the team and because people can come and go from the raid without affecting everyone else, guildies who have to start late or finish early could also join us. The difficulty of the encounters adjusts to however many are in the team. This is such a great feature for people who get home late from work, or have kids to put to bed or, at the other end of the night, have to leave especially early for whatever reason.

As well as getting together with another guild who’d been suffering the same problems as us, we’ve also picked up some new guildies who are friends of existing members. I know from experience that the state of guild rosters can – time and time again – change dramatically for the good and the bad, and I’m happy we’re now going through a good time once more.

The Timeless Isle has also been fun to explore and at the start was an absolute gods’ send for alts. I’ve geared up quite a few already with the bind on account epics that can be found in treasure chests and from mob kills. It seems now the drop rate for epics has dropped quite a bit, but the initial week was great. The only thing that’s spoiled the island for me and my friends is the PvP aspect. Yes, we get that Blizzard loves PvP and occasionally, (legendary quest line, Long Strange Trip achievement), likes to force it on players who hate it, and yes, we get that many players actually like it and want it, and we also get that the Timeless Isle is supposed to have a world PvP element to it. But the amount of griefing that goes on does nothing to change my mind about mixing PvP with PvE. For example, late the other night a couple of friends and I decided to team up and find some rare mobs. As we were killing random creatures around us, a group of Horde, all flagged for PvP and all riding huge Traveller’s Tundra Mammoths, congregated on top of us as we were fighting, clearly with the aim of making one of us accidentally hit them. They were taunting us as much as possible with emotes, supposedly to make us even more annoyed with the situation. When these tactics failed – we simply moved to a different area – they followed us and grouped up on our kills as we were looting, again with the clear intent of making someone click on them by mistake and thus initiate combat. There are enough Alliance actually wanting to get involved in PvP, so these idiots should go and pester them instead. If this is world PvP then I don’t think it belongs among PvE players. Also, how brave they are in numbers! It’s not something they’d try alone or in a small group. Cowards.

But anyway, apart from that aspect, which if you don’t like PvP you just have to take a little extra precaution to avoid, the island is a fun addition to the game. Not sure how long that fun will last, but there are at least a lot of pets to collect off rare mobs, which will extend the interest for some. For those not into pets, I don’t imagine there will be much left for them to do once they’ve earned the timeless coins to buy the items they want. As with all content, the island won’t have an infinite allure – things get used up and players move on. I’m trying not to use it up too fast. Some people are obsessed with grinding the rep for the Emperor, and that’s all they do. But once it’s done, and if done too quickly, what will be left for them? I think it’s better to pace yourself and make the most of the content, rather than gobble it up and then complain about having nothing to do.

I’ve not tried the Celestial Tournament pet battles scenario on the island yet, as I want to get more of my pets to level 25 before embarking on it. Also, you need to put aside quite a few hours to do the scenario while you’re learning it. Friends who’ve done it have taken up to six hours to complete it, (not necessarily succeeding on their first attempt either) and at the moment I don’t have such a chunk of time to devote to one activity. One friend had got almost to the end – bearing in mind you cannot heal or revive any of your pets throughout the scenario – and then failed on the last fight because he literally ran out of level 25 pets to do it. (He has around 100 of them.) He’d spent four hours getting to that point. You can’t ‘save’ the fight – you have to complete the whole scenario or start again. Another friend, who completed it on the first day, has 250 level 25 pets, so as I only have 70 or so, I know I need a far bigger stable of available pets before I attempt this challenge. Once you have learned the fights and if you have enough of suitable pets for the battles, then it takes less time to do the scenario. One friend completed it in 40 minutes today, when he was taking hours to do it last week. I dare say more and more strategy guides will appear for the fights as people complete them, and I’m content to wait a while until others, through trial and error, work out the best teams. I’d rather do the scenario in a couple of hours than in the equivalent of a working day!

It’s been a while since I wrote anything for my WoW blog – mainly because I’ve been playing the game less and had little to say that wouldn’t just be repeating what I’ve said before. Like many, I’d run out of things to do in WoW, found playing alts rather a pain, and was often logging on only for raid nights. I’m happy to report we’ve managed to keep our raiding going, when many other guilds have had to give up for a while. We’ve had few cancelled runs, even if we’ve been short of people, because it’s possible to do Mogushan Vaults now with a diminished team of well-geared characters, and we could often take an under-geared guildie along with us to help get them some shinies.

Like just about everyone in the game, I’ve been waiting for the next patch 5.4, not least because of the Flex Raiding it will provide. It seems that at last Blizzard will accommodate all those guilds who want to do proper raiding rather than the jerk-pit of LFR, but who have found Normal raiding too taxing, simply because they cannot field 10 perfect players and/or have had problems with team consistency and numbers.

There has always been conflict between the so-called hardcores and casuals, with both sides screaming that Blizzard caters more for the other side. Reality is that the ‘not hardcore’ element is far more numerous than the ‘not casual’ element, yet even so, despite the ‘not casual’ carping that the game has been dumbed down and ruined, raiding has actually become more complex and difficult over the years. It seemed insane to me that Blizzard could countenance the crumbling and dissolution of numerous guilds, simply because Normal raiding was tuned too high for their raid teams of mixed ability. Surely Normal was meant for those people who weren’t expert enough, or couldn’t devote enough time, to attempt Heroic mode? But even within that broad band of ‘casual raiding guilds’ there would be teams of differing skill and team consistency. For some the current Normal mode tuning was fine because their players could handle it and they had the time each week to tackle it effectively, with a consistent team. For others Normal was a trial, because runs often had to be cancelled due to a lack of people, or different people went each time and fights had to be learned over and over. I assume it was intended that all these players should be herded into LFR and be happy with that, but of course this didn’t happen. They might have accepted the herding, but this didn’t mean they were happy. Admittedly, in most LFR runs, you’ll only have 2 or 3 jerks mouthing off. The other 22-23 players just keep their heads down and keep quiet. I was given some advice very early on – never engage LFR jerks in conversation. Ignore what they say, no matter how offensive or wrong or unfair. Don’t even stick up for anyone, no matter how incensed you might feel on their behalf. It will just bring the jerks down on you like a ton of silage. Consequently, I saw cruel bullying happen, but said nothing. Neither did anyone else: including all those players who would no doubt rather be doing Normal raiding with friends, but whose guild rosters had diminished beyond the ability to raid.

Because for many players Normal raid progression was so slow, or wasn’t happening at all, LFR felt mandatory to gear up characters for when raiding was possible. It was good for getting valor points, and of course essential for those stalled in Normal mode who wanted to pursue the legendary quest and its rewards. I’m really hoping that Flex raiding will offer a sound alternative. I believe surviving guilds will do more to ensure they can attempt this mode, whether that’s allying with others in the same position as they are, or else picking up a couple of random people by advertising in Trade. If you have a group of 3 friends who want to join you for a run, but you have 8 people from your own guild in the team already, you’ll now be able to take those 3 extra people. That just opens up huge possibilities for alliances with other guilds that previously had been constrained by the 10 player limit – too many people for a team – or the 25 player limit – too few. There will also be more incentive now for people to join guilds again. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds and I sincerely hope it offers a new lease of life for raiding – and perhaps more importantly for guilds – in WoW. More to report once we’ve tried it!

I haven’t written on the blog for a while, mainly because I’ve not had a lot to say about WoW. Well, nothing I haven’t said before, and eventually the broken record gets boring.

However, I am moved to comment on all this ‘helms in the Blizzard store’ shenanigans. We know an explosion of player feeling occurs nearly every time something new appears in the store. Some people have strong views about a subscription game having such a store, and while they might wistfully look at the shinies and want them, they can’t bring themselves to hand over more cash when they already pay a sub. Or perhaps they simply can’t afford them.

Generally, game shops are the province of the Free to Play games – every one of those will have one because it’s how they get their revenue. So, some players ask, why does Blizzard have one for WoW? Is it simply just to milk more cash from their customers? Some people really think that’s the case and they feel bitter about it. They feel angry that players succumb to temptation and buy things, because in their view that’s just encouraging Blizzard to keep their prices high. Other players aren’t bothered – as far as they’re concerned, they can afford the items, they want them, end of story. I have bought every mount and pet, because I’m an avid mount and pet collector, and I’ve had a lot of fun from those items, so I’m not averse to the store per se. To me, it’s exciting when a new mount or pet appears.

But I am a bit perplexed about the new helms. It’s irrelevant to me what people might think about the look of the items. You either like them or you don’t – same as for the other store items. What puzzles me is the amount Blizzard is charging for them. I’m surprised they didn’t foresee the outcry this would cause. And this is down to the cost in comparison to similar items from the F2P stores.

One important point has to be made before going any further. The teams who design and develop the game we love do not make decisions about how much things cost in the Blizzard store. So there’s no point railing against the whole company. It’s the accounts departments, going ever higher up in the tiers of the company and its affiliates, which are responsible for these decisions.

Maybe a lot of players are unaware what F2P games charge for vanity items because they don’t play such games, and don’t read WoW forums. Maybe to the uninformed the hat price doesn’t seem that bad, but really it is a bit steep. While I’ve heard from friends what other games tend to charge, I can only speak personally about Rift. When Rift went F2P a couple of months ago, a veritable department store opened up. Loyal original customers were given very generous amounts of free tokens to spend in this shop, as well as a plethora of other free items such as mounts and pets. Loyalty was rewarded handsomely. With the tokens I received, I was able to buy a couple of the cool new mounts, transmog sets for some of my characters, plus other little bits and pieces and items for my ‘dimension’ or player home.

Let’s just have a look at this in real terms. You can buy tokens for cash in Rift and use them to buy things in the shop. £20 will get you 4870 tokens, which means that for £1 you get 243.5 tokens. Transmog sets, except for a few more expensive ones, are 765 tokens, so that’s around £3.14 – for a full set of gear. The most expensive mounts cost £6.47 and the cheapest mounts, found throughout the game itself, but which might cost a lot of platinum (the in game currency) are 5 pence. 13 tokens. This includes mounts from the opposite faction you can’t actually buy in the game. Pets range from 720 tokens to 180. All of the items are of high quality.

Rift needs people to spend money in the shop to survive now, and to me it seems Trion is taking the route of making everything cheap to encourage players to buy. What mount collector isn’t going to be tempted by the 5p cost to buy all the more common mounts they haven’t got or can’t afford in game? And there are a lot of them, which will amount to a few quid if you bought them all. I think the prices are very fair and there is a massive stock to choose from. In the transmog sets department, you are really spoilt for choice, and restrictions concerning armour type don’t apply. So you could buy a really cool plate set for a cloth wearer if you wanted to, or mix and match with other pieces to create your own unique look. Each piece of a set costs 39 pence if you break the price down.

Now when you look at the £10 being charged in the Blizzard store for the new hats, it is a bit gobsmacking, and that’s why I’m surprised the company didn’t see the fallout coming, or even why they thought it was a good idea to charge that much in the first place. I presume they must keep an eye on what other games charge for store items, and surely they must be aware a large amount of their player base are familiar with the F2P games and their prices. It was inevitable the comparison was going to be made, and in strong terms. A full transmog set at the new hat prices, if they ever appear, would cost £80, as opposed to the £3.14 we find in Rift.

Perhaps it’s not appropriate to compare Blizzard to a company like Trion, which is far smaller, and has a relatively modest player base. WoW is the top dog of MMOs, and in some ways it isn’t really surprising that its vanity items are going to cost more. It’s like buying supermarket produce from a top store like Waitrose or a bargain basement place like Aldi. I don’t think Blizzard would ever want to match the very cheap prices found in a game like Rift. But even so, their prices are considerably higher, not just a little higher. But so far, people have been mostly happy to cough up for the mounts and pets. However, the cost of the new hats and the associated furore is a shame, because now they have a bad rep, with people complaining vociferously across the internet. People who want to buy them, or already have, might feel awkward about wearing them. There are tales of people being kicked from LFR for displaying one of the hats, although I think that’s probably a WoW urban myth. But then again, who knows? The Celestial Steed caused a lot of hate when that came out, which I must admit did tarnish the shine of having one. I really loved mine too, but felt embarrassed about being seen on it in crowded places, which is just ridiculous. But people felt obliged to be rude, and that trend hasn’t gone away.

Blizzard already gets subs from its millions of players, so I can’t see why they risked invoking the Player Rage Spectre, so often invoked by store items, by placing such a high price on the hats. £10 for all 3 might have been acceptable, or £3-£5 per helm would have been fair. Lots of people would have bought them, and the bad feeling – I believe – wouldn’t have been so toxic.

Maybe the hats are an experiment and a response to the diminishing subscriptions. Perhaps the accountants want to gauge how much players are prepared to pay, and what they consider acceptable. Generally, the price has not been considered acceptable. As far as I know there’s been no official response from Blizzard over their decision on the pricing of the helms, but I would like to know their reasoning and what they think about the reaction.

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