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I’ve always found MMOs to be inspiring in a creative sense. Wandering their virtual worlds, soaking up their history and ambience, has conjured many a short story. While my first game is – and always will be – World of Warcraft, my second is Rift. It’s impossible to play more than one MMO to its full extent, (unless you do nothing else in life!), so my forays into Rift aren’t character-progression and raid-focused as they are in WoW. In Rift’s world of Telara, I’m especially drawn to dimension-building, which is a feature where players are given instanced chunks of the game world to build in. This isn’t player housing in the accepted sense but a far broader idea, where we get to play around with the environment – create forests where there were none, with strange exotic flowers in the shadows; make mountains soar from a barren plain; have great waterfalls crashing over cliffs into haunted lakes you conjure below; use existing fantastical buildings or create completely new ones to place in your imagined locations. You can, in effect, create stories, and inevitably this led to me wanting to take things further than simply building new dimensions. I had the idea of a series of linked landscapes that furthered a story I would write. I didn’t want to set this specifically in the world and history of Telara, but would use its lands as a basis for my own tale. The dimensions would have clues for people to find that would lead to the next chapter of the story. I had the idea also of ‘filming’ these dimensions so that people who didn’t play Rift, and weren’t keen to download the client of this free to play game, could still experience the landscapes and the story via a You Tube channel, or something similar.

As Warlords of Draenor is winding down in WoW, and I have more time in the evenings to devote to another game, I decided to get cracking with my Rift idea. And this is when I ran into some quite astonishing revelations concerning Rift. I’ve played the game since its Beta, when I was allowed in to review it for the GamesXtreme web site. From my first steps into Telara, I fell in love with its landscape of sinister fairy tale ambience, its weird NPCs (non-player characters) in their peculiar and original costumes, its often grotesque wildlife, and unsettling fairies with ghastly teeth! It reminded me of the work of Tim Burton and Guillermo del Toro when they’re in fairy-tale mode. Rift was not a free to play game to begin with – you bought the game and then paid a monthly subscription, as you do for WoW. But as with many other MMO titles, eventually Rift did go free to play, in that people could play it without subbing – although a ‘patron’ status was still in place, whereby players who elected to pay a sub were given lavish rewards for their loyalty. As the sub was cheap, I continued to pay it, not least because I wanted to support the game and help keep it going. Also, the perks were too attractive to lose. Even during periods of absence from Telara, when things in Azeroth kept me busy, I continued with the modest sub.

All free to play games, or ftp as I’ll now refer to them, need income in order to keep running and to pay for the development of new content – which is continually in demand from players. Typically, this involves a ‘game store’ where players can buy items with real money, via what are known as ‘micro transactions’, which basically means small amounts of money that, because of the quantity of purchases, mount up to create a solid income for the game company. Rift, when it first went ftp, had a very reasonably-priced game store. In fact, in comparison to what Blizzard charged in their own store, (controversial given that WoW isn’t even ftp), it was amazingly cheap. It was also moderate, in that (for example) players didn’t have to ‘rent’ storage space for the mountains of items that tend to build up over time on any character, and which you don’t want to throw away or sell. Other games I’d played involved having to ‘rent’ quite a lot of essential features. And that mounted up to paying far more than Blizzard’s monthly sub fee. I realised pretty quickly that ftp is not free at all, quite the opposite, but at least Trion, Rift’s developers, were fair and gave value for money. Most of what you might want from the game was available simply by playing it. Cosmetic items such as mounts and costume sets were available to buy from the store, for those who valued their time above money, and didn’t have enough hours to ‘grind’ for such things in the game itself. Game-enhancing items also appeared in the store that offered great benefits for players. Well, that was acceptable. I wanted Rift to survive, and as I simply levelled my characters to max in order to explore Telara and build dimensions, I wasn’t interested in buying gear or other items to make me more competitive in such things as raiding or pvp. I bought some cheap costumes to make my characters more aesthetically pleasing and purchased a few mounts for them. I also bought dimension items from the store, when things I wanted weren’t available on the in-game auction house or from vendors in Telara. A few months ago, when I decided to dedicate more time to working on my dimension project, I invested a fair amount of money to keep me going and allow me to buy a few more lavish items than I would when simply tinkering about.

Then I made some unpleasant discoveries and hereby begins the tale. Certain dimension items within the game were always subject to RNG, in that they might be found randomly when fishing, or come from other sources where you couldn’t guarantee getting them unless luck was on your side. That’s a staple of MMOs. It’s part of what keeps people playing them – the hope that one day they’ll get the mount or gear they’ve longed for turning up in the loot of a defeated foe. But a rather sinister aspect of RNG has crept into Rift since I last played it consistently. Random luck, which was never a massive part of dimension building, has transformed into gambling with money.

Any game is stuffed with art assets – the components that make up the fantasy world – and in Rift we use these assets to create our dimensions. Whether it’s a tree, a plant, a rock, a waterfall, an urn, a building, or various blocks with which to build, these are fragments of the game world acquired individually, through purchases, rewards or lucky finds, to do with as you see fit. Over time, more items have been made available to players, and as dimension builders are perennially inventive and creative, they always want more of them to realise their visions. When dimensions were introduced some years ago, Trion put ‘mystery boxes’ in the store for dimension builders. You bought these with real money, opened them, and hoped a selection of good items fell out. Often, they didn’t, and you wasted your cash, but you didn’t need these boxes in order to build – there were so many quality items available through other means. However, as time went on, the majority of new items, and the most beautiful, were hidden in these random boxes – and they were not cheap considering what you got. I bought one or two of the bulk buy offers and didn’t find anything great in them, so resolved not to bother again. I could continue building without them, simply through playing different aspects of the game, or buying items from the auction house where other players put them up for sale – gratifyingly cheap in the early days of it all. If I didn’t have the coolest new items, it was up to my creativity to build something that still looked good with those I could access.

However, players made their dissatisfaction with this system felt on the Rift forums.* Why, they asked, can’t we just spend our money how we please? We don’t expect all items for free, we understand how Trion needs to have income to sustain the game, but we want to be able to choose how we spend our money. I saw threads repeatedly on this subject and agreed with them wholeheartedly. I don’t mind spending on the store, but neither do I want to waste my cash on something that turns out to be rubbish. Trion appeared to respond positively to these complaints and announced they would introduce with their Nightmare Tide expansion, (due out shortly before WoD was released for WoW), a system whereby more top quality items could be obtained from fishing. This would be an alternative route for players who didn’t want, or couldn’t afford, to buy random boxes off the store. Dimension builders were delighted by this news. Fishing is a slow profession, but if you could devote a little time to it now and again in order to fish up something amazing, it wouldn’t be that much of a chore. What players weren’t prepared for was how this was implemented. First off, the system itself was dominated by the most punishing RNG in order to get the components for the fishing pole and lure you needed even to begin seeking loot from fishing. On top of that, even should you be lucky enough to fish up the tools required, (and some still haven’t, even after nearly a year of trying), there was a hefty cost involved in crafting them. And even after that, each lure had a big price tag and could only be used once. Dimension builders discovered that acquiring new items demanded an immense input of time and money that many simply couldn’t afford. And then, to add further misery, the loot table for this new fishing lure was so huge, and included so many low quality items, plus other drops that had nothing to do with dimensions, that most often players ended up with nothing worthwhile for their investment. Initially, the system rewarded a greater amount of rare dimension items, but this was swiftly nerfed to the sad state it’s in today. Because these items are so rare, they hardly ever appear on the auction house, and even if they do the price tag is far beyond many players’ financial reach. Dimensioneers faced a difficult reality: if they didn’t have a great deal of time at their disposal – either for fishing, or grinding for materials and in-game currency – they might simply have to resort with resignation to the most recent random box off the store and hope for the best. But many of the fantastic new items were only available through fishing – they couldn’t be bought in game or the store. The forums once again rumbled volcanically with players’ dissatisfaction.

The recent Plane-Touched Wilds patch introduced a new zone and more temptations for dimensioneers. It was announced that new items could be attained by completing a quest chain and discovering some secret location, where a vendor was located who would sell these new things. Cool, you might think, until you discover the quest chain costs a ton of Telaran currency, (which can be bought for real money through an in-game system), and is also incredibly difficult. Most annoyingly, it involves having to make your character jump to hard-to-reach locations – a skill at which many players (myself included, sadly) simply don’t excel. You might jump a hundred times and still miss your target, until you get so cross you give up. (Jumping puzzles generally are not much liked in MMOs. Blizzard was criticised for including them in WoD.) It all seemed a needless gate to new items that people would have quite happily bought off the store or from a reachable in-game vendor for fair amounts of Telaran currency – perhaps after completing reasonable, even lengthy tasks, for them, or having gained notoriety with a particular faction. But what players didn’t want was a quest chain that made them tear out their hair in frustration and disappointment, or exclude those who weren’t financially well-off, in the game or out of it. Many on the forums reported, ‘oh well, these are just more new dimension items I’ll never get.’

At this point, I was beginning to think it was almost as if Trion was trying to discourage their customers from building dimensions, even though this section of the player base must contribute consistently to the company’s income. Company responses I saw on the forums in response to complaints over PTW – and long before it – were in some cases condescending and dismissive. Others didn’t really shed much light. Nowhere did I see a plain, honest answer or a desire to reassure players their voices were heard, or compromise over suggested improvements, or even give a reason why wishes couldn’t be granted. The only conclusion I could draw from that was: they simply didn’t care. I had the unpleasant feeling that dimensioneers were being treated with contempt and were seen as gullible cash cows that would pay out endlessly to indulge their interest in building. Within my own business, the last thing I’d want is for my customers to think I felt that way about them. Unhappy customers don’t tend to stick around. Yet what I saw – or didn’t see – from Trion made me unable to escape the suspicion that the message behind all this was: “you don’t want to buy random boxes? Fair enough, but we’ll make you pay in hard cash for other ways to gain, and frustrate you painfully along the way. Haven’t got time to fish 24/7? Tough. Can’t afford to buy credits for in game currency? Too bad. Maybe you’ll learn your lesson then, and just keep your mouths shut and buy the boxes.” This is all based on assumption, of course, and I’m not saying my words above reflect accurately Trion’s stance, but the important thing is, this is how I was made to feel, and I wasn’t alone in that. Others I spoke to felt exactly the same. Is this situation, I thought, really something I want to be part of?

Then, most recently, the Autumn Harvest festival manifested in Telara, which would last for three weeks. We learned that the rare fishing items could be found in the AH grab bags that would be available temporarily throughout this festival. Players rejoiced. The bags could be acquired through completing daily quests for AH currency – typically three days to get one bag – or could be bought on the store. But these bags, as with so many of Trion’s offers, contained random contents (three items). And, dear god, was it random. You might get something cool or you might get utter rubbish. Extremely common items, such as music boxes and ‘time of day’, were included in the loot table, allegedly because, even though they are common, their label declares them as ‘rare’ quality. This is like giving grains of sand on a beach a blue name tag and calling them rare. But the torment didn’t end there. Trion also introduced a new dimension key – Tulan – which was a beautiful chunk of real estate that had dimensioneers slavering. Some slavered so much they invested hundreds of pounds or dollars on buying bags in order to acquire this treasured key**. After three hundred pounds or so, some were still buying – and still not getting it. There were huge, meandering threads about all this on the dimension forum. I realised at this point Trion had actually introduced gambling into the game. As one player on the forum put it, the Autumn Harvest simply had a slot machine in the corner and some players were repeatedly feeding it with money, pulling the magic handle in the hope of hitting the jackpot, but more typically going away broke. Some of those who had spent cash argued they could afford it, but how many who couldn’t were gambling regardless? I was aghast players were spending that much cash – it seemed to me immoral and rapacious on Trion’s part. I was moved to write a humorous and lightly sarcastic post on the dimension forum.

Some posters added to my offering with more direct complaints, revealing how fed up and disappointed they were with the way Trion operates, how things had changed for the worse. Other posters responded simply by saying my post gave them a good laugh. One even put their own post in a similar voice to mine. But the Trion Community Manager in charge of that forum didn’t appreciate the humour and closed the thread with a caustic remark, telling me my post was ‘cute, but not very helpful’. A friend of mine was outraged we’d been silenced this way and began a new thread, quoting my post, an action on her part which was clearly regarded as provocative, but in no way was she rude about it. Despite this, her post simply earned her a ban for a couple of days and her thread was deleted.

Discussing the whole situation with friends, I learned what is most likely the reason behind all that’s been happening – namely that Trion earn far more money from random boxes and bags than from people who buy specific items. A fool and their money is soon parted, as the old proverb goes. And while players continue to massage this practice, things will never change. It’s also not helped by the occasional voice among the dissenters on the forums, who will go to any length to curry favour with Trion, passive-aggressively pouring scorn on those who dare to criticise the company. One person in particular posts continually to patronise and undermine anyone who voices their displeasure with the way the game’s heading. But unless customers unite over distasteful business practice, they only have themselves to blame for it. And those who encourage its existence through gambling are even more to blame.

To be fair to the developers, the people who actually work on creating the game, all this financial shenanigans is most likely out of their control. Some of them might even sympathise with the players and find their complaints reasonable. But what can they do? They work for a company that has policies and have to abide by them. I can’t believe people who work on these games, and create such wonderful worlds, don’t have some regard for the players who come to love those worlds and remain loyal to them. That endorsement is the greatest compliment to a creative person, similar to a writer being told that people love their books, or a film maker being commended for their movies. Community Managers, however, who are found on the forums, are a different breed. Some players of MMOs regard these individuals as their friends, because they frequent the forums regularly and respond to posts directly. But these people are not our friends – they are employees of a company that seeks to earn as much money from its customers as possible. As one person said to me, those employees who engage with the players, and with whom said players want to be ‘friends’, are no different from waitresses in bars who sit with men in order to get them to spend money on buying them drinks. A rather crude analogy, but somewhat accurate.

The upshot of all this is that I’m experiencing an ever-sharpening bad taste in my mouth concerning Trion’s practices. If I’d not invested money into my project I’d consider walking away from it, no matter how much I enjoy it. But as it stands, I don’t want to waste what I’ve spent. Trion has had my money; I might as well get its worth. It’s sad that avarice and customers’ weakness conspire to ruin what was once a reasonably-priced and satisfying creative activity within Rift. I once raged against Blizzard, seeing them as greedy and callous, but their practices by comparison are positively benign. Plus, Blizzard have listened to their players, and currently appear to want to please them, to woo back lost customers, to admit to their mistakes. Trion are nowhere near doing this. Blizzard lost millions of players, who were dissatisfied with the way WoW was heading, but Rift has merely a fraction of WoW’s player base. Trion can’t afford to lose customers in droves like that, and I doubt Rift would recover should that happen. All we can hope for is that someone, somewhere within the company wakes up to reality and makes changes, because even if some misguided people are prepared to waste their money, and perhaps even go into debt, in the hope of acquiring some pixels, surely the majority are not. And eventually even the staunchest of supporters will have had enough and move on.

Unless something worse happens, I intend to finish my Rift dimension project and share it with people into my work, and/or into MMOs. I once would have encouraged anyone to take up Rift, and would have poured out my love of its world. Now I can’t. The world is still wonderful, as is the story and history within it but, since the advent of the Nightmare Tide expansion, cold-eyed accountants now appear to be in charge, and they’re not wonderful at all.

*The Rift dimension forum is a polite and restrained area of communication unlike many other forums associated with popular games. Players generally remain civil there.
**I was lucky enough to acquire the Tulan key from the bags I bought with AH currency, but this was indeed lucky.

Whenever I return to the subject of raiding in WoW, I’m aware there are always echoes of previous posts, concerning earlier raid tiers, if not downright broken record syndrome! Some things Blizzard get absolutely right and improve upon, but some things, even if hidden within greater things, persist as flaws.

One thing has to be said, despite what the rose-tinted goggle-wearing, Vanilla-nostalgia crowd might attest: raiding as a group activity has become progressively more difficult. Blizzard constantly has to provide exciting new fights, with mechanics rarely, if ever, seen before, to keep things interesting. Also, player skill is considerably greater than it was 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago, so fights also have to be tailored for this, again to keep the encounters engaging and satisfying. Nobody except the dimmest LFR jockey wants raiding to be face-rollingly easy, otherwise – what’s the point? Raid bosses are puzzles designed by Blizzard developers that we, the players, set ourselves to solve. It’s as simple as that.

However, as once again our team has fetched up against an absolute wall of a boss, in this case Gorefiend in Hellfire Citadel, it’s struck me that Blizzard always does this – plonks an overtuned boss near the start of a raid. The effect this has on teams can be catastrophic. End bosses you expect to be difficult, they are the Big Bads of the raid, but surely bosses should build in difficulty, allowing teams to gear up as they progress, so they are better prepared to tackle the harder fights? I remember Horridon in Throne of Thunder – dear gods! Second boss into the raid and an absolute nightmare. Our team splintered over that. Many dropped out because of low morale and sheer frustration and boredom. Eventually, thanks to an influx of new members, we overcame Horridon, but at the time I thought he was far too difficult for a second boss, and I still think that. There have been others – Garalon in Heart of Fear being another example. Gorefiend is the same. He is the roadblock that teams have to take down to get to easier bosses deeper into the raid. It’s plain silly. You’ve got five potential farm bosses before him on which to gear up your team, but only one tier piece, since Gorefiend drops the second one. And only five bosses that players still needing the legendary ring can farm for the Tomes of Chaos they need. (Some of our players flatly refuse to partake in LFR, even for their rings.)

I’m not talking about Heroic or Mythic level of raiding – simply Normal. As with most teams who tackle this content, we can’t field a bunch of experts every raid. Even in teams that raid at higher level, you get a mixed bag of players – some excellent and some good to ok. In some teams, (more so at Normal difficulty, I assume), you even get fairly inept players, because they are friends or family, or simply because they’re a bum on a seat that means the raid can go ahead because of numbers. Gorefiend does not tolerate such players. Not only does the fight demand perfect execution against a lot of his abilities, but there is also a high amount of RNG involved – random factors that sometimes players have no control over. You can mitigate the damage from such situations by thinking ahead and using initiative learned over nearly a decade of raiding, but even so, players have to be on their toes at all times. That’s fine if you have a team of veteran raiders who are used to such things, but people newer to the game and wishing to learn suffer for it. Not to mention the teams who accommodate them.

Players do not generally learn how to raid at Heroic level or higher – they learn at Normal level. This is partly why I wonder what happened to what was once Flex mode. When this was brought in during Mists of Pandaria, it was an absolute gift to guilds like ours. One step up from LFR difficulty, and perfect for practice. Not only could we take a varying number of players, but the fights themselves were tuned forgivingly. We blithely assumed that in future we could learn fights – and train up new players – through Flex mode, and progress to what was then Heroic, giving us, in fact, more content to play through. We started doing this in Siege of Orgrimmar at the end of the expansion, and looked forward greatly to the new raids in Warlords of Draenor.

The first WOD raid, Highmaul, was fairly easy, with a middling-challenge of an end boss in Imperator Margok. He always felt ‘doable’ even when we were wiping on him. Then we hit Blackrock Foundry and met Oregorger, and the Blast Furnace… and some of their friends. The step up in difficulty seemed large to me, and it felt like we were back on the pre-Flex level of raiding. Moving into Hellfire Citadel confirmed it. While the first bosses were again fairly easy, which is what you should expect at the start of a raid, so that players can have them on farm to gear up a bit, bosses like Gorefiend are nowhere near what the bosses of Siege of Orgrimmar were like. This seems like Throne of Thunder difficulty – not the Flex which we were told is now the new Normal. It isn’t. I don’t know why Blizzard changed their minds on this. It seemed clear they wanted to encourage LFR players to learn the game properly, and Flex was introduced to help them with that, to progress from the farces that are LFR raids. But it seems to me that we’ve simply gone back to how things were pre-Flex. Difficult, then more difficult, and now, with the introduction of Mythic raiding, insanely difficult. We’ve also noticed that all fights are easier on Normal with around 15 players. If you only have 10 in the team (and this is often the case for us), it’s far tougher. While the bosses’ health pools scale in accordance with the number of players in a team, this doesn’t seem to affect positively the difficulty of the fight for a smaller team.

The officers of our guild have read forums about Gorefiend, discovering that he’s seen as a problem at all difficulties of raiding. One poster advised that no team should expect to take him down in fewer than 50 pulls. Others have gone well into the 100s in their attempts to conquer him. I think we’re at about the mid 40s in our number of attempts. We keep finding new strategies to try, and trust that eventually we’ll have the sublime ‘Eureka!’ moment that tends to happen on difficult bosses, when suddenly we can kill him, enabling us to move on within the raid. I don’t mind the puzzles, and enjoy solving them, but as a raid leader and officer, you can just sense when things are going on for too long and your players are starting to get disheartened and are losing interest. I really hope the two new techniques we’re going to try tonight will help matters. It’s not just kills that raise morale. I find that teams are happy to keep plugging away at a boss for weeks if they can only perceive progress. You can feel you’re inching towards a kill, and that’s fine – it’s what raiding is all about. But, the opposite, no progress, is vile and really bad for teams. People just feel like giving up, because they’re swamped by hopelessness.

That said, our team has made fairly steady progress on Gorefiend, depending on which players we have with us. The fact remains that when HFC began, we got 5 bosses down in about six weeks, but we’ve now been on Gorefiend for another six weeks or so. No new kill since early August. That’s not good. Our best pull on Gorefiend has got him to around 33%. Prior to that we were failing at 60% and above. But on some nights, it feels like we’re back at square one, usually because we’ve had a change in the team makeup, because some of our best players are on shift at work, and new faces come along. This lack of consistency does nothing to aid progress, but it’s a fact of life for guilds of mature players who have jobs and families. Three of our best players work shifts – and that’s a lot in a team of our size. Everyone still loves raiding, but often they don’t have the hours that a young person with fewer commitments can put in. With WoW now being ten years old, we can assume many of its players have far more commitments than they did when they first made their accounts.

To finish, I wish that Blizzard would think carefully about the raids in Legion, and once again have the different difficulties tuned for different types of teams. Perhaps they should be tested by a wider range of players than the hardcore ones who take their teams into Beta. You know, ordinary players, the majority? I don’t want faceroll raids, but neither do I want this horrible feeling of hopelessness. There is a happy medium. We once had it.

While WoW is the game I play the most, I also dabble in Rift – less so since WoD as I’m kept busy in WoW with what game time I have. I’ve kept visiting Telara, the world of Rift, over the past six months; tinkering about because I do love the atmosphere of that world. Nightmare Tide, Rift’s latest xpac, came out a short while before WoD, so I played it pretty relentlessly during the weeks I was waiting for WoW’s new xpac to hit, knowing I wouldn’t be spending as much time in Telara thereafter. I didn’t manage to get a character to level cap in that time, but recently – having levelled nearly all of my 20 Nordrassil WoW characters to 100, and a bit quested out with Draenor – thought I’d grind out the last two levels on my main in Rift with the benefit of some hefty experience potions.

One thing that struck me when I went back to Rift to level was that I didn’t feel as immersed in the game world as I do in WoW. I think this is partly down to the nature of the Nightmare Tide xpac – we were carted off to the dimension of Water to help out with various calamities, but our faction leaders and familiar figures from Telara didn’t come to fight alongside us or appear constantly as such figures do in WoD. Consequently, you feel sort of isolated from the main world. In WoW, we have a lot of well known figures from Azeroth making the journey with us to Draenor – some of them lose their lives for it – but as a Defiant player in Rift, I missed those old faces, such as Asha Catari and The Faceless Man. It didn’t feel like the faction was doing anything *together*. The new races in the Plane of Water don’t appeal to me that much. The mermaids are cool, and so is the strange aquatic beast, Fenric, who isn’t quite what they appear, (that character is probably the best), but there isn’t much characterisation otherwise. Fenric is the only NPC who travels with you throughout the story, changing and growing themselves, much as Yrel does in WoD. But Fenric is a one off. The ruling class in Draumheim, the major city hub, are all bonkers, living in hallucinations and delirium, and their madness started getting on my nerves rather than amusing me. I didn’t warm to any of them. The baddies are just out and out baddies, generic RPG almost, spouting clichéd lines and lacking the nuances of the Draenor warlords, with their distinct characters.

I also missed the levelling experience of WoD. We take so much for granted in WoW. Rift sometimes seems like the retirement home of all the disaffected WoW players who complained WoW was too easy. Levelling in Rift isn’t. Yes, you can pick your way around carefully and not get into too much trouble, but much of it seems geared towards group play – even during questing. You can’t just plough in and take on multiple mobs and expect to emerge unscathed. With questing gear alone it takes a while to kill things and while mobs aren’t as sensitive as they were in earlier days of Rift, they still get annoyed with you at a fair distance. You often have to search for quest objectives that might be in difficult to reach places; constant lengthy fights with irrelevant mobs gets tiresome after a while. Even without flying (and regular readers of this blog will know my feelings on that!), levelling in WoD was – and is – fluid and satisfying. You don’t get stuck in bottlenecks of difficulty where you can’t progress alone. In a game of this type, I think that’s the way levelling should be, an interesting, colourful journey – save the hard stuff for level cap.

So, going back to Rift has made me appreciate WoW more. I realised how much of WoD I like. One thing I’m utterly satisfied with is the garrisons and I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get something similar in the next xpac. But I can’t help thinking that due to the fact a lot of players seem to dislike garrisons, Blizzard might possibly jettison them, rather than tweak them carefully to iron out their weaknesses. Such is Blizzard’s usual response – go to extremes. For me, garrisons have enabled my army of alts to have purpose again. The follower missions are great for getting them gear, so it’s possible to raid with them, with premade groups, not just LFR. My warlock and mage are both around the 660 ilevel mark, with others not far behind. I like the fact that if I haven’t got time to go out farming for mats, (without flying, a vile chore), I can just send the alts round their mines and herb gardens for a while, gathering enough to support those who need mats for their professions. The only farming I tend to put off, even when it’s needed, is trapping beasts for my barns – one each on Horde and Alliance. That’s a chore, because we have to taxi to Nagrand for it, and with some classes those elite wolves must be pretty annoying, as they pack a punch. I have Hunters for both barns, which makes the job easy enough, but even so, lengthy. It’s fine for passing the time when I’m in a queue for group content, but that’s about it.

Prior to WoD, I’ve always had my two mains, a Druid healer and a Hunter, who’ve stepped in to work as our raid team required them. I’ve had a couple of tanks, who are not needed at the moment, so would, but for WoD, be languishing doing nothing. My next two characters – semi main – were the warlock and the mage, but often they didn’t get much to do, if anything. Now, with the boost of follower missions, it’s possible to have multiple characters capable of end game. I can pick and choose which ones I’ll do LFR with each week – there’s no rush after all . These occasional visits help augment their gear. If there’s ever a situation where we need one of these classes present in our raid team, I have a fairly decent character waiting in the wings, who can be brought up to scratch without too much effort. With my mains, at present I’m healing in our guild raid team exclusively, but have kept my Hunter pretty much on par, should I need to swap to him at any point. I adore this flexibility, which we’ve never had to this extent before. Other guild members have also got a couple or more characters at a decent level, which helps with team formation when members fluctuate. Blizzard have got this aspect just right. Small and medium sized guilds need this flexibility, and the ability to gear up a character to an acceptable level pretty quickly in a personnel emergency is great.

Going back to garrisons, another thing I love about them is the followers themselves. If you bother to ask one to help when you’re defending a garrison invasion, some of them have cool animations and spell effects, as well as great-looking armour and weapons. A friend of mine had the gnome warlock Ranni Flagdabble along the other night when I went to help him with a garrison invasion, and this little gnome spontaneously erupted into a huge demon form to fight. I also particularly like the priest Rorin Rivershade, and her gorgeous armour has tempted me to brave pvp so I can farm honor points for a similar set for my own priest. (There are a lot of older pvp armour sets on sale for honor at the pvp vendors on Serpent Spine wall in Pandaria, many of which are stunning.)

In a way, Rift has player housing with the dimensions, but those buildings you create, and the landscapes you can transform, are empty. There are no NPCs, so they’re like ghost towns, as if everyone has just left. Rift players who are into dimensions plead for some life in the form of critters and humanoid NPCs, but Trion don’t seem keen to devote time and resources to granting that wish. In WoW, we have life in abundance in our garrisons. When all your followers are at home, the garrisons are busy and full of residents. Nor are they just static – they appear to be getting on with their lives, talking to one another, wandering about, going for a drink in the inn… Rift dimension addicts would kill for that!

I’ll really miss my followers when we leave Draenor. They’ve become as familiar as my actual characters and I enjoy seeing them mooching about the garrison. I came across two having a row the other day, and one of them burst into tears as I passed by. I wondered what they were arguing about! I like the way Blizzard has made an effort to give these 100s of NPCs their own little character traits. I don’t want to leave mine behind, and would happily take all of them with me into whatever adventures we have next. I wouldn’t mind levelling them up again, in the same way my characters will have to level, perhaps swapping in some new team members now and again, if someone interesting pops up in the inn. But I’m more or less resigned to the fact they’ll remain in Draenor. I can see myself going back to visit them, once they no longer have to work by going out on missions and are always around the garrison.

Another thing I think Blizzard has done really well is the changes to the subsidiary professions. While the crafting professions have become a bit tiresome, Cooking, First Aid and Fishing are now easy to level. It’s possible to get all your alts to top Fishing without too much effort. That has never happened before, mainly because Fishing was such a grind and so time-consuming. Now, it’s a great thing to do (along with barn stocking) when you’re queued for a dungeon or LFR. Passes the time and is very productive (even more so when you have Nat Pagle ensconced in the Fishing Shack). The more proficient fishermen and women can provide the fish for the daily quest for alts, which awards a whopping 15 points, so you can steadily advance everyone’s Fishing level without having to pay too much attention to it. You need *something* to do while you’re queuing, after all. Cooking and First Aid are also mainly levelled by fish, so Fishing helps max them quickly too. I’m still surprised that it’s most likely all of my alts will have top Fishing by the end of the xpac. That’s unheard of! I still think Archaeology needs some work (shudder), and in the next xpac I hope Blizzard makes changes again to the crafting professions, but they shouldn’t touch the subsidiary profs now – they’re perfect as they are.

One thing that most players seem to agree on is that the levelling aspect of WoD is really good. It’s polished – no other word for it – and I really can’t see it can be improved upon. There are shaky areas in the game, which I’ve talked about on this blog, as have many others on their own blogs and on forums, but really when you look at the competition, WoW still deserves its crown. I’m fond of Telara and my characters in Rift, but if you think crafting profs are now grindy in WoW, go there for a bit. It costs a fortune to level them and they’re really fiddly. All of them. There’s no fast track method to gear up alts, even if crafting materials are easily acquired through minion missions. But those minions are just pictures on a mission Window, they’re not there with you inworld.

I’m not sure Blizzard will ever be able to perfect such aspects of the game as raiding, dailies, class changes, and pvp, since players have so many different requirements, and what pleases one lot of players greatly disgruntles many others. But the aspects that are constant Blizzard generally does well. Crafting, hmm, still needs attention – finding that balance between commitment and result without making it too fast or too slow. As for the story, whether you like the way it’s done or not, there *is* a story, a history, and people within it. It’s not just tacked on as an afterthought.

People tend to look back on earlier days of WoW as some kind of Golden Age, but the improvements to the game and quality of life changes have lifted it miles above its formative years. We just tend to forget all the bad stuff and concentrate fondly on what is perceived as good. I think it’s time we reflected on just what’s so good about WoW *now*. I can remember thinking I’d never get to see places like Black Temple and Serpentshrine Cavern, but now every raid is available to all – at different levels of difficulty. I can remember thinking I’d never be able to afford the faster ground mount in Vanilla. It took me months to grind the gold for the slowest mount. Now, gold comes easily and there is an abundance of mounts – account wide. I won’t go further with the comparisons because it’s old news, but it’s also good to remind ourselves of the changes. WoW is never going to be the perfect game we’d all like, because there are millions of visions of that perfect game. But despite its shortcomings, there’s no doubt: it’s a damn *good* game.

Coda: as Blizzard are renowned for their spectacular pendulum swings, are we looking forward to an xpac that’s flying only? ;)

No one who pays any attention to community forums in WoW could have failed to notice the hue and cry over the fact that Blizzard saw fit to plonk a new mount on the game store yesterday, right after it was announced that subs had dipped by 3 million. Many have seen this move as a cold-hearted effort by the company to claw in some dosh in the face of lost subs. I personally don’t think this is the case, since the mount itself – the Mystic Runesaber – was datamined as long ago as the last patch. It was always destined to be a store mount – simply by the look of it (and that’s another matter) – so *when* it appeared is irrelevant in a way, although it could be said that Blizzard committed a faux pas by releasing it *this* week. Still, if it was a week before or after, or even months, a lot of people would still have shouted that this was a callous attempt to milk money from the remaining player base.

I’m lucky – or some might say stupid – in that I can afford to buy the store mounts when they appear, 2 or 3 times a year. There’s no doubt that these mounts are far flashier than most that appear in the game, and those who can’t afford to buy them for real money have a legitimate reason to be annoyed, or at least disappointed, about that. The new mounts put into WoD itself are pretty poor, aside from the Poundfist (gronnling) and Rukhmar (golden dread raven) drops, which are both very rare. As many have said, why couldn’t store only mounts like the Grinning Reaver and the Iron Skyreaver have been put into the game as rewards for getting exalted with one faction or another? The mounts you currently get for such endeavours are too boring to bother grinding for. There is a precedent for cool mounts in game in the Nether Drakes of Burning Crusade, and the Flameward Hippogryph of Cataclysm. Both required lengthy quest chains and dailies to acquire, but I don’t remember a massive amount of moaning about that.

I have no problem with store mounts in principle, but it’s not good when new mounts provided in the game are so woefully inferior. I’ve often winced at the big, bulky ground mounts, such as yaks, which just scuttle along like poodles. I never ride the ones I bought because of that. The Core Hound was great in that it had a long, slower, but ground-covering stride – exactly how an elekk or yak should move. But the new boars have the undignified scuttle that spoiled many other mounts, including the camels – who should also have had a long, loping gait. In the face of a dearth of content at present, would it really have hurt Blizzard to have put a mount of the Runesaber’s calibre into the game itself – attained through a lengthy quest chain, or a slew of dailies… or something? It would have given bored players something sparkly and desirable to work for. Admittedly, the Blizzard shareholders want their dosh, and store mounts are always a golden goose for the company. However, as a business person myself, in Blizzard’s position, I would have considered providing two distinctly different colours or variations of the Runesaber – one for purchase, one for earning in game. Those with the money and the desire would most likely have bought the store mount anyway, as well as gone for the different coloured one in game. It would have been a win win situation really – those who won’t or can’t buy the store mounts would have been given a pacifier and maybe – just maybe – there would have been less ranting and dissatisfaction.

Sometimes, I’m baffled by Blizzard’s decisions. To my mind, it’s best to keep as many of your customers as happy as you can, even though it’s impossible to please everyone. I wouldn’t continue to rile customers up so much, when obvious solutions are so visible. (Well, I wouldn’t upset customers to that extent in the first place, but then I’m a *small* business, so all my customers are valuable to me.) Certain things get WoW players up in arms, and glossy store mounts is one of those things. Other things, such as changes to classes or talents, are another matter – they have grey areas – but store items are pretty black and white. The fact that Blizzard charge an awful lot for these items is also galling. I can’t help thinking that if they were more generous about the whole issue, making the store mounts cheaper, as well as offering a different but equally attractive alternative in game, it would pour a whole tanker-full of spilled oil onto troubled waters. Those who can’t afford game store mounts, or won’t buy them on principle, would still feel valued as customers, because they could work for an alternative in game. Those who don’t feel that way would buy the new mount as they always do. Mount collectors and fanatics go for all variations of a mount. I know: I’m one of them. Those who would like to buy store mounts but regard them as too expensive would most likely feel the cost was justified – and affordable – if it was £10 or so less. (These mounts are just pixels, they don’t cost much per unit to generate, if anything, beyond the initial design cost.) At a cheaper, fairer price, more store mounts would be bought, more players would find less reason to complain. Why is this such a difficult concept for Blizzard to get their heads round?

I know WoW players can exhibit a ridiculous amount of entitlement, and complain about anything, but sometimes their frustration is justified. I play other MMOs that have game stores, and their prices are far cheaper than Blizzard’s. The sad fact is that it all comes across as Blizzard having contempt for their customers. There is never any generosity. I remember one festival time in Rift – I think it was Yule – when, after an inworld ‘warning’ to alert the players, GMs spontaneously appeared in major cities on all the different servers and literally threw loot pinatas into the air for 10 minutes. Items would just appear in your inventory. People got all sorts of loot, and no one went away empty-handed. Free gifts from Trion, the developers. People were happy and excited. GMs were there among them, their characters visible to everyone, and everyone felt part of something, and valued. It was a small gesture but extremely effective. I could never see Blizzard doing anything like that. OK, their game is far bigger than Rift, and has hundreds more servers across the world, but even so… there are a host of other things they could do if they got their creative heads together and thought about it. Happy customers, who feel valued, are the most important thing to any business, and customers who feel valued will inevitably be less inclined to complain, or indeed abandon the product. Changes Blizzard have to make to the game sometimes will always cause upset, ranting and peevishness. But store items shouldn’t come into that, because ultimately they are not an important part of the game. They might be important in a monetary sense to the company, but they could have their cake and eat it, if they were more accommodating.

I’ve written this piece from the viewpoint of someone who can afford the store mounts and doesn’t object to buying them – but who also sees the downside and unfairness of them. WoW players pay a sub, not like in the free to play games that rely on game stores to exist, so why in WoW should the most shiny things be game store only? I actually felt somewhat nervous getting my new Runesaber out in game last night. I knew that some players I might pass by in Draenor would in some way see my purchase as traitorous, encouraging Blizzard’s meanness and greed, perhaps even to the extent of spitting on my character. It happened with the first store mount, the sparkle pony, which was – and still is – a great mount, but the shine of owning and riding it was diminished by the anger of players that it was a store only item. Some people were kicked from raid groups for wearing the risibly over-priced store helms that came out some time ago. It’s not just because of envy – although that must inevitably play a part – but I think it’s more down to the fact that players feel cheated, or taken for fools. Why pay £10 for a cosmetic helm, when in other games, they cost pence? I worked out that a full transmog set in Rift, including all gear slots, came out at 38 pence per item. £10 for one item? Oh, that’s simply greedy! And players see that, and conclude Blizzard must just think they’re stupid. Game stores obviously can work, but items within them should be balanced with items in game, at least in a sub game.

WoW is the biggest and most successful of MMOs – at least in the West, I can’t speak for the Far East – but the way Blizzard often behave simply comes across as them feeling unassailable, all-powerful, and having a streak of arrogance because of that. My opinion might be completely wrong, but what Blizzard spokespeople say in the face of fierce criticism rarely gives any other perspective.

So, last night, I took my new mount – which flies – out on my Horde DK, who’s only level 78, and flew around Northrend. It’s a beautiful mount, a purple glowing cat, armoured, and with spectral wings, although you’ll only see the best of it in expansions of the game earlier than WoD. I wrote my previous blog post about flying, or lack of in WoD, so I won’t go into that again, but even as I was flying around, admiring my Runesaber, I couldn’t help feeling that it should have been a game reward, not just something you slap on a credit card. How much more sense of accomplishment would I have felt if I’d known I’d just completed a long and difficult quest chain to acquire it?

My last two blog posts have been centred around aspects with which I’m dissatisfied, but I do still love the game and enjoy my time in its virtual world. I don’t want to be a constant moaner, but sometimes you have to let off steam. My next post will have a more positive tone!

I make no apology for the fact this post contains complaints. So… off we go…

As anyone who keeps an eye on the amount of WoW subscriptions will have seen, subs have dropped by 3 million this quarter. That’s with the new xpac only 6 months old or so. We often see doomsayers claiming that this or that game will be the WoW killer, but really, as other more sensible people have stated, WoW itself is the only thing that will kill it.

There was some mystery concerning the release of WoD, which was so much later than we’d been given to expect. Internal problems? Most likely. We’ll never know. But my personal feeling is that WoD was in a way written off from the start; it wasn’t what it was initially supposed to be. Some inner fraughtness within Blizzard affected its development and release – not least that the zone Fahralon (Netherstorm in Outland), is no longer a part of the xpac, which originally it was mentioned as being. There are rumours the next xpac might be as close as an Xmas release. Let’s brush the whole thing under the carpet… perhaps?

I have my own thoughts about the dip in subs so early in an expansion. First of all, (the anti-flying people will rise up and rant at this), the continued no flying is a big annoyance for a large percentage of players. Yes, we *got* the whole ‘experiencing the new world from a worm’s eye view’, and yes, most of us agreed with that, and saw the point of it – for our mains. But I’ve levelled 15 characters to 100. I have two accounts – full of Alliance and Horde on one realm – and by now, dear god, I’m sick of fighting every boring mob from point A to point B. Are hard to get to treasures even important any more? Sheesh. That is surely the only reason not to have flying. I was never a massive fan of Archaeology, as I found it fiddly and frustrating, but now… forget it. Without flying, having to ride round cliffs, and other insurmountable surfaces, while fighting off mobs who are low level and pointless, made any desire to level Archaeology fade to nil.

Also, I bought store mounts and ground (grinded?) for years for mounts in game – that fly. Most look ridiculous and too huge lumbering about on the floor. Plus, one of the most prestigious mounts in WoD is the one that drops from the world boss Rukhmar, which is a flying mount… er, for what point? The new ground mounts we’ve been given are for the most part dull, and all the variations of them are simply recolours. But Blizzard are stubborn. They won’t give in over flying. So the money we might have spent, and the long hours of grinding we might have put in, are worthless – except for any alts we might still be levelling through previous expansions. Not good enough.

I think I speak for many to say that yes – with a new expansion make it non-flying for our first time through the content, but after that – we’ve seen it, done it, let us fly again.

Flying aside, the lack of engaging content at top level was misjudged. I love my garrisons, on every alt, but I can simply log on of an evening and spend nearly all my playing time in the garrisons attending to maintenance. That’s ok, but… We were told that Blizzard wanted more people out in the world. This hasn’t happened. They could have done more with each of the garrison outposts in the various zones. After getting them, they have no point. They could have though, couldn’t they? At the very least, we could have got faction rep from dailies there…. something. We have NO faction dailies now. How many people have even bothered to level the faction reps to exalted apart from the Arrokoa, who we get some follower missions for? I’m guessing… few. The ones we can advance via the Trading Post, for Alliance and Horde, are more of a numbing grind than any before. I just can’t be bothered with each kill in Shattrath or Everbloom granting only 5 rep. Really? Even the Emperor rep in MoP, which was acknowledged as dreadful, wasn’t as bad.

Another thing is what’s happening with guilds and raiding. At the end of MoP, Blizzard introduced flex raiding, which was great for guilds like ours – mainly family and friends – who are of varying skill and experience. SoO was great for us, and we looked forward to the same in WoD. Those of us with a bit more skill could still have fun, but without the crushing experience of endless wipes. Highmaul delivered on this, but then the difficulty curve with BRF caused many guilds of our type to falter. Normal BRF is not flex as we were introduced to it in MoP, which we were told WoD Normal raiding would be. Because we have a limited amount of players, this affects us greatly. We’ve now got the situation where our more competent players are fed up and hiving off – not from our guild, (as we are still a group of good friends), but into the premade group finder, in order to progress in Normal BRF, or Heroic, as is their level. This obviously affects our usual team detrimentally. Others have simply stopped raiding altogether because of frustration. Flex was introduced for guilds like ours, but BRF is too punishing for many. So what happened to that gradated raid difficulty level? I’ve said it before – numerous times – but will say it again. Most raid teams of the ordinary calibre of guild are of varying skill level. We can’t field a constant team of cutting edge experts. Who does Blizzard get to test the raids on the Alphas and Betas of xpacs? Hardcore raiders? It seems that way. Heroic and Mythic are for the younger players who have lots of time they can devote to raiding, and that’s fine. WoW is supposed to be a game for all, the biggest and most successful of MMOs, so what happened to their accommodation for the more mature players? After 10 years, surely, a lot of players are what can be termed mature, with responsibilities and commitments outside the game that prevent rabid raiding at top level of skill. Normal raiding should be a step up from LFR in that tactics and knowledge/experience are vital, but not a guild killer. It should be tuned that the occasional brace of numpties will not mean failure for weeks.

It seems to me that Blizzard’s agenda is to try and herd all players into LFR except the elite minority, who can finish Heroic and Mythic levels of raiding. The way things are going with our guild – but for a very new, potential alliance with another guild on a different server – we’ll have to take our members into LFR if we want to raid. That’s not good. Don’t get me wrong. I love LFR for my alts, but for my mains, two of them, (healer and dps), I want proper raiding. Our guild has existed since Classic WoW. We started raiding in TBC and have kept going since then, with dips and highs, as any guild of our type experiences, but we’ve never had to abandon Normal standard raiding before. I do acknowledge that when players go into LFR, they are then less patient with ‘proper’ raiding, which requires learning, strategy and skill. LFR is a boon, but also a curse. At the very least, it breeds impatience in players, who are no longer willing to spend weeks working on a particular boss.

Another setback I’ve noticed with my army of alts is heroic dungeons. OK, everyone in my guild, (and its sister Horde guild), has got their mains, and often their second main character, through the beginning of the legendary ring quests. Now, if I want success, I have to PUG to move onwards. Dungeons that are risibly easy in PUGs are not so with guild groups, because PUGs get an advantage with the built in buff. Consequently, most guildies now elect to PUG with alts rather than do the dungeons with friends. And that’s good, how? Why should guild groups be penalised by a higher difficulty level? It seems Blizzard discourages guild mates to play together.

I’m not saying Heroic dungeons should be made easier, but when players are faced with the option of an easy run with a PUG or a potential 2 hour stint with a guild group, (happened to me several times), what are they going to opt for? Most of our players are mature people with limited time to play. It’s a no brainer for them to opt for the PUG.

All of these things are bad for guilds that might be termed casual, but which are in fact the majority. And because they’re the majority, when their members get frustrated and bored, off they go. Hence the sub dip. Blizzard has a reputation for its massive pendulum swings within the game. They always go for extremes, rather than look for what succeeds and what needs tweaking in a small way – such as dailies.

I keep an eye on the forums and have seen a lot of extremely good ideas that players have suggested in order to make end game more interesting, long-lasting and engaging, but I also know Blizzard – if they even see these posts – will take no notice. These ideas aren’t radical, or even seem expensive to implement, just ways to extend longevity within the game. It amazes me that some guild mates and I can have a chat about the state of the game and come up with tons of ideas for tweakings, yet the developers don’t even see at the start how their ideas don’t actually work too well. It’s like they don’t think things through, or maybe don’t have the time to.

I guess, ultimately, we’d all like the perfect game, and that will be different for everyone, but there are certain things that are desirable by the majority of players. These things can’t be that hard for Blizzard to accomplish.

With the next patch looming over the horizon – it has ships so it has to *sail* towards us – I’ve been concentrating on getting my army of alts to level 100. The experience boost potions you can now buy for garrison resources are fantastic – in fact you almost level too quickly. (There’s an npc sells them right outside your Town Hall, both factions). I’ve had to work out a strategy for completing the main quest lines in each zone that award building plans for the garrison and/or followers. This saves time and gold in the long run.

My process is this:

Starter zone – pretty much do it all, be it Shadowmoon or Frostfire, depending on faction. Get characters to next zone, Gorgrond, as quickly as possible. But completing the whole starter zone gets you started with 10 or so followers, who are then working for you and levelling up.

Once in Gorgrond, take up the main quest chain concerning your outpost building – the arena or the logging type one. I generally go for the arena, since this awards a strong temporary Gladiator npc you can call upon in emergencies. Great for the flimsier classes. Also, while questing around the arena area, you get to pick up Peckers, the cool raptor NPC for your garrison, simply by freeing him from a cage. Once free, he heads for your garrison and then acts up like a Siamese cat. If you pet him, he kicks you to the ground. Also does this to visitors. Cool.

Anyway, doing all quests in Gorgrond that lead to the Iron Docks gives you the building plans to be able to get a level two Inn. Now you can start recruiting a free follower every week, to your specifications. I’ve stopped picking up every single follower you come across while levelling, simply because there are so many cool ones to get from the inn. On Alliance, there is Clever Ashyo, Mia Linn, Rorin Rivershade, Ken Ken, Soulare of Andoral… to name but a few. Some have neat effects on their amour so are glamorous additions to your garrison, when they’re just hanging out and not on missions. On Horde, although I don’t know the names as well, I picked up a delicious female Blood Elf warlock, a half naked male Blood Elf mage (yum.. sorry), a Blacksmith called Charles (Chuck) Norris who’s Undead, and also a voodoo Troll in a top hat. It’s preferable to have different followers on all the alts so the scenery varies. I’ve been recruiting followers with the Treasure Hunting trait for the past few weeks, because this ups your gold income dramatically. Good for people with limited time to play.

Anyway, once you have Gorgrond plans, forget any other quests (assuming this is an alt you’re levelling) and head to Talador. Here, either of the outpost buildings give a good offensive buff, so choose which you prefer. Do the starter quests to get your outpost going and then follow the quest line to the Gordonni fortress. After this is completed, you get more plans, major ones, and you can build a level 2 Barracks. Now you can have a follower bodyguard, which speeds things up a lot for the flimsier characters. At the very least, you can take more risks. For clothies, I tend to use Illona on Alliance and Tormokk on Horde. (Look these up on Wowhead if you don’t know how to get them – don’t want to go into too much detail here.) The more armour and weapons you give your bodyguard when they’re level 100, the tougher and more resilient they get.

After the Gordonni part of the zone has been completed, you can choose to finish the main Shattrath story if you wish, but you’ve already got the garrison plans, and hopefully have picked up the bodyguard follower near to Auchindoun from a quest in the landscape, (available for both factions), so for alts there’s not an awful lot of point to hang around. Head to Spires of Arak.

Once in Spires, do the starter quests, and as soon as you can, take up the quest chain for your outpost there. There are two main chains to follow for plans and they are the same for Horde and Alliance. The Pinchwhistle chain grants the Salvage Yard plans – essential – and also awards the goblin girl Kimzee Pinchwhistle as a follower, who has often turned herself out in purple once I recruit her. Hello, epic chum! The other main outpost chain will also grant a small/medium building plan. While in Spires, I always pick up the cat guy Leorajh as a follower, since he’s a bodyguard. He’s a shaman, and will heal if the mood takes him, which frankly isn’t regular enough for my liking. He cares too much about his dps. Questing with him is like being in LFR! However, he’s good for Hunters or melee characters. Again, look him up on WoWhead if you don’t know where he hides.

In Spires, I tend to do the whole Arrokoa story chain as well starting in Veil Terokk, simply because doing so grants Ishaal the Arrokoa as a bodyguard follower at the end of it. He’s a shadow priest, so good for Hunters or melee classes to have as a bodyguard.

Once Spires tasks are complete, my alts are now almost at 100. I head to Nagrand and do the outpost quests to get another set of garrison plans. At 100, most players will elect to have the Dwarven Bunker (or Horde equivalent), the Salvage Yard and the Trading Post. Some alts might have to miss out on one of these in order to accommodate something like a Barn, for Savage Blood gains. But if you want to gear up your followers and get access to missions that award phat raid lewts, then you need the Salvage Yard and the Dwarven Bunker (or equivalent).

With this plan, I streamline my levelling, accruing important plans along the way and heading for 100 as quickly as possible. There is plenty to do thereafter. In order to do heroics, characters of course have to have 610 level gear. This can easily be attained if you’ve upgraded your Inn early and have been collecting the best followers on offer, covering all the available skills, and have also built the Salvage Yard and the Dwarven Bunker (or Horde equivalent). Gear upgrades come in thick and fast for followers and pretty soon they’re running home with fabulous gear for your character. Even as you’re levelling in Talador and beyond, you’ll get missions that award gear for your character better than quest rewards. Just get that Inn into production so you can choose an effective array of followers. The higher you gear up your followers, so the better missions are offered to them. At top level, they can raid Black Foundry for you and bring home 670 level gear. I recommend the addon Master Plan for garrison missions, which not only speeds things up but keeps you advised about which of your followers you should be gearing up as a priority.

If you keep on top of follower missions and get a level 2 Inn as soon as you can (i.e. Gorgrond), then you’ll have a mass of level 100 gear waiting for your character as soon as it dings. Chances are you can get almost, if not entirely, to the heroic 610 ilevel just by raiding your bank of all those 615 mission pieces that have been waiting there. If you’re below 610, a few quests in Nagrand will sort that, especially since the Dwarven Bunker increases the chance that quest rewards/drops will be upgraded to a blue or epic level.
So that’s my own strategy for levelling alts, making best use of the garrison. Hope it’s of use or inspiration to others.

Been a while since I added to my WoW blog. Not because I haven’t been playing but because I’ve been so busy with work – and playing – I haven’t had time to write in depth.

WoW had been in the doldrums for me at the end of MoP. I wasn’t just fed up with the lack of new content but somehow with the whole attitude of Blizzard towards their customers. Couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but since the dearth of new stuff in WoW urged me again to play Rift, the generosity of Trion towards their loyal customers in contrast to Blizzard’s meaner attitude grated a bit. OK, Trion *need* to woo players. Bizzard doesn’t have to. But even so… grated a bit.

Still, WoD lured me back totally, and I’ve loved the majority of the new content. There are some fun quests, and lots of things to explore and discover in the landscape. I’ve enjoyed the story and even though I now don’t look forward to tackling certain quests hubs for various reasons, on the whole I’ve not got sick of levelling alts. I like the end game play and want to get all my characters to it.

On Proving Grounds, Pick Up Groups and LFR

I’m no great fan of the Proving Grounds, because on some characters it does seem harder to attain the Silver level and be qualified to do heroic dungeons, than it is for others. Also, how can failing by only a couple of seconds mean you’re unfit to do a heroic dungeon? The DPS challenge is the worst. It really is a DPS race and the tasks involved barely emulate what’s required in a dungeon team. Surely, the most vital requirement is moving from the fire? While my hunters and warlock sailed through PG to silver on their first attempts, my mage took a frustratingly long time. I’ve yet to succeed with my paladin, even though my DK sailed through like the hunters. I imagine that I find it easier on certain characters because I play their class the most, but I know others in our guild have had similar complaints and that’s with their mains. But I do have to concede the Silver PG requirement appears to have improved the PUG community. In dungeons – and maybe I’m just lucky – I’ve not come across any jerkish behaviour. Often quite the opposite, as people ask whether others in the team want to complete quests or do the tasks to gain followers while in there. The atmosphere feels lightened. This might be because the standard of play is higher so people get less frustrated. Or maybe it was the lesser skilled people who were the jerks, and they’re just not there anymore.

LFR too doesn’t seem quite so fraught. I assume that the level of gear form it, plus the removal of tier pieces, has put off a lot of the wannabe elitists who often used to make the experience so miserable. LFR is still great for alts, even if the gear isn’t as shiny as it used to be. However, I do think the ease with which people can use PUGs now, plus the fact they’re not as hideous as they used to be, has been a bad thing for guilds. On my alts, if I want to do the legendary ring quests, I have to PUG the heroic dungeons for that part of the chain. Everyone in the guild is either doing their own thing, pugging themselves, or attending to garrison maintenance. We only seem to get together for group play on raid nights. That’s rather a shame because I remember that the last time we were in Draenor – or its alternate version Outland in The Burning Crusade – guild heroics were available every night. Now, it seems rare guildies get together for them. Of course there’s no reason to do them now but for the ring quests and to get a character geared enough to start raiding. No currency to gain, and mediocre gear that’s appealing only to a character who’s just dinged 100 and won’t wear it for longer than a few days. Another reason, I think, is that PUGs of course get a buff that makes the task easier. Without that, taking lesser geared or skilled players along can still make a dungeon such as Slag Mines a possible wipefest. Given the choice, I know I opt for finding a PUG myself, rather than go with a team unlikely to find easy success.

I think heroics need to offer more than a tiny window between hitting level 100, completing legendary quests and then moving on. Being able to attain reputation with various factions in them, or apexis crystals and garrison resources as rewards for completion might be good incentives.


Although I really enjoy maintaining my garrisons, and hope this is a feature that remains – in one form or another – in future expansions, I must say that multiple garrisons on alts are now getting a bit wearing. It takes so long to attend to them all once a day! I wish some mechanism would come into play whereby we could manage the garrisons a bit more effectively. At the very least, let a follower in the mine or herb garden actually collect those materials for us. Have you tried keeping on top of these things on 8 level 100 characters? I don’t mind the constant repetition with garrison campaign quests and Harrison Jones adventures, but please let the mine and garden be a bit quicker to maintain.

I also think we need some tweaking with the garrison followers. As we can collect so many, being allowed only 25 active ones seems a bit mean. OK I get we can’t have a horde of followers chomping at the bit to devour missions, but perhaps things could be changed so that followers working in profession buildings or the Barracks don’t count towards that 25 man total. Also, couldn’t the inactive ones still appear spontaneously as npcs in our garrisons? We’re allowed 10 mini pets to wander around, so why can’t followers be the same? When our main team are out on missions, our garrisons are sparsely populated.

Paying 250 gold to reactivate a follower you’ve put into retirement also seems a bit steep to me. If we can only have 25 active followers, I think the remaining idle ones should be swapped in and out of our active team as we please, at no cost. As it stands, on my main character I have a bank heaving with bits of gear for my followers that I can’t use, and I don’t want to swap an idle one in temporarily just to slap a couple of 615 pieces on it, then retire it again. It would be nice if it were easier to bring some lower level ones onto the team quickly and easily to level them up and provide more options for our best team. Or alternatively, let follower gear be bind to account, so that our alts can benefit from all that gear lying useless in our mains’ banks.

It’s become clear that the Dwarven Bunker and the Salvage Yard are absolute musts for our characters, especially for alts, yet the poor tailors/enchanters struggle with levelling their followers because many will opt to have the Tailoring/Enchanting buildings, at least until top level, so miss out on the Salvage Yard. Conversely, those of my characters without professions other than gathering end up with a wasted small building slot. So I do think some flexibility needs to be introduced somehow.


My only other complaint is the continuing lack of flying. On the one hand I get why flying would ruin a lot of the little features in the game, like reaching difficult treasures, but on my 9th alt heading towards 100 I’m utterly sick of fighting my way through every annoying little mob en route to objectives. I remember when flying was brought in for alts in Wrath of the Lich King, and it felt sublimely liberating. Could do with that now too. Yes, we have these odd individuals who want the game to be as hard and irritating as possible, but I imagine the majority feel as I do. Yes, we did the content at worm’s eye level, enjoyed it – even did it on a few alts – but now we would prefer convenience and speed. We’ve already seen all of what Draenor has to offer.
I also think the lack of flying has killed world boss fights. In MoP, I’d regularly log on and join a team to kill the world bosses every Friday evening. I never see that in WoD. Maybe people just do it silently on the Group Finder, but I find myself passing over those bosses continually as I’m being taxied around for quests, and no one’s fighting them. Rukhmar – who can drop an amazing mount, ironically a flying one – is always flapping around Spires of Arak unmolested. Reason? I don’t think people can gather quickly enough, so don’t even bother to try. The bosses are too spread out, but then the starting zones for Horde and Alliance are as well, so that must also contribute to the problem. In MoP, both Galleon and the Sha were very close to the home cities (or shrines) so were quick to reach. Oondasta and Nalak were a bit further away, but didn’t feel as far as the WoD bosses are, mainly because we could fly to them. When you reach Spires of Arak or Gorgrond, even if your taxi is quick, you then have to ride on the ground, around mountains and through areas thick with mobs, to reach the relevant boss. Chances are it will be dead by the time you get to it.

I absolutely understand Blizzard’s reasoning behind why flying was not allowed at the start of the expansion. Being confined to the floor did bring a lot more depth to the levelling experience, but now I truly believe it’s time for Blizzard to relent. Also, doing archaeology without flying is vile. I just don’t do it any more. Not only might you have to ride round an immense unclimbable hill or cliff to get to your next spot in a dig site, (then have to go back to where you started for the next one), it also takes far longer to reach the different sites on ground mounts. Archaeology was never fun for me in WoW – I far prefer the Rift take on it with random artifacts, like the WoD treasures, to be found in the landscape. The mechanics of archaeology are clunky. Your surveying equipment seems dysfunctional to say the least. It can direct you for a long way in one direction only to change its mind and direct you another way. Flying at least made the profession slightly less tedious.

Last Thoughts

Despite my gripes, I think WoD is a fine expansion and I’m not sick of it yet. Blizzard have brought in many quality of life changes that I think enhance the game hugely. I’m all for simplification in an ageing game that had in many areas become cumbersome. I’m glad to see the back of the overcomplicated gemming, enchanting and reforging for gear. It’s great to do a raid, win something, and be able to wear it straight away without it damaging your delicately-tuned reforging etc. I like the changes to gathering professions in that you can start them straight away, wherever you are, without having to spend days in the starter areas, picking the right herbs or whatever. Players have wanted player housing for a long time and garrisons are moving us towards such a thing. All we lack now is a customisable personal house in our garrison!

I expect an announcement from Blizzard at this year’s Blizzcon concerning the next expansion. I’m eager to discover what they’re planning for it and whether the good parts of WoD will be built upon, and the weaker areas strengthened. We still have at least one major patch for this expansion, and that too might spring some pleasant surprises on us.

I’ve not had much to say on my gaming blog for a while, not least because I’d run out of content to do in WoW. I’ve been playing Rift again over the summer, and really enjoying that, not least because of the player housing, which I’ve really got into. Well, player housing is rather a misnomer, as what you get in Rift is not exactly that. You get areas of land called dimensions, which are segments of the actual game world, some large, some fairly small, that you can build upon and transform – in some cases people have done so radically. These dimensions are instanced, but you can set them so that the public can view them, or just friends. Some amazing artwork goes down in these dimensions. I’m only a noob at it; some of the pros, who’ve been doing it for years, are amazing. Yes, you can have a house in your dimensions, which you can build and furnish yourself, but the best ones are when players do things with the landscape, or dream up incredible scenarios, illustrations from books or films, or just their own dreams. So, while WoW has been quiet, that’s been my interest – both building dimensions and spending a lot of time viewing other people’s.

Last week saw the prepatch to Warlords of Draenor arrive, so I’ve been drawn back to WoW, but at the same time (or rather this week), Rift released its new xpac, Nightmare Tide. So plenty to do now in both games. I feel I made rather a mistake abandoning Rift while I threw myself into WoW’s Mists of Pandaria, not least because I used up all the content in Mists and was left with months of nothing to do. When I went back to Rift, there was some catching up to do and I’d cancelled my sub at founder member rate, so would never again be able to have the risibly cheap 5 quid a month sub. Even though Rift is now free to play, I did resubscribe, because the privileges for ‘patrons’ (or subbers) are just too great to do without. If you can afford it, go for it. I believe it’s still a bit cheaper than a WoW sub. I cancelled one of my WoW accounts, just keeping one going so I could visit the guild now and again and meet up with friends. I think now if I’d kept both games going and had divided my time, both Mists and Rift’s xpac Storm Legion would have lasted me perfectly until the games had new content to offer. It’s my plan now to do that. I don’t play as much as I used to, so keeping steadily at both games when I have the time seems best. I enjoy both of them equally, but for different reasons.

Anyway, my thoughts on the WoD prepatch and also Nightmare Tide in Rift.

I’m happy with the changes to my classes in WoW, which in some cases are quite radical. The only one I had any trouble with when doing the new Iron Horde quest chain in Blasted Lands was my priest – but I think that’s down to the fact I don’t play him much anyway so I’m not familiar enough with the playstyle. However, that said, my shaman, who I hardly ever play, did well and seemed far hardier and more powerful than before.

There’s divided opinion over the character model revamp for WoD, which of course came in with the prepatch. I play mainly Night Elf males and Draenei females, and out of the crop these seem to have drawn the short straws with the new faces. Bodies and animations are fine but… I suppose I’ll get used to them. I’m not disgusted enough to turn off the new models and go back to the clunky versions, even though I did prefer the faces.

It’s great we can now go into raids like Firelands and Dragon Soul and zip through them quickly and easily with just a couple of players in a team. Some classes can even solo them. As the mount runs for those raids are on my list, this is a welcome innovation. I’ve done the Iron Horde quests on my main account so now just waiting for WoD to drop. Debating whether to revive the second account, but it seems a bit lavish when I’m playing Rift too.

So on to Rift’s Nightmare Tide. The xpac was delayed a couple of weeks, partly because players on the PTS (public test shards) reported on tons of bugs. I went on there myself and fell foul of a few, literally falling through the world on one occasion! But the bugs seem to have been ironed out. Playing in the first zone hasn’t yet thrown up any horrors to me. Rift’s main theme has always been interaction with the elemental planes, and NT’s theme is the Plane of Water. Those who disliked the zone Vash’jir in WoW’s Cataclysm probably won’t feel entirely comfortable in it. Not all of the zones are underwater, but there are underwater parts to them. And for those who hate the camera giddiness of 3D water combat, never mind edging yourself close to NPC’s and objectives would no doubt hate it. I don’t mind it. The first zone is beautiful, a realm of exposed coral reefs and deep dark pools and grottoes. There are several new water-themed races to encounter, one of which is mer-people, somewhat prettier than the Naga of WoW. Their realm is under attack and we’re there to help them, not least to prevent it drying out completely. (Think WoW’s BC Zangarmarsh type of scenario.) If you bother to read the quest text, the new races have some witty banter about us hairy dry skins! The game play is evenly paced, not too challenging but interesting. Rift was once a PITA for questing, sort of old fashioned in that it was often too difficult with far too much you couldn’t solo. That has changed now, and I’m glad, even if hardcore players whinge about dumbing down. When I’m questing and levelling, I just want to work alone, although it’s fun to group up with others for rifts and other world events. The only gripe I have is that a few quest objectives, such as interacting with certain objects or collecting them, aren’t plentiful enough. This has happened often in WoW too, and is especially annoying at the start of an expansion when hordes of players are about in the starting zone. However, in Rift you can ‘shard hop’, which means crossing from server to server instantly, so on the most problematical quests, I found myself an object I needed to collect/interact with and simply parked at it and shard hopped till I fulfilled the objective. Cheating a bit, but beats riding round and around and around, searching for coral polyps and such like when every other player is doing the same. I’ve really enjoyed the questing so far and annoying quests have been few. The first city you come across, an underwater one, is pretty awesome.

Another new thing in Rift is minions, which is similar to the Garrison followers that will be coming to WoW in WoD. Minions go out on missions for you, such as gathering artifacts (similar to archaeology in WoW), gathering crafting materials, earning notoriety for you (reputation) with game factions and collecting items for your dimensions. I’m only at the start of it, with low level minions who don’t have the most exotic abilities, so not sure if gear rewards come later on. Missions come in various lengths – just a minute to get minion xp, 5-15 mins for slightly better missions, then 8 hour and 10 hour ones, with the longer missions obviously giving better loot. So far it’s been great fun to claim all the rewards. Looking forward to this in WoW also. The game gives you one minion to start off with, but you can buy others in the game store – not expensive either. There’s also an NPC in the game who sells one of each elemental type for 1 platinum each, so again not expensive. Others can be picked up from quests and random drops in the game world. The idea is to match minions to all the quests that pop up in the Minion Window, which are random. You might get a quest such as gathering artifacts from a graveyard, which is a Death mission, so would be best to send an undead minion on that to get the best rewards. If you haven’t got a Death minion you can still do the mission, but a Death minion would be more likely to bring better rewards back to you. The quests and minion matches get more complex as time goes on, so that a mission might do best with – for example – a minion who gets dimension items for you, who is also fire. Some minions have the diplomacy skill so are better for sending off on missions to gain notoriety with the various factions. If the notoriety faction offered for the quest is water-based (very likely at the moment), your best option is to send a minion with both diplomacy and water affinity to complete it. I imagine the trick is to build up your minion collection to match all quest objectives to ensure you reap the fullest benefits from the quests. You start with the ability to send two minions on missions at a time, but can buy extra active minion slots from the game store. You can have as many minions as you like but if you’ve only got 2 slots for missions, only two can be out doing things for you at once. However, if you’re not impatient, two is enough to cycle through the random quests and get nice loot.

Anyway, in summary very happy with both the WoD prepatch in WoW and Rift’s new Nightmare Tide expansion. Can recommend both.

A lot of us are struggling to find things to do in WoW at the moment. I’m not at the point where I feel I have to cancel my sub, because we’ve started an alt raid, treating SoO as new with a different bunch of characters, some of us in completely new roles. And while this has injected a bit more excitement into raid nights, it’s only for a couple of evenings a week. Those of us who habitually log on most nights, if only for an hour or so, have found there’s no reason to do so. All our alts are 90 – and the few that aren’t we don’t have the enthusiasm to finish off – reputations are done, gear attended to. Transmog sets are completed, and rare mounts and pets have dropped obligingly. I have no desire to run LFR, starved now as it tends to be of competent players, in order to gear up alts I’ll never raid with properly. The ones I’ve already geared a bit will suffice for our guild alt runs, and the rest just have the odd piece here and there, plus Timeless Isle stuff, to take them into WoD leveling without too many tears. Yes, I’m ready to move on.

We’ve recently merged with another guild on our server – a bunch of great people who are much like us, being older players with busy real lives who just want a comfortable home in Azeroth and laid-back raiding. We were really lucky to join with these people, since if you hunted on your server to augment your roster by other means, I imagine it’d be nigh on impossible to find nearly a dozen or so individual players you get on with so well. But even with this influx we’re fed up with the dearth of new content in WoW. A lot of us dribbled over to Diablo to play Reaper of Souls together, but most of us have now got bored with the constant grinding to improve gear, which comes desperately slowly at top level in that game.

So, what to do? After Blizzcon last year I was convinced we’d see a Beta for WoD by January 2014 at the latest. All that buzz, that build up… the excitement. Yay! But now it’s May and not even a whiff of the Beta, and many of us are beginning to think it’s going to be the end of the year before we’ll see any new content. As a guild leader, that worries me. We’ve run out of things to do… almost. Is it feasible to run a third SoO alt team once we get to the end of it on our second? I think realistically we’ll be looking at a gradually diminishing roster until pre-patch 6.0 at the earliest. I think something went wrong with WoD, or changed drastically, and this unknown thing has caused the delay. Given the atmosphere at Blizzcon, (which I attended ‘virtually’), I’m quite sure Blizzard themselves intended for WoD to be nearer to release now than it’s turned out to be. But I doubt we’ll ever get to hear what caused this hold up. Once 6.0 hits, I expect people will be back in droves, but if that’s not till after the summer – well I’m sure many guilds and their officers are a bit concerned about the health of their guilds.

Like me, a lot of my WoW friends are reluctant to try other sub-based MMOs. Because we *are* still raiding a bit, and therefore don’t want to unsub from WoW, for many it’s not feasible to pay monthly for more than one game, and in any case, from experience I know it’s not easy to fully immerse yourself in more than one MMO – the games aren’t really designed for ultra ultra casual: you have to invest a fair bit of time to get the best out of them. But maybe… for a few months… it’s worth dabbling in another one, while we wait for WoW to be lifted out of the doldrums. Diablo was great while it lasted, but as that’s now petering out, I’m looking at other things to keep our group of friends entertained and playing together.

I’ve played a fair few of the ‘free to play’ MMOs, and most of them haven’t held my attention for very long. Some were just far too reliant on the misnomered ‘micro transactions’, which usually means you end up paying more than you would than if you paid a sub. Measly inventory and bank space, slow leveling… etc etc. In many F2P games, you have to pay real money to free yourself from such inconveniences. The best of the crop were Aion and Rift, and I know some people loved SW:ToR (although just about everyone I know who started playing it no longer do so. I never tried it myself, not being a fan of the franchise.) Aion – for me – lost its appeal when my characters reached around level 30 and I realised that PvP is forced upon you, with players of the rival faction literally dropping out of the sky to slaughter your lower level chars. No fun. End of Aion for me. Which was a pity, because I liked the way the game played and the way it looked.

I’ve dipped in and out of Rift since it was launched a few years ago. I lost interest when I reached top level in the original game because I couldn’t raid in there – not having the time to get my characters raid-worthy, or being in there enough to warrant joining an active guild. Sadly, the best of the MMOs seem to model themselves on WoW – end game is forced teaming if you want anything to do. When Rift went free to play, and their new expansion came out, I started playing again, and after a juddery start got back into it. Then there was a new content patch for WoW, and there was plenty to do again in there, so I stopped playing Rift. I’d always subbed to it, since I had a founder member’s really cheap deal, but I even cancelled that. Now, because on some nights I really feel like I want to potter around in a virtual world, I’ve gone back to Rift and taken up where I left off. It’s quiet in there. I’ve only seen a handful of other players, but then I am in the starter areas of the expansion and the majority of players will have long moved on. The original cities are full of tumbleweed, but the new one, the Dalaran of Rift, is buzzing. As all the crafting dailies are now based there too, it’s obvious why the old cities are empty. Tempest Bay is the new central hub, for players of both factions.

As it *is* now free to play, and after I’ve given it a few days to see whether my interest keeps up, I intend to tell the guild about it on our forum, and see if any of the bored people want to come and dip their toes into Telarian waters too. Yes, there is a game shop, with many enticing things in it, but it’s still possible to play the game without touching it. If you ever subbed to Rift in the past and come back, you’re given a generous amount of free tokens to spend in the shop, which could net you a mount or two, or a couple of armour sets (the transmog of Rift). The clothes department is massive, and the armour sets fairly priced. I worked out that a single piece of armour in the Rift shop works out at about 38 pence, as opposed to the £15 Blizzard tried to charge for those hats some time ago (do you *ever* see people’s characters wearing those?) There is also a very big mount store, including a great deal of the ones available in the game (not extremely rare ones, of course). However, in game they cost a fairly big chunk of platinum, yet some are sold for mere pence in the shop. As player housing is quite a big feature in Rift now, there are also lots of items to buy for your ‘dimension’, as the housing is called.

But anyway, cosmetic temptations aside, Rift is genuinely free to play. The two new continents are each around the size of Pandaria, so there is a ton of content to take you through to whenever Blizzard get their act together. While there are ‘story’ quests to reveal the ongoing plot line, just about every creature on the map has a kill quest associated with it. This means there are oodles of quests all over the place. You only need to kill one creature for a quest to pop up to kill some more of that type. So while you’re doing the regular quests, and killing mobs to get at your objectives, you’re also doing these secondary kill quests. Lots of experience, and loot to sell, or to salvage or equip. The one downside I’ve come across is that is that some of the dynamic quests, such as defending outposts from invasions, aren’t easy to do on your own, if not impossible. As few players are around in the areas I’m questing in, this means I have to ignore those quests and leave the outposts to their fates. Again, this might be down to the gear I have. I don’t do dungeons and I don’t raid in Rift, so my gear is only adequate at best, picked up from quest rewards and from crafting. Admittedly, crafting is really good and actually useful in Rift, but still not as good as gear you would get from multi-player activities.

This brings me on to something I’ve thought about concerning *all* MMOs. I’ve mentioned it before, but I think it’s more relevant now than ever. MMOs, by their very nature, are games designed for group content. But the problem is, group content is only viable while a particular zone or patch is current. Once the players have moved on, the content needs to be soloable, otherwise it’s redundant. To a large extent, this has been addressed in WoW, concerning earlier areas of the game, but more solo content would prevent much of what we’re seeing in the game now. Just because players are offered this kind of play doesn’t mean the social side of the game will be detrimentally affected. You’re still playing in a virtual world full of people, but are free to do things on your own if you want or need to. In Diablo, for example, players still talk a lot to each other in the general chat channel, even though the majority are playing alone. In an MMO, solo content would prolong the life of a patch or an expansion, and people would still interact, either in their guilds or, as now, in General chat. If you’re restricted by needing more players to do anything interesting, and those players aren’t available, or simply don’t want to do what you want to do, then that means you’ve got nothing to do at all, so just log off. Not everyone wants to risk teaming with strangers, offered by the various tools for herding random people together. You could end up with incompetents who can’t play properly, social inadequates whose only relief in life is to insult others, or elitists who call you on your actions every moment of the way, unless you conform to their unrealistically high standards. Or – most likely of all – you could just a get a silent group who blast through the activity without any communication, so you might as well be on your own. Faced with that, I’d rather go play another game, and I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.

I don’t know why MMO developers are so hung up on forcing people together, even when it’s unreasonable or impossible. Solo dungeons, (as seen in a couple of other MMOs I’ve tried, though not in plentiful enough supply), or dungeons for two or three would be great. Yes, scenarios are for three, but there’s no loot from mobs, and once your character is geared up and you no longer need valor points, there’s no incentive to visit them again. They are, in fact, rather boring. The ultimate MMO would have group content that’s accessible to *any* size of group, whether that’s a person alone or a group of 25. Of course, the mechanics of working out that scaling in terms of loot might not be easy – I’m no game designer so can’t say – but the minute some game cracks this perennial problem of content running out, simply *because* you need other people who aren’t there, will be the game that everyone will want to try. I wonder what the result would be if, on WoW’s log in screen, every player had to answer the question of whether they would like more optional solo content or not? I’m betting the vast majority would opt for ‘yes please’.

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.


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