Archive for August, 2012

Mount collectors in WoW are an insatiable breed. I know because I’m one of them. Ever since TBC when Blizzard unleashed new mounts into the game –  a lot of them – and mounts became learnable ‘spells’, I was hooked.  In the early game, mounts took up bag space, and with this being precious enough as it is, most players would only take one mount out on the road with them (and one companion pet as well, if they were into those too). It was not the norm for people to collect mounts in the way we do now. First, there were far fewer of them about, second, reputation was far more difficult to earn with the home cities, third the aforementioned inventory/bank space was prohibitive to collecting anything really, and fourth, gold was harder to come by than it is now. You needed 1K for the level 60 riding skill (which at that time was only the 100% ground mount speed), and most players struggled badly enough getting the 100 gold together just for slow ground riding. The faster ground mounts were seen rarely in the game, and were in fact the prestige mounts of their day.

But TBC changed all that. The price of ground riding was slashed to a manageable amount, gold became more easily earned in the new expansion, inventory space was no longer a problem and oooh look at all these amazing new mounts!

The first were the talbuks you could get in Nagrand from your faction’s allies in the area. There was a choice of six different ones. You needed exalted reputation to buy them and at first they didn’t come cheap. Players would usually only buy one, or perhaps different coloured ones on alts. Some were more expensive than others, being armoured. This was the first bona fide rep grind in WoW for new mounts and most people I knew were happy to do it. We’d just not had exotic new mounts before, and the talbuks, or high goats as they were affectionately nicknamed, looked quite exotic to us at the time.

Later in the expansion we were given our first flying mounts, which were drakes – those from Netherwing ledge. Again, quite a grind, but we’d never imagined we’d be able to have drake mounts, so whatever it took we did it gladly. We were given another faction to earn rep with, the Shatari Skyguard, who also sold mounts – the nether rays. At the end of TBC, achievements were introduced in the pre-patch to WotLK. One of these was to acquire 50 mounts. It was doable, just, with all the new mounts in Outland, but it cost a packet.  As you needed all available mounts, it was a bankrupting experience to attempt that achievement at the time. I managed it by clearing out the bank accounts of several alts, but I wanted the reward for the achievement so badly – the albino drake – that I didn’t care. This was the first ‘proper’ drake mount in WoW, since the nether drakes were a species unto themselves really. They didn’t look like any other dragons we saw in the game and had rather ‘sharklike’ faces. That said, I still love them.

TBC also brought in a few rare drop mounts, such as the Raven Lord from Sethekk Halls, the Ashes of Alar from the Tempest Keep raid, the Fiery Warhorse from the Karazhan raid and the White Hawkstrider from Magister’s Terrace.  All of these were rare at the time, the Ashes of Alar phoenix particularly so, as the boss who dropped it, Kael’thas, was no pushover when he was current. I can remember the first time someone got that mount on our server – a Horde player – and they were riding it in Shattrath city. Everyone just clustered round him to gawp in wonder at this amazing looking mount. We’d seen nothing like it before. Silly rumours abounded, such as only one per server would be allowed. That was untrue, but it was still incredibly rare owing to the difficulty of downing that boss and the fact only a small percentage of players were actually attempting the 25 man raids back then.

WotLK brought in dozens more mounts and a new way to get some highly prestigious ones. These were the rewards from completing dungeon and raid meta-achievements. It gave guilds really good incentives to complete the achievements. Unfortunately, there was a hiccup with the raid achievement mounts. Two were awarded for completing all of the Naxxramas achievements (one for 10 man, one for 25 man), but Blizzard removed them from the game when they released Ulduar, the next tier of raiding.  They now realise themselves it was a mistake, even though elitist players who’d got those mounts were pleased about it, because they felt that owning them showed everyone around them that they had completed Naxx when it was at its most challenging. People who outgeared the place later had – and have – no chance of getting those mounts.

One thing I will never understand is certain players’ desire to keep prestige mounts away from others. This is because a prestige mount is only prestigious until the next slew of difficult to obtain mounts is released. All those players smugly preening because no one else could get the black proto-drake or plagued proto-drake any more probably wouldn’t be seen dead on theirs once they’d got their paws on one of the Ulduar reward protos. Really, why should they care what players who take longer to complete things do with content and mounts they’ve left behind? How many of them now ever get their black/plagued proto out of the stable? I can’t remember the last time I saw one; probably not since way before Cata. And yet we still see the complaints, and the demands from a certain type of player, that some mounts should remain inaccessible to the majority. I wouldn’t dispute that maybe some of these people are better players than those who follow in their footsteps, but again, why should they get riled about people getting rewards they no longer even care about? It’s just dog in the manger to me; selfish and puerile. Thankfully, Blizzard appears to feel the same way about it; they’ve not removed any meta achievement mounts since the Naxxramas ones. I still really hope they’ll put them back one day; I’m quite sure players would flock to do those achievements then, and most wouldn’t care who else got the mounts. They’d simply enjoy them themselves until they got a newer one they’d prefer to ride about on.

As a serious mount collector, I know that some mounts will be beyond me until I vastly outgear the content they’re found in. This is simply because few people share my passion, so getting a team together when the mounts are current is difficult, once our progression team has moved on to a new raid, leaving the mounts from metas and rare boss drops behind. That’s OK. The friends I have who share my collector’s gene know as well I do we’ll have to wait until just the few of us can tackle the content. It’s annoying but that’s just the way things are. But I don’t think that any mount in the game (with the exception of the Arena reward mounts, which are a thing apart) should ever be utterly inaccessible to players, or should be removed to keep selfish elitists happy.  No true mount collector minds hard work. While that lovely goddess Arenjee might cause us to lament and gnash our teeth occasionally, mostly we’re happy with what we do. We are not so much into the concept of prestige mounts – just… mounts. But for some, exclusivity is the only thing that makes a mount worth having. As far as they’re concerned, mounts are for showing off to other people in cities, in the hope everyone is green with envy, rather than to be enjoyed by the person lucky enough to get them. This is amply demonstrated by the reaction to the Blizzard store mounts (which the majority of collectors would have bought the moment they came out). Few would deny that the store mounts are pretty gorgeous, and if they were rare drops from raids or difficult metas you’d never hear a bad word against them. But simply because they can be bought, they are heaped with scorn by certain players. This is particularly the case with Heart of the Aspects. When that shiny gold drake/serpent showed up in the game data, and no one knew how it would be attained, you saw comments on forums from players virtually slavering over it. Most assumed it would be a drop or a meta reward from the Dragon Soul raid. Then we found out people could simply nip to the shop and buy it. Suddenly, as these mounts started to appear in Stormwind and Orgrimmar, it was a target for verbal abuse. Personally, I don’t care a bit. I’ll ride my Winged Guardian or Heart of the Aspects, or even the poor old reviled Sparkle Pony, whenever I want to, and am glad I can do so.

Mounts really do inspire some quite incandescent feelings among the player base; rage from those who want them kept exclusive, resentment from those who want a chance at them when they’re able to do the content, and wistfulness from the collectors who simply wish it was a case of nose to the grindstone to get mounts, not just down to the whims of Arenjee or insurmountable content pinnacles we have to wait years (in some cases) to climb. But it’s not all negative. Nothing can compare to finishing a meta achievement and getting the mount reward in the mail, or winning a roll on a rare drop, or even soloing content for years and then finally seeing that longed-for mount turn up in the loot. It’s also a great feeling when you get to the end of a rep grind and can go and buy the mount you’ve worked so hard to get. They’re only pixels, and yet they can invoke such emotions – crazy really.

I’m fully expecting that the beautiful new phoenix mounts in Mists will be the privilege of the hardcores for a couple of years, and they’ll no doubt be gratified by that, but I’ll be happy if I can get one eventually. It was quite a tease by Blizzard to give everyone in the Beta one of these mounts in their collection. I could hardly bear riding it, because I just knew it would most likely be a long long time before I could get one for real. Or maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Whatever happens, there are again dozens of new mounts in Mists and many of them involve only rep grinds. That, I can handle. I’m a hardcore rep grinder!

There is a goddess in WoW; her name is Arenjee. She is a capricious sort at the best of times, and even if you should heap her altars with offerings, or prostrate yourself to her in prayer a dozen times a day, the chances are she’s not paying attention, and is off somewhere, perhaps lying on a sofa reading a magazine, or pulling the wings off insects.

Arenjee is sometimes held in check by the elder god, Blizzard. She is subject to his whims, and sometimes he thinks she might have gone too far, gives her a rap across the knuckles, and removes whatever caprice she’s been inflicting on mortals.

What is Arenjee’s purpose, you might ask? Blizzard created her, and threw her into the world of his creation, in order to work mischief, much like Eris, the goddess of Chaos, in earlier pantheons. Theologists of WoW might consider that Blizzard had to create Arenjee because the mortals shouldn’t take things for granted. There is this other form of worship called ‘grind’. Without ‘grind’, mortals might not even believe in the gods any more. And there is one area of the sacred grind that is perhaps more sacred and contentious than others: The Rare Pet.

Listen now, for I have a tale.

Once upon a time, upon the world of Azeroth, there was a distant isle called Tol Barad. Upon this isle were many creatures and peoples, whose lives were mostly blighted by the followers of the god Blizzard invading their space and killing them. (Well, they knew this was their lot, even if they didn’t understand it.) Among the varied creatures of this isle was one known as the Baradin Fox. Mortals knew that slaughtering this lowly animal held a potential prize. It was the rare and much desired Fox Kit, this poor cubling wrenched from the still warm body of its murdered parent. But it was a rare and mysterious creature. Mortals might put one Baradin Fox to the sword (or spell, depending on their murderous preferences) and a kit might tumble forth from the corpse. Or they might kill over 12,000 of the unfortunate foxes and not one bleeding cadaver might offer up its progeny. The reason for this somewhat startling discrepancy between the likelihood of finding a kit among the entrails was down to one thing, or rather one goddess: Arenjee. She hovered over the isle, laughing, and when she’d downed a few cocktails of an evening, might decide to point her finger at a mortal and grant them success in their sacred grinding. Other times, she elected to make all the Baradin Foxes barren for months.

Blizzard, like Arenjee, can be capricious and rather random in his decisions. The winds of change and destiny blow across all worlds, even virtual ones. Blizzard had decided that mortals – who he after all relied upon to believe in him and thus ensure his existence – might enjoy pitting the many small creatures found upon Azeroth in battle against each other. He put much thought into this idea and created a fairly complex modus operandi for this illicit pleasure. Mortals, he knew, loved killing things. And if the things were small and squeaked in agony, or perhaps exploded in a mass of feathers with a dismal squawk upon death, even better. He cast his eye upon Arenjee’s favourite small beast: the Tol Barad fox kit. Well to be fair she had other favourites, but for some reason Blizzard forgot to notice them. “The mortals will like this playful little creature in their teams of beast death,” Blizzard mused, “but Arenjee has really put the little beast out in the ethers somewhere. I know, I’ll make it so that a humble merchant upon Tol Barad will have an endless black market supply of fox kits to sell. That should please people.”

But what do you think, my dears? Did it please people or not? Those of the sacred grind gnashed their teeth, tore their hair and daubed ashes upon their faces. “We worshipped Arenjee for two years,” they wailed. “And she stooped to bless us. We bled for her, we suffered the dark night of the soul of the Great Ennui. Our hands are raw with fox killing. In what crazy universe does a god say, ‘oh never mind, that task was a bit irksome, meet my friend Mr Merchant, he has foxes’?”

Other mortals said, “Oh thank the gods, I was beginning to feel like an ivory poacher. I actually rather like foxes, and killing twelve thousand of them made me feel rather nauseous. Cheers, Blizz, here are two offertory candles and a year’s subscription.’

It is not down to us mortals to question the ways of the gods.

As a businesswoman supplying a product, how would I feel if a small percentage of my customers came to me saying, ‘Due to changes you’ve made, your product is now appealing to more people than before and that’s not right. You’re just not listening to me! This is not what I want! You have to change your product back to what *I* want, or else I won’t buy it. I’ve stuck with your product for years. I invested more time in it. Why should others who haven’t invested that time be able to enjoy it as much as I do? They shouldn’t have that, and also I should have privileges. Give them to me now.’

The obvious answer to this of course, (accompanied by an appropriate flippant hand gesture), is ‘off you fuck, dear’, perhaps followed, (if they don’t go away), by a more measured response, ‘I’m running a business, I’m aiming to be successful. You don’t like my product? Too bad. Lots of others do. And no, you won’t be getting privileges. If anyone does, it’ll be the silent majority who simply buy and enjoy what I produce. Bye.’

I wouldn’t tolerate that kind of treatment from a small percentage of customers, and thank the gods (touch wood) I’ve never had to, but this is the situation I’m seeing when, on my Internet ‘car crash spectator’ journeys, I stumble across Blizzard community managers attempting on official forums to deal with the entitled swarm of mannerless nincompoops who are invading these forums to complain about the current and forthcoming changes to WoW. You know, those changes that make more people get to enjoy more of the game? Really bad thing, obviously. It’s best to make people pay a monthly sub to look through a window at a wonderland they’ll never visit. That’s a popular leisure activity, I understand.

What amazes me, and in fact produces awe, is that the community managers don’t turn round and tell these idiots where to go. They are polite and measured. They ‘listen’ and respond with far more respect than is deserved. If it was my business, knowing these complainers are only a minority of my customer base, I probably wouldn’t respond at all, or if I did it would be with the sharp edge of my tongue. Perhaps Blizzard community managers are all on calming medication, or have undertaken rigorous personality tests before they’re let loose in the job. I just couldn’t be that polite to such … well words fail me, or rather civil ones do.

I was told a lovely fact by a guildie tonight. It involved the whole casual vs hardcore conflict, which centres around such sublime assertions that Naxxramas 40 was a great idea; you know, that old raid only 1% of players got to see? 1% of players back when Naxx original was current was around 30,000 – 40,000 people. It’s amazing that the current 1%, i.e. around 90,000 players, laments the loss of this raid they so enjoyed. Hmmm. I’m no mathematician but… The fact is, the figures are bogus anyway. Of that 1% playing in Vanilla WoW, and who raided, how many of those are still raiding now? We can only assume that at least some of them have left the game.

I can only come to the conclusion that a lot of these people sounding off on forums, about WoW dumbing down/becoming too easy/selling out, and being rude and disrespectful to the patient Blizzard community managers, don’t actually attempt (nor ever did attempt) the hardest content themselves. They just like the idea of doing so, spouting off about it makes them look cool, or so they believe, and let’s face it, on a forum no one can tell what you might or might not have achieved within the game.

There are some things that Blizzard does to WoW that I don’t like, and there are other things that I really do like. But at the end of the day, it’s their product, and they are free to do with it what they will. As long as I’m getting pleasure from it, Blizzard will continue to get my subs. If a day should come when that changes, I’ll take my money somewhere else, but I certainly won’t be bleating on a forum, or making videos to display on You Tube, demanding that a successful company should change their product to suit me. I just can’t dispel the nagging suspicion that the majority of people who genuinely go off WoW, or become disappointed with its direction, simply leave the game quietly and do something else that pleases them more. What we are seeing in this tiresomely raw red maw of complaints at the moment isn’t that at all. Is it.

Primary Profession Slogs

With a slowly expanding family of alts, I’ve over the years levelled every profession to full on my main characters on my main server. If they had their awkward obstructive walls, and I’m sure they did, I got over them. Levelling a character from 1 – 60 took much longer when I first played the game, so professions easily kept pace. It’s only since I started playing around with some old alts on another server, in the lull before Mists, that it’s been brought home to me what a pain some professions are at the moment. This is largely down to how the game has changed and the fact that people level much faster. Professions haven’t kept up, and a couple, such as Inscription, still rely on aspects of progression that were designed solely to be accomplished in Northrend. Some things really need to change in Mists. I’ve noticed a few forum threads discussing this topic recently, so here’s my two pence worth on it all, for anyone starting a new alt and embarking upon a new couple of professions.

I will give the professions a rank as follows:

1. Joy!

2. Bearable

3. Sigh

4. Grumble

5. Uncontrollable sobbing

The Pros and Cons of Primary Professions

Alchemy (joy!)

Cons: Not really a problem, but the Northrend Research will most likely not be completed before you leave Northrend. This will require trips back to that continent to farm the necessary herbs, but only if you’re a completist for recipes. You don’t need these discoveries to level the prof to top.

Pros: Of all the primary professions, Alchemy is the easiest to level. Coupled with Herbalism, it’s no hassle at all. Changes to the game means you can make potions and elixirs for the next expansion up before you hit top level for the one you’re in. There are no obstructive mats walls to get over. The ‘rare’ herbing finds needed for Flasks don’t seem to be as rare as, for example, the hides and furs you get from Skinning. Raid teams always want flasks, so they sell well, and Alchemy also provides much needed Transmuting for materials used in making certain types of high level gear.

Blacksmithing (bearable)

Cons: Most weapons require a large amount of quite fiddly mats to make, so in general, players levelling BS won’t bother with them at all. Levelling with making armour isn’t too bad but you will need a LOT of ore, and I mean a LOT. This is the worst aspect of BS.

Pros: Provides belt buckles for other professions that can be sold. At the moment BS is the only means for Enchanters to get their enchanting rods as well, but this will be going from the game in Mists. Mining nodes are sensibly spread throughout the zones so that getting mats isn’t a chore or means continual going backwards to get the ore you need. I found that the BS prof kept pace with what I was finding in the zones ore-wise.

Enchanting (grumble)

Cons: For a levelling character, acquiring level-appropriate quest rewards and mob drops, disenchantable greens and blues aren’t too hard to come by (especially if Enchanting is coupled with Tailoring). However, you can run into progression walls when you’re in need of a particular essence or dust and you’ve levelled ahead of the zones and dungeons where suitable disenchantables and cloth can be found. If you have an alt who does Blacksmithing, there are a few weapons they can make, which cheaply and easily provide greens that will give certain difficult essences. (Generally speaking, essences come from weapons and dusts come from armour – mostly. Shards come from blue and epic items.) Trying to advance this profession from 1-525 on a level 85 character would take it into the realms of uncontrollable sobbing. Quite honestly I think someone would be mad to try to it. Another downside, happily soon to disappear, is the array of different metal enchanting rods required. In Mists, this will be condensed into a simple Copper Rod. Thank the gods! My Enchanter alt on the second realm can’t say goodbye to the need for an Arcanite Rod quick enough.

Pros: The advantages of Enchanting are huge, because along with Inscription and Jewelcrafting, it provides a service that every player needs continually for their gear, and scrolls can be sold on the AH to provide a good income. Enchanting your own gear will save you 1000s as well.

Engineering: (sigh)

Cons: one of the worst aspects of this prof is that you need to make so many fiddly parts that quickly go grey so earn you no points, (and require low level mats), in order to keep making items that *do* get you points. That really needs to be streamlined. A lot of the cool stuff becomes obsolete as you level up as some items are not upgraded beyond certain levels and become ineffective. The need for particular gems can be a nuisance if you do not also have a Jewelcrafter alt who can prospect ore for your needs.

Pros: A really fun profession that while having certain fiddly aspects isn’t too bad to level. You get really useful items such as teleporters to various areas, the ability to farm for elemental materials in some zones (although not top level sadly), repair bots for teams, portable mail box, mechanical pets you can sell, your own helicopter mount, and more. You can also make scopes for classes that use ranged weapons, which can be sold on the AH.

Herbalism (joy!)

Cons: None

Pros: Quick and easy to level, perfect to team with Inscription or Alchemy. Herbs also sell well on the AH.

Inscription (starts as joy! Ends up as grumble)

Cons: Few to start with. Inscription, coupled with Herbalism, is a joy to level until you leave Northrend. The main problem is that Northrend Inscription Research, which you undertake daily to discover random new glyphs, requires Northrend herbs, and characters level through the Wrath zones so quickly, you’ll barely have scratched the surface of this aspect of Inscription before you head back to Azeroth for the Cata zones. You can use Cata inks to buy the Northrend ones, but the rarer Snowfall Inks require more inks as trade, and it would most likely involve less time and effort to go back to Northrend and farm up a load of herbs to mill to keep you going. Also, at present, a large amount of the best glyphs can only be discovered randomly through ‘reading’ Books of Glyph Mastery’ found in – you guessed it – Northrend. They are thin upon the ground now, in that you might not pick up even one while levelling through that area and the ones on the AH cost risible amounts. Therefore, your Scribe can end up half educated, with no means to finish learning. It’s beyond me why these books weren’t scrapped in favour of the glyphs being transferred to trainers or glyph research once Cata came out, or at least added to current loot tables. It makes Inscription virtually impossible to complete at the moment. It would be better if Inscription research was more like JC, in that you could complete a daily for tokens then choose which glyph patterns to buy. I can only assume the profession will change for the better with the massive overhaul to glyphs in general come Mists. This prof would be ranked uncontrollable sobbing for later levels, otherwise.

Pros: Every character in WoW needs glyphs, and until people stop rolling alts there will always be a market for them. Some are quite expensive, (the ones learned from books presumably), so a good way to make gold, should you want to play the AH to increase your bank balance. Also very handy for servicing your own alts, since some glyphs are so pricey.

Jewelcrafting (sigh, then bearable)

Cons: Jewelcrafting starts off ok, then hits a long sigh stage when you start needing fiddly mats and gems that refuse to turn up when you prospect ore. (Large fangs, ye gods! They were impossible to farm, and yet I’m sure that when I didn’t need them they turned up all the time on dead beasts.) Once you get to Outland things look up and don’t look back. From that day forward, all you need to worry about is gems you get from Mining or Prospecting ore. From Northrend onwards, you’ll do dailies to earn tokens to buy JC designs. Designs cost between 3-6 tokens and you get one a day. The profession clearly isn’t designed for every JC to have all the designs (unless they are utterly assiduous with the dailies, for ever). It’s expected, I believe, for players to select the gem designs most useful for them, their guildies or to sell. A PvP enthusiast, for example, could choose PvP gems over gems more useful for PvE.

Pros: Every player needs gems continually, every time they replace a piece of top level gear. There is always a market for gems, and some are very expensive. As with Inscription and Enchanting it’s a handy profession to have to service your own characters cheaply. JC’s can also make some good top level necklaces and rings that can be sold.

Leatherworking (uncontrollable sobbing)

Cons: I had no problem with this on my first character, but now it’s truly the worst of all professions. You need an unforgiving amount of mats per item and it’s tricky to level up because of the annoying patterns that involve difficult to obtain mats, and rare hides that predictably only appear when you don’t need them. If you couple LW with Skinning (and you should), you’ll advance your Skinning quickly, but with a levelling character you’ll be out of the areas supplying, for example, medium leather, when you still need to make around 10-20 items with it before you can start using heavy leather. With herbs and ore, you can get several per node. Unless augmented by guild perks, skins only come one at a time. Also, those rare ‘drops’ you’ll need from skinning are needed for nearly every mid-range pattern. Some profs get easier at higher level. LW doesn’t. Even in Cata you’ll be making expensive items involving a fair amount of volatiles (feels such a waste of them) that you’re simply vendoring or at best sending to an Enchanting alt to disenchant because there’s no demand for them on the AH. As for the rare ‘drop’ furs and hides needed for many patterns later on (Wrath and Cata particularly), I’ve had only about half a dozen of these turn up while skinning throughout the whole of Cata, with 3 alts who are gatherers and skinners as well as my main LW. Generally I have to buy the Pristine Hides with Heavy Savage Leather, which are time consuming to farm for, and prohibitively expensive on the AH to buy. The sheer amount of leather needed both to make items and buy patterns and hides for them, from 1 to 525, is punishing.

Pros: There are useful items that are always needed by you and other players, leg enchants being the obvious example. You can emboss your own bracers with a very good enchantment. You can make large mats bags for a couple of professions, as well as your own.

Mining (joy!)

Cons: None

Pros: Quick and easy to level, perfect to team with Blacksmithing, Engineering or Jewelcrafting. Ores sell well on the AH.

Skinning (joy!)

Cons: None

Pros: Skinning levels very quickly and leather always sells fairly well on the AH. Perfect to team with Leatherworking.

Tailoring (bearable)

Cons: Outlevelling the zones where mobs provide the type of cloth you need is the biggest headache. You also need a ton of cloth to make garments. It doesn’t require as many hard to obtain mats as LW does but the threads needed to sew the items gets increasingly expensive. Coupled with Enchanting you can disenchant the zillions of greens you make to level the profession. If you do a lot of dungeons, cloth won’t be an issue.

Pros: Bags! This is one of the most useful functions of Tailoring. Tailors can also make large profession bags for herbalists and enchanters. The largest bags sell for a lot on the AH and like with consumables made by other professions there is always a demand for them. Tailors can also provide enhancements to other players to improve parts of their gear. When Mists come out there will be a huge demand for bags for all those new Monks!

On Gear You Make

Generally speaking, most armour and weapons you can make until you get to top level are pretty worthless in terms of actually equipping and using them. The professions haven’t changed at low level since Vanilla and they are simply outdated now. Quest rewards are better than anything you can craft. Probably the major use for crafted gear at the moment is for transmogging, as some of it does look pretty cool and shifts well on the AH. It would be great if the gear-making professions could be overhauled so that the items are actually useful to a levelling character as well. Other professions, which create consumables, have kept up with the game and their products are always useful, but the gear-making ones have been superseded by revamped quest reward items or gear from dungeons.

At top level, crafted gear is very good, even if some of the patterns are extremely hard to come by, being rare drops in raids. They will also require mats from raids. But epic gear can be crafted, of lower iLevel than the aforementioned, that is good for newly-dinged 85s. These patterns are just bought with materials pertinent to the profession.

The main gripe I have about the gear-making professions is the sheer amount of mats they require on the way up, which has contributed to them becoming tiresome to level. That needs streamlining – a lot. But I’ll be really surprised if we don’t see big, positive changes in Mists.

The 1% Club

While a couple of weeks ago, I talked about some of the finer aspects of Classic WoW – what I perceived to be a better community – there are other aspects of the early game I’m delighted to see gone. There is much debate going on at the moment about how much content should be accessible to who, with a vocal minority insisting that only top end raiders should be given privileges, such as the best mounts and titles, for completing content before others, or even that only a tiny percentage of players should be allowed into that content in the first place. Often, amongst all the howling and yowling, you can identify a familiar refrain of how things were so much better in the past.  And one of those ‘better things’ was that less than 1% of the player base got to see raids like the original Naxxramas. A vocal few clamour for a return to that, so that the peons (the other 99% of players) can only fetch up in a lamenting pile at the gates to these august raids and never be allowed inside.

It makes me grin that some actually consider this somehow proper. For a start, in whose book of business management is this a good way for Blizzard to deploy its staff, i.e. catering to less than 1% of their customers? (Bearing in mind raid development must take an awful lot of employee hours.) Some players want this exclusivity back because they were lucky enough to be in that 1%. Their tune would inevitably be different if they hadn’t been. I was there back in Vanilla WoW and have many fond memories of it, but I don’t remember so fondly how it was impossible for guilds like ours to raid. You needed 40 people for most of it, even if a few instances were tuned for less, but at that time we didn’t have a hope in hell of fielding a large team of any size, never mind begin learning the tactics. This was because when players reached max level, the loot hornier ones just tended to abandon us for existing, successful raid guilds. We knew we had no chance of hanging on to enough people to start raiding. Our only option would be to join a huge raiding guild ourselves, but we knew we just wouldn’t get on with the politics of them, and anyway, we wanted *our* guild to raid. Thankfully, Blizzard offered that to the smaller guilds in TBC with the advent of true 10 man raids. But the 25 mans were still the province of the hardcores. I can only think wistfully of how great it would have been if we’d had 10 man versions too of raids like Black Temple, Serpentshrine Cavern and all the rest. Like the model Blizzard uses now for raids. No doubt such thoughts are anathema to those complainers who curse the day Blizzard started making raiding more accessible. Really, though, they should simply accept reality. A return to the old ways is never going to happen. Blizzard has grown and evolved over the past eight years; they now want more of their players to enjoy more of the game. While the  hardcores might gibber and foam about how pet battles and farming will be put in for the peasants, so keep out of *their* content, Blizzard clearly regard all of the game’s activities as being equally interesting to players. Which for most, they are. There’s no point weeping for the past. The original Naxxramas was gated not only by its extreme difficulty, but by the cost of attunement to it and having 39 other people to do it with. No one in their right mind would want a return to that. While some might gush about the player base remembering it with affection, I doubt the 99% who never saw the place love it at all.

I’ve seen the more polite end of the hardcore spectrum, (yes, there is one, although some forums might lead people to believe otherwise), rhapsodise about content having a certain ‘mystique’ because it *was* so inaccessible to 99% of players. But it doesn’t feel right to me that so few were allowed to enjoy the game to the full. I’m of the mind that raiding shouldn’t just be available to everyone with no effort to be made on their part. I think it’s good that players might have to work for it a bit, rather than simply tumble into the laughably easy style of raid we see now in LFR. But – things change, time moves on. The past will never return. Blizzard clearly eventually realised it wasn’t the best plan to keep developing WoW in the direction of only relatively few players getting the full experience of it. While some things have been made much more accessible, the hardcores have been given heroic modes as a mollifying gesture, but that’s not enough for them. Some don’t want anyone else even to *see* end game content, at whatever difficulty. (I think it’s important to point out here that the true top-end raiders, in the biggest and best guilds in the world, who achieve all the world’s first raid completions, never stoop to ranting and raving on forums about accessibility. They just get on with what they’re best at and to my knowledge don’t care what other players might do with content after they’ve conquered it.)

Another point to bear in mind, which has been mentioned on various forum threads I’ve seen recently, is that the fond recollection some old school raiders have about everyone being fantastic players back then (as opposed to how they see players now) is entirely false. I’ve read threads where people are saying that some old school raiders now coming back to the game after a long break just can’t cut it. And I can corroborate this. No slur on some of the people we’ve had in our guild, who were considered pretty hardcore back in the day, but some of them are not necessarily good raiders now. In one case, a couple of years ago, a guildie told me another member, newly returned to the game, who was once part of a well known raiding guild on our server in the early days, had taught him all he knew about tanking in Vanilla. I was astonished by this revelation, because the ‘renowned’ old school player was, at that time, one of the most likely to be killed by the floor, if not something else as preventable. The fights we have nowadays are far more complicated than what the old school were used to, and those who’ve not kept up with the changes by playing consistently through the expansions have to learn how to raid all over again. You only have to compare the original Ragnaros, his abilities, and the amount of phases (one) in that fight to his updated, 5 phase, multiple ability incarnation in Firelands. So perhaps Vanilla raiding wasn’t so much about a greater level of player skill than about the organisational ability to herd 40 people of the right combination of classes, in the right direction, (which admittedly must have been an extremely wearisome task).

However, there are things that some old schoolers say that I agree with. I don’t dispute the epic moments they describe when talking of when people saw certain bosses for the first time. There were some colossal lore figures as bosses in Vanilla and TBC. I don’t disagree when such players suggest it should be more of a challenge for people to get access to raiding, if only by finishing one tier before starting another. I get what they mean entirely when they recall how the availability of a new raid in TBC spurred people on to finish Black Temple, because that was the only way they’d get into the new raid. They went for that little extra push, and I imagine it was a great buzz for them to down Illidan when only a week or so before they might have struggled with him. Incentive is a great motivator. As far as I can see, Blizzard is attempting to bring that back in Mists somewhat, which is a good thing.

I don’t disagree that players should strive hard to get through the raids, rather than find them too easy. What I don’t think is right is when the difficulty is tuned so high only the hardcore elite can complete it while it’s current. At one time in WoW’s history it was the norm that even the best raiding guilds would bang their collective heads against a boss for months on end before beating it. Only extremely dedicated guilds can survive that kind of slog. Most will founder on the rocks of demoralised boredom and burnout if raids are tuned too high. Somewhere, there is an acceptable middle ground, and that’s what I think Blizzard is striving to find – perhaps through trial and error, but striving all the same. Heroic modes are supposed to be for the hardcores who want raiding as hard as it can possibly get.

When some dissenting players can give ‘evidence’ of raiding becoming easier, in that bosses are downed too quickly in an expansion’s life for their taste, they neglect to think of one very important factor: the player base as a whole has become more savvy at raiding since Vanilla and TBC. More players are doing it, having started with Kara and working through everything thereafter. This, I believe, is partly responsible for them eating through content more quickly. They have simply become better players. LFR might still be plagued by stumbling numpties, sociopaths and fools, but I’m talking about the mass of mid-range guilds like ours, and the level of skill we have, and which we have built upon, who aim to complete normal modes of raids while they’re current, and perhaps venture into heroics thereafter if they want, or feel ready for, a greater difficulty. These guilds make up a large amount of the player base, and I imagine that most of them welcome a challenge and don’t want to faceroll the content. But neither do they want raids that are guild breakers.

There are arguments for and against the introduction of LFR, which has opened up raiding to all, (of a sort), and the discussion of which merits a topic of its own. But if anything has removed the mystique from raiding, this is it. However, that aside, you can see the development of the game from different perspectives, and there are arguments, just as compelling as those voiced by the hardcores, illustrating why WoW raiding is far better now than it was. It is all down to perception really; there is no ultimate truth, only viewpoint.