Category: Expansions to games


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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The Mighty Wall of Leveling

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

2. Guild and Player Housing

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

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

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

3. Character Model Overhaul

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

4. Vanilla Pet Model Overhaul

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

5. New Races

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

6. New Classes

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

7. Inventory Space

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

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

7. Gear Customization

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

8. Cross Faction Contact

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

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

9. Resource and Mob Tagging.

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

10. Let PvE Realms be PvE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you saw an advert in your local paper saying ‘free Ferrari to whoever can get to this map reference first’ you’d expect a mass of people descending in that map point and many arguments to ensue.
Rare mounts are the sports cars of WoW. Let’s get that said first.

Secondly, we shall say Zandalari Warbringers.

All the good work Blizzard has done on the Isle of Thunder has been pretty much invalidated by the bloody warfare engendered by the Zandalari Warbringers. For the uninitiated, these difficult elite mobs spawn all around Pandaria all the time, and if you fight and kill them, there is a 1 in a 100 chance of them dropping a much desired sports car, sorry dinosaur mount.

While Blizzard has done a lot of work to lessen player hostility, it somehow forgot all that with the Warbringers. They are not tag to faction. They can only be tagged by one person or group and – huzzah- that tag can easily be stolen. The fact these mobs drop a mount has, as usual, brought out the worst in greedy players.

The horror stories you’ll read on forums are too many to mention, but just a few… Large guilds will place 5 players on each spawn point in every zone of Pandaria. Their warlocks and mages will be spamming AOE spells to guarantee their group gets the tag when the Warbringer spawns. This is wearisome. It’s constant. If you should be lucky enough to get a tag, you will see a lot of other players around you waiting for you to fail. If you don’t have friends along, for most classes these elites are fatal. The minute you fall, after perhaps 20 minutes of hard work, another player, usually with friends, will gleefully hop in and take over your fight.

Because mounts are involved people will not share. It’s amazing how these bunches of pixels can turn people into monsters, but they do. Only the other night, a guild mate and I were at a spawn point and saw a mage struggling badly with a Warbringer. I whispered them to say we’d be happy to help if we could all roll fairly on the mount should it drop. No answer. Not even a ‘no thanks’. Stupidly, I even killed all the wildlife in the area around the elite to make things easier for the mage, as there were grubs and deer all over him. Moments later, guild mates of the mage turned up to aid him and the mob was dead. But not even a thank you or an acknowledgement. I’m absolutely sure if it had been the other way around, that player would not have offered to help us. I also read a thread on a forum where a player spoke to a group of campers, asking to join in, and was told ‘sod off, we all want *all* three colours of the mount and we’re going to get them.’ Sadly they probably will.

All of this stinks highly. If Blizzard is intelligent enough to emulate the GW2 model of anyone involved significantly in a fight to get loot, why not extend this to the Warbringers? While we see community improve 10 fold on the Isle of Thunder, it is still being destroyed by the greed of players over mounts concerning the Warbringers. It really is ridiculously simple. Even the most disgusting player will be turned into part of the community if their reason to be hostile and greedy is removed. I see it every day on the Isle of Thunder. Rather than players shoving others aside or worse, they are calling out map co-ordinates, because other players will only help them, not hinder. I hope Blizzard reads blogs like this and sees what I’m saying. It is the simple truth.

I’m reading a lot this week about guilds who regularly enjoy Normal mode raiding, usually on 10 man, are having a hard time at the moment. Many feel that the hardcores are being catered for and generally being cushioned on their fluffy cloud of separateness and greatness, and the great casual mass at the other extreme of the scale are appeased in the propagation of Looking for Raid, or LFR, which isn’t really raiding at all. Quite frankly, it’s like the WoW National Trust, a guided tour of a raid. All that’s lacking is the NPCs actually calling out the minimal strategies and pointing out features of interest in each boss room. There should probably be some roped-off areas too. But the huge amount of middle-sized guilds, those who are generally the haunt of more mature players, often with demanding jobs and families, (or jobs and demanding families, it varies), are really feeling the squeeze. There are several reasons for this, but I simply feel moved to talk about what I’ve seen because I can only whole-heartedly agree with the sentiments I’m reading from players like me and my guild mates.

Having played WoW for nearly 8 years, and having both tanked and healed in raids during that time, I’ve seen a lot of changes to the game. Not least is that tanking and healing have become much more complicated, which has led to fewer players willing to take on those roles for raiding. Bosses with multiple abilities – as opposed to the two or three of early game bosses – as well as complex movement and other intricate fight mechanics, have all moved raiding up several levels in terms of difficulty. Anyone who says not clearly hasn’t been looking at the game realistically. Difficulty in the days of Vanilla WoW meant being able to herd 40 people together in the right combination of roles. The boss fights themselves were relatively simple in comparison to what we face now.

I know we read a lot from the wannabe hardcores, (significantly not the real ones), complaining about the game being dumbed down and that it is now too easy, but I also read a lot from guilds like ours – sensible, mature players – who have the same difficulties that we have. These are not noobs, or the less socially adept of the LFR jockeys, or any other undesirables; these are often people from long-standing experienced guilds, whose officers have a stressful second job in trying to keep their guilds alive. Blizzard often doesn’t make it easy for this large portion of the player base.
On our medium pop server alone, far too many guilds are lacking healers, and every ‘advert’ you see in Trade is generally recruiting for them. Our guild could really do with another skilled and dedicated healer, but we know the task will be nigh on impossible at the moment, with no foreseeable change to that situation. The healer who stepped up for us, following the departure of our excellent but daily-hating Paladin, is a good, experienced player, but is crippled by bad connection and computer problems, which in effect cripples our team. Runs have had to be cancelled part way through, because we cannot afford to have one of our two healers not performing perfectly, if their machine is acting up or they’re getting dc’d every ten minutes. We do have our patient Boomkin who will swap to Resto if needed, but she’s one of our better DPS, so it’s not ideal. However, no one else in the guild wants to gear up or level up a healer because they don’t fancy the stress of playing one of the healing classes, or don’t have the confidence to try. Mana management is more of a headache than it was in the past. Healers have to cope with enormous amounts of damage in some fights – not least from some of the trash packs in the raids – and I sometimes wonder how on earth our healers cope with it. At the end of runs they are mentally drained and exhausted. Because of all the DPS checks in the current raids, and tight enrage timers, we are more or less forced into running with 2 healers instead of 3. That makes our healers’ jobs so much more demanding. And I know we’re not alone in this situation.

Also, there is sometimes far too much responsibility heaped on tanks or healers for particular encounters, which again makes the roles less attractive. For far too long, we were stuck on Stone Guard in Mogushan Vaults because our second tank had problems with the encounter. Because of this, the team was stalled, which was terrible for morale and caused departures. Neither was it good for our OT, and caused him much distress. It affected his confidence as a tank, because after having off-tanked happily and successfully all through Cata, (and some pretty demanding fights in that too), he now found himself floundering at the first boss of an expansion. A fight should not just hang upon the performance of one player out of a team, but that’s what it felt like to us at the time. In the event, once the DPS had geared up a bit through other means, we used 3 healers for the fight and our OT had that ‘eureka’ moment and started doing the fight smoothly and it was fine. Now we’re back to 2 healers, but it took a while. It seems to me that Blizzard often expects guilds who field 10 man teams to have 10 perfect players on every run. Only the few will have that luxury. For most of us, you’ll have some really good players, some fairly good players and a couple who aren’t so good. You often need to include the ‘aren’t so goods’ simply because of numbers, or runs won’t go ahead at all. Also, in smaller, more social guilds, friendships play a part in who is invited along to raids. You’ll also get people who, for one reason or another, will flounder on a particular encounter and take longer to learn it than others. This isn’t necessarily always the same players either.

The fact that fewer players within guilds are now inclined to change role and class to help a team, coupled with the reality of fewer tanks and healers being available for recruitment outside of guilds, doesn’t leave 10 man raiders in smaller guilds in a good place. I can’t speak for what it must be like for 25 man guilds, but I suspect it can’t be better and might be worse, seeing as they will need more healers than a 10 man team. I simply fear that this situation will push more and more smaller guilds into only being able to tackle LFR rather than Normal mode raiding. It’s easy to get into LFR runs and if you can’t even recruit the required classes for one Normal run, never mind for regular runs, that’s the only option left open to you. I don’t think this is good for the game. Also, for people who really don’t enjoy teaming with strangers who might often be abusive, that’s ruining the raiding side of the game completely for them. They simply won’t go. They are used to raiding with their guilds and that’s what they want to do.

Blizzard has done some great work on making raiding more accessible to its player base and far more guilds raid now than they did in Vanilla or Burning Crusade. But as one door opens, it feels like another is closing, because the ever-increasing complexity of the encounters, presumably designed to satisfy the minority of players who can steam through the content, means that the more demanding roles within a team are difficult to fill.

Heroic modes are supposed to be for players who like their raids as tough as it’s possible for them to get. That type of player should stick to Heroic and not stick their oar in about what players happy with Normal mode are doing. Blizzard should let up slightly on the Normal difficulty, or take the healing and tanking models back a little to what they were. Very few teams indeed are going to have 10 perfect players. Blizzard should give them a break and enable the more skilful players to bring an encounter back from the brink if a mistake is made. Often that’s not possible now. One screw up and it’s a wipe. The fights are easy when executed perfectly, (as we see on the rare nights we get our best players all together) but for that you need 10 players 100% on the ball. And that is the difficult part.
I tanked and healed in Wrath, and enjoyed both immensely, but due to the makeup of the team, and someone else willing to tank, I moved back to playing my Hunter in raids. Although I did a little tanking on my warrior in Cata, it wasn’t a great deal, and only for an alt run. When I look at some of what the tanks have to do now, I have little inclination to try to take it on again. Not because I’m lazy, but because I don’t want to be in the position of relearning such a role when people are relying on me and my inexperience might cause wipes. Now, if you have a break from a responsible role in a team, things have changed so much it’s far more difficult to get back into it, and even if you do, chances are the team would be frustrated by waiting for players new to the role to learn the fights again from a healing or tanking perspective. Again, morale would plummet and departures might ensue.

I know some players will throw up their arms and scream at my words here, but if they do, they are in the privileged minority. I’d rather see Normal mode be normal than more guilds forced only to do LFR, which frankly is just ‘mock raiding’. I also think that part of the problem is that the meta achievements for raids are attached to Heroic, meaning that a larger part of the player base, for whom titles, mounts and achievements are one of the great attractions of the game, are trying to play above their competency. I believe it would be better for Normal and Heroic modes to have separate metas, so that the Normal one doesn’t include Heroic kills. As it stands, players complain they haven’t finished a Heroic mode before new content is released, when really if they were of the skill to do it, they would have done so by that point, and prior to any nerfing. I see this point made time and again when the subject is discussed on forums. The complaints are largely from the ‘wannabe hardcores’. Those who are the truly best-skilled will be done and dusted with Heroic modes by the time the next tier is released.

I will never be a Heroic level player, but I do count myself as a good Normal mode player. I suppose I am an example of the average player who takes raiding seriously but who does not eat, sleep and breathe it. I do all that I can to prepare, keep abreast of changes to my class, and read up on boss fights. Our guild has two runs a week of three hours each (if we’re lucky). With that schedule we will never be hardcore and any Heroic modes we attempt will be a lot further down the line when the content has become trivial. Then we can go back for metas and mounts. I’m just saddened as I fear raiding is being eaten away, until all that will be left is content for the hardcore and everyone else will be bulldozed into LFR. It’s not like our raid team is incapable of Normal mode content, it’s that personnel problems cause lots of headaches and obstacles. I also suspect that many people who might previously had been available healers and tanks might now simply find it easier to drift into LFR and see the content that way, thus furthering the dilemma of people who really want to raid properly, not do a kindergarten version of it. I wish Normal mode was a tad more forgiving for tanks and healers so there are more of them about to tackle the proper content. Do we really want challenging and exciting raiding to dissolve completely into LFR? Given what I’m reading on the forums, especially about the rise of the ‘vocal LFR hero’, and their moans about the gating of the 5.2 raid, I’m afraid that Normal, and who knows perhaps even Heroic, is under threat of extinction. And I’m sure I can’t be the only smaller guild raider thinking that.

We’ve been promised in the new Throne of Thunder raid something other than the punishing DPS checks of MV, HoF and ToES, with the fights being more about careful and skilful execution, but because we’re so behind with our raiding it will be some time before any of our guild can even get in there in anything but… you guessed it… LFR difficulty. I don’t wish to deny any player access to content, and I think Blizzard’s idea of LFR was great in principle, but what is happening is that many players are tempted by the easiness of the raid and are less inclined to commit to Normal raiding with their guilds. If LFR shared a lockout with 10 and 25 man, those in guilds would perhaps be more inclined to make the effort to raid with their guilds and keep LFR for their alts. I’m not speaking about our guild so much, because no one in the team would ever choose LFR over our Normal runs, but I’ve read in other places that guild and raid leaders are facing an ever increasing leak of players who are tired of the constant wipe fests while learning new bosses on Normal.

Perhaps things are easier now since the nerf the other week. Due to real life commitments from several key members of our team we’ve only managed one clear of MV since the nerf happened and have had no other runs at all, not even to old content for achievements. I hope this week we can move on to pastures new, beyond the first boss of HoF, even though we’re still missing someone really important who’s working away till the weekend.

I’m really happy with much of what Blizzard is doing to the game, and it’s improved in so many areas. But I do think the raiding issue is a thorny one that needs to be addressed. There must be solutions to it so that the more challenging modes do not dissolve into the sluice of LFR.

Rift’s new expansion, Storm Legion, was heralded wherever it was possible to herald. Lots of new features were trumpeted and I must confess I was taken in. I bought the new expansion, and at first, exploring harmless things like player housing and the soul tree revamps, all was good.

My Defiant Ranger’s action bars are now clean and mean, and there is less of the bewildering host of skills that had blighted his bars before. Advice is given from the start on how to distribute points and how best to use skills. This is great for a more casual player.  I’ve played Rift since pre-release, when I was introduced to it because I was reviewing it for a webzine, and liked it so much I stayed. But I’ve only played casually on it, since WoW is where I raid, and do all the serious stuff, and I don’t have time to play more than one game at that level. Even so, I’ve enjoyed all the hours I’ve spent in Telara, up until some of my characters hit top level (50 then) and there wasn’t anything interesting for them to do. The idea of a new expansion was great – more content to work through that I could mostly do solo or with public groups.

I can only compare Storm Legion (as an expansion to a major MMO) to Mists of Pandaria. I’m not a blinkered WoW fangirl. I’m quick to complain when I don’t think Blizzard get things right (or make things worse), and perhaps I am sometimes more of a critic than is fair. But Storm Legion to me, in comparison to MoP, is a huge disappointment. It started off well, with a couple of introductory quests in the new zones. I can’t remember how I got there, since later I discovered breadcrumb quests designed to lead a player there, but because I went through a porticulum I found in Ironpines, these quests now don’t work for my main character. So first downside, intro to the new content isn’t that great or that much of a fanfare. We get this new NPC, some queen of something, but frankly I don’t care about her; her goal and schemes haven’t grabbed or interested me at all; she’s just a typical female fantasy NPC in a needlessly skimpy outfit in what appears to be a fairly cold climate. In comparison to what we got in Mists in WoW, this is rather an anti climax, to put it mildly – well except for the boys who are rather turned on by the new queen in the minimal bikini! That aside, the paucity can’t be down simply to money or resources on behalf of the developers, but also creativity, flare and care.

The new landscape I’ve seen in Rift so far is unspectacular and the one Defiants start in is also kind of bleak. The quests don’t involve me in an expanding drama; it’s just down to ‘kill so many of these and these’. Plus, at level 50 with only quest reward gear from previous content, my Ranger is like a wet tissue. His pet is almost dead after two hits from a regular mob. If I get more than one mob on me at once, it’s most likely a case of ‘hello, graveyard’.  I’ve been playing MMOs for eight years or so, and other kinds of RPG and RTS solo games for far longer than that; I’m not a total noob and have got characters to 50 in Rift before this. I just don’t have the time to raid on Rift or to risk dungeons with PUGs (WoW’s community has irreparably scarred me for that), so my gear is hardly the MMO equivalent of designer label, but surely it’s better for all types of player to enjoy as much of a game as is possible for their play time and style? It’s not the difficulty of the mob fights that annoy me in Rift, but simply that I don’t have the gear to survive them easily. OK this is an MMO that’s set itself up to pleasure raiders, the hardcore players, and that’s maybe why its cities are so empty nowadays. We know hardcore players are the minority in the world of MMO gaming. Rift is trying to compete with WoW, by the look of it, but we all know how well pandering to the hardcore went down in WoW. Basically, it lost the game a lot of customers, more customers than most games would consider themselves lucky to have in the first place. If Rift *also* (please note the also), catered for a more casual market, we might not see Free to Play staring us in the face in the not too distant future, which I feel is a distinct possibility, given what appears to be the size of the community. Only a week or so after release of the xpac, the first new zone was empty when I visited it, but perhaps the players are all hidden in raids. As it stands a casual player is going to say ‘oh fuck it’ after dying multiple times on the first quests of the xpac, beneath that dull, lowering sky. They’ll just go back to WoW or other MMOs.

When we started in Jade Forest in WoW, the first quests could be tricky. It got a lot easier 10 or 12 quests in, but even so, it was colourful, story-filled and – most importantly – doable in average gear.  There were even vendors to help players kit themselves out to have more survivability in the new areas, if they lacked it. Storm Legion just feels like a bland blanket of over-tuned mobs, and gods help you if more than one gets to you, unless you’ve been playing Rift since release and are equipped with raid gear. It’s not fun, it’s not even beautiful. Rift excelled in zones such as Gloamwood in the initial release. I’d never seen such a gorgeously executed MMO zone. OK, all I’ve seen of Storm Legion is the first zone, but it’s dull. Just a few treeless hills and some rocks, that’s it.

As a friend said to me as I was moaning about how I’d wasted my money on Storm Legion, that Rift is, and always has been, not that friendly to the casual player. It’s a shame, as there is a lot about the world of Telara I love, and as the sub fees are so reasonably priced (only about £5 a month if you take out the annual sub package), it’s not that expensive to keep up. But if I can’t play the new content, or have to graveyard crawl my way forward slowly in the hope of getting enough quest reward gear to survive better, that’s not going to be a lot of fun. I don’t expect to raid in Rift, but do at least expect, seeing as I bought the game and pay the sub, to be able to do the basic PvE content without too much annoyance or pain, especially when starting off in a new expansion.

No game can get it right for everyone. For those who like their questing tough and challenging, Rift will be perfect, and these are no doubt the kind of players who are part of that world already.  They would inevitably pour scorn on everything I’ve said here. For me, gaming should be fun, and perhaps in that respect I’m a bit lazier than others. When I log on, I feel questing shouldn’t be a constant wipe-fest; save that for raiding.

My sub for Rift runs out in January, and I’m still undecided whether to renew it or not. But ultimately, is it worth paying £5 a month simply to level alts below 50, or hope for some kind of nerf to content if the game does go free to play at some point? I hate to turn my back on virtual worlds where I’ve spent many enjoyable hours, but with games such as GW2 offering such a vastly more pleasurable time, I have even less inclination to visit Telara now. Perhaps this world is where all those disgruntled hardcores ended up, who wept and lamented so vigorously about WoW ‘dumbing down’ and cancelled their subs. If so, I have no reason to be there, since a game catering to that kind of player isn’t going to be my kind of game. Perhaps I just have to accept that, and close the doors on Telara. Part of me will still feel sad and a bit reluctant, though.