Category: Expansions to WoW


(*A 17th Century term for altering the direction of a ship – seems pertinent.)

Despite its faults, I’m really enjoying Battle for Azeroth. As a storyteller myself, I appreciate how the game has gradually changed over the years into what feels like taking part in a movie or a novel. The story is a driving force. While this could be said – to a degree – of former expansions, it wasn’t so obvious, since most of the action and drama took place inside the large raids that few players got to see back then. But now, even my friends who’re not that interested in lore like the way the story’s currently presented.

But… There are problems with the game, not least the rather stumbling iteration of gear progress this time round. I have to be honest and say I can live with that, (albeit with a sigh and a frown at the ineptitude of the development team), as to me gear is only a means to an end, and if our guild can complete the end game content with the gear we have, fab. I don’t lust after ever higher ilevels, nor enjoy the prospect of having to sim my gear continually (urgh the tedium). To me, the most efficient and least awkward way of maintaining your character’s effectiveness is to be aware of which secondary stats are good for their spec and why. Also, we should be able to tell easily from the dungeon guide where the ‘best in slot’ pieces drop for us and aim for them. Surely it shouldn’t have to be more complicated than that? I resent having to look outside of the game for information about my gear, (which for Azerite armour appears essential). If I can do my job effectively in a team, that’s good enough for me. Our guild habitually finishes Normal mode in raids and then ventures into Heroic, not always finishing it before the next raid comes out. We’re not hardcore by any means, and I suspect the majority of guilds are similar to us, with a range of player ability and skill. We take part in a wide range of WoW activities, more than enough to fill my limited play time. However, outside of mythic raiding and the high level Mythic + dungeons, I reckon the gear as it stands is good enough for anyone. It’s not right, and in some cases is frustrating to acquire, but it works, and teams can still kill bosses. That said, I do understand the anger and frustration the vocal players are expressing on MMO Champion and such like. For them, gear is all.

Other mishaps that have occurred (to put it lightly) such as the mismanaged class balancing, the pruning of talents and skills, the fact some characters fare far better than others in solo content, and the frankly horrible changes to the GCD, really need seeing to. I have no idea how things got in such a mess, but you’d imagine the development team is savvy enough to fix it. Shouldn’t have happened in the first place. What on earth were they thinking? Certainly not thinking things through sufficiently, such as the detrimental effect that removing legendaries and artefact weapons would have on characters during levelling.

But, there are many good things about the way WoW is changing. The world of Azeroth looks great, the dungeons and raids are fun, the new voice acting from established actors, including from well-known shows such as Game of Thrones, is very professional and perfect for the story, plus the questing and storylines have been enjoyable, atmospheric and on theme. For those who like collecting, there’s plenty to collect. There are more activities to take part in at end game. And we’re only a few months into the expansion, so there will be much more to come. But I have been aware of niggles, things that have made me slightly discontent, or else had me pondering what improvements could still be made, outside of the obvious ones to do with gear and classes. I’ll leave the dissection of that for those who are adept with the number-crunching aspect of WoW; its more competitive side. I’m going to look at the aspect of pure entertainment. I know my views won’t be shared by everyone, and I don’t expect all to agree with me. These are just some ideas I’ve been pondering.

I do think WoW is in a strange position at the moment. It’s an old game, and a large proportion of its player base, those loyal subscribers who’ve stuck with it since Classic, are also older. Looked down upon as ‘casuals’ by whatever demographic still plays relentlessly 24/7, some of these players must now have responsibilities and interests outside the game, not least young families that they might not have had at the start of their adventures in Azeroth. Yet they still want to play, albeit in a pared-down manner. I too have less time than I did to tinker about on WoW, because my publishing company has got busier No more staying up till 4 a.m. because I just have to get a particular alt to a certain level before bed.

Older players, who were once hardcore raiders, often now want a more laidback approach to the game, and fewer hours spent bashing theirs heads against raid bosses. They still enjoy raiding, progressing through Normal to Heroic, but they don’t want a frenetic pace, frayed tempers, dramas or burn out. I know because we have such people in our own team who were once in dedicated raiding guilds but who don’t want that pressure any more. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the higher end of raiding is on a downward slide in general, as more and more people feel the same way about it. WoW is predominantly a game for grownups now – It’s quite worrying that the excuse we used to make for badly-behaved idiots was ‘they’re kids’. Sadly, I don’t think that excuse is quite so accurate nowadays. But anyway…

Subs are said to be sliding too, and this could be because the more hardcore type of player is stomping off or sighing dismally, or whatever it is they do before cancelling their sub. Perhaps one of the truths Blizzard has to face up to is that the modern WoW player is different to what they were back when the game was launched. And… here I almost wince as I type it… most players probably want less group content not more. In fact, if I dare go so far, I think the majority of players would cheer from the rigging if Blizzard took that tack and steered the ship into waters where a solo player could do more in the game, the type of player who might have a few friends they can team with now and again, but who often finds themselves online alone. I see time and again on forum threads people bemoaning the fact their friends have left the game, they’ve got no one they know to team with, don’t feel they have enough time to commit to a guild, so are forced into the murky swamps of Pugland, simply because Blizzard designs the game to include a lot of group content.

I play both Alliance and Horde, with my main focus being on Alliance, but even on that faction I often have to pug my way through story progress, because guild mates have already done it on their main, aren’t interested in progressing alts through it, or are concentrating purely on Mythic Plus dungeons and don’t want to waste their limited playing time doing story stuff. As for Horde, I have to pug or nothing. There’s rarely more than two people online in our Horde guild. I hate pugging and have to steel myself to do it, as does just about everyone else I know in WoW. I don’t think progressing through the story should ever involve group content. Like professions, it should be a solo activity. The only exception to this is perhaps the plots that unfold inside raids. If you’re not in a regular raid team, it’s fairly easy to keep your head down in LFR and not attract the attention of idiots, so to me it’s acceptable that raids provide a bigger stage for the bigger stories.

The new communities feature has helped with team activities for our guild. We’ve joined forces this expansion with two other guilds comprised of great people, one guild on our own realm, another somewhere else. This has been a lifesaver in terms of raiding, and it’s been wonderful (if not a relief) to start making new friends in the game. But I don’t think this is enough. Each guild has their own activities outside of raiding and, as yet, we’re not teaming up for any other kind of content.

Blizzard has to face the grim reality that pugging can be a dire experience, and mature players don’t necessarily want ‘enforced teaming’ thrust upon them. Sometimes, it’s as if the developers imagine we’re all like happy little children, dancing around holding hands as we complete dungeons together in perfect harmony. As we ALL know, the truth is very different. It would be really liberating if Blizzard could let us have the choice about group content. We know scaling technology exists, and surely that can be utilised further, so that more content is soloable, or playable for small teams of two or three players. Even dungeons. It’s been done in other MMOs and I’ve really enjoyed sampling that kind of content when I’ve played through it. I’d love to be able to tackle achievements in the current expansion rather than have to wait until I can steamroll through them at a higher level in the next expansion. The dungeons don’t have to be made easier, simply scaled to single player, rather like the earlier challenge modes or mage tower, but not quite so challenging – even solo dungeons could have a mythic+ mode for those who like a harder experience. This would inevitably interfere with the enshrined idea of the ‘holy trinity’ of tank, healer and 3 dps, but we have to deal with that already in island expeditions that are for a team of 3. Tanks are a great help there, but healers aren’t essential, more DPS being preferable for an effective run. All the solo scenarios we already do require us to survive by ourselves. For those who have plenty of people to team with, or are happy to pug, the 5 person version of the dungeons would still be there.

As far as trying to complete dungeon and raid achievements, I admit I could make the effort to try and recruit other like-minded players in the group finder, but then I won’t know the other people, making it more complicated to coordinate them efficiently to succeed at the achievements, preferably using voice chat, and if that’s not possible try to organise the team through typed text etc. It all seems rather a tiresome, time-consuming headache, before I even get started. I’d just rather do it with friends or alone, on the spur of the moment with no fuss. I think this is a dream of many players.

During levelling, needing a group to complete quests along the way is often annoying and time consuming, when you just want to be getting on with the job. Are group quests really appropriate for working towards max level? I see their point and relevance in end game content, but not before. For the more difficult quests, perhaps quest text could signal that a group would be helpful, but shouldn’t a skilled player be able to solo tackle all the ‘group quests’ as they level, regardless of class? This time around, the situation’s been worsened by the fact our characters get progressively weaker as they quest towards 120 and all mobs continue to scale with us as they did in Legion. So, instead of being able to go back to those group quests a bit later on, we’ll pretty much always need a group, or at least one other person, unless our character happens to be one of the privileged classes who can cheerfully do things by themselves because they have the toolkit to do it. (Paladins are a prime example of this. I’m currently taking mine to 120, and it feels like levelling a character in an earlier expansion. She’s unconcerned with mob strength or numbers because of the tools she has at her disposal to ensure her survival until all enemies are dead. Even surprise ambushes by opportunistic mob patrols converging en masse are unlikely to kill her. But I wouldn’t fancy my mage’s chances faced with the same situation – other than by running away!) I imagine few players will want to go back and do group quests once they do outgear them, because they’ll be irrelevant by then. It’s surely preferable to do them as they’re current in our levelling. This also applies to dungeons being required as part of vital campaigns within the game. On the character you level first, it might be easy to find guild mates or other friends to do them with you. Not so on your fifth alt and beyond. Dungeons with a pug can be… an interesting experience. Occasionally, it’s good, but you tend to remember the worst examples of teams you’ve been herded into.

For players who get stalled on group content during one of the few evenings a week they can play, the game might lose its shine, and possibly lose those players completely. If certain aspects were more solo friendly, perhaps a lot of disaffected former players might be tempted to return, because they could play at their own pace unimpeded. And there will be more for them to do. The solo pet battle dungeons are a great idea – that could be extended to dungeons in general, couldn’t it? And island expeditions? And war fronts even? I would say raids, but perhaps some things should remain sacred as an activity for teams, and remain entirely group focused until a later expansion, when people can pile in and steam through them solo if they want to. However, I must confess the idea of raid scaling for smaller teams of 5 holds great allure! I realise this is probably impossible because of balancing issues.

I imagine that some people reading this will be saying to themselves, ‘she’s off her head, this is an MMO – multi player – we’re supposed to group’. I’ve heard this refrain many many times. But the fact is, you can be part of a dynamic, thriving online world, teaming with others when you like, and interacting with them in other ways, but still spend time alone in it. If we compare it with real life, you might live in a town full of people, yet you don’t group with them to go shopping, or visit the dentist, or form a team to do the housework. You get together to socialise and take part in specific activities when it’s appropriate and desirable. No one (well few) would want to live in an empty ghost town, but neither would they want to do everything with other people. It’s good to feel part of a community but do our own thing within it. Sometimes it’s cool to go shopping with a friend, but it’d be an almighty pain if you couldn’t go shopping without one. I know that other players feel the same, because I’ve talked about it with them. That doesn’t represent everyone, obviously, but a range of people.

Another thing that could be addressed is how to keep players online – providing an experience so they want to log on every day or at least as often as their real-life permits. That is not the same as feeling you have to log on every day to do stuff that doesn’t exactly set your heart racing with excitement. At the moment, Blizzard’s main weapon in this battle is shoving a lot of rewards behind RNG so that people have to grind endlessly with no guarantee they’ll even get what they’re grinding for eventually. (The mounts from the Paragon caches in Legion being a prime example – I’m still working on them in BfA.) Quest chains to acquire cosmetic items are a great idea, if they don’t involve RNG. For example, I’ve already spent too many hours trying to get the pterosaur egg that will enable me to start a long quest chain on Horde to acquire a mount. Unfortunately, the egg to start the chain won’t drop from the appropriate mobs. If the egg were a tad easier to acquire, so I had a starting point, from which I then had to log on every day to do tasks to make it hatch, I’d be online to do so, even if it took quite some time. Making people grind mind-numbingly isn’t the only way to keep them online. I’d happily do any amount of quests and so on if I knew the reward was 100% at the end, and so would many others – instead of thinking, ‘why the hell have I just wasted two hours or more mindlessly killing mobs for nothing, when I could’ve been doing something productive? Sod it, I can’t be bothered, life’s too short…’ and abandoning the endeavour completely. Blizzard at present dangles the carrots, but for many the carrots are never reached. So the idea of carrots becomes horrible and players are no longer tempted by them. I cannot understand why luck should be such a huge factor in the game, because some people simply don’t have it. Some RNG is essential, perhaps, but not to a punishing degree.
Blizzard does implement non-RNG content effectively sometimes, with quest lines like the ones for Ba’al the demonic goat pet. They’ve included activities like these for a while now and they’re – mostly – fun. The Lucid Nightmare chain from Legion wasn’t that great, because some of it was well, ridiculously difficult and/or irritating, but the tasks to unlock Kosumoth the Hungerer as a weekly quest were fine. This kind of content appears to be popular. At the moment it’s aimed towards collectors – mounts, pets, toys – but perhaps it could also extend to gear, say a desired weapon or piece of armour – much like the original legendary quest lines in earlier expansions, but easier to acquire than those legendaries in that you attain them in a different way that doesn’t involve RNG, although perhaps a lot of time investment or other game activities (professions?). By this I mean, regular engaging content that has a beginning, a middle and an end, much like a good story.

Another thing that seems somewhat nonsensical to me is the continuing faction divide. If the common forum threads on the topic are anything to go by, it appears that the majority simply don’t care about it anymore. Some people, I know, are still invested in the war of Warcraft and think the heart of the game would be destroyed if the faction divide should go, but it has more or less gone already, but for the artificial resuscitation it’s received via the story in Battle for Azeroth. In every expansion, Horde and Alliance have ended up working together to defeat a common foe and save the world. I’m fully prepared for a moment later in this expansion when the factions resolve their differences again and focus on what really needs to be done. Does any other outcome seem at all likely? (Please prove me wrong with great plotting, Blizzard, but I won’t be holding my breath.) The faction divide could still exist as a kind of ‘cold war’, and that could provide many interesting stories. Neither would such a change have to affect the PvP aspect of the game, because battlegrounds and arenas could remain as they are, (regarded as a kind of gladiatorial combat), nor world PvP for those who want it. Think what a relief it could be if Blizzard allowed players of different factions to communicate and team together, and perhaps even go so far as to join the same guilds (as in Rift). The friends that many players have who are part of the opposite faction would be able to play with them. At present, the faction divide halves the amount of players available to each side, in what seems to be a diminishing player base. Doing away with it to some degree would double (roughly) the amount of potential team-mates. There could be limits, such as not being able to visit the other faction’s cities, but I’ve even seen some players suggest that earning rep with an opposing city so you could actually set foot in it would be another game activity for people. There’s a lot that could be done, post faction divide, that would provide content, not cull it.

One thing I’m firmly against is WoW going free-to-play. In the MMOs I’ve played where this has taken place, I’ve seen nothing good come of it. In fact, those games end up being far more expensive to play than simply paying a sub, because if you want to get the best of the game, so much has to be purchased from the store. I’ve no doubt WoW would go the same way if it went free-to-play. That business model is a cold-hearted, greedy game killer that simply encourages gambling with loot bags etc. I hope Blizzard do everything they can to prevent this eventuality for WoW – and part of that might well include listening to the best ideas from players, ideas that a large part of the player base would welcome and enjoy. I really think expanding solo content dramatically, reducing RNG and bringing in some ‘crowd pleaser’ features that players have asked for repeatedly could provide a boost for the game. And it goes without saying, (although I have less hope of this happening), that class balance, talents and skills could be addressed with a surgeon’s precise hand and expertise rather than hacked at with a butcher’s cleaver, not caring if the best bits of the meat fall off with the fat and gristle.

If you got a group of WoW players together (sensible ones, not whiners, haters or hotheads), and asked them all to come up with an activity to keep them online that wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility, you’d get dozens of cool ideas. Instead, it seems that Blizzard has an edgy relationship with its customers. Sometimes, like a warped parent, it showers us with gifts, such as the fan-pleasing elements of Legion, yet other times it’s almost as if they delight in being cruel, denying what players want, making us struggle – and sometimes making quality of life and classes worse. It comes across as if they enjoy taking things away from people just as much, if not more, than giving them things. This seems at best a peculiar relationship. For example, why won’t they bring in player housing, something that’s been asked for persistently? Wildstar’s rendition of it is universally praised, and that was an MMO that took itself quite seriously in its appeal to a more hardcore type of player (perhaps too seriously since it’s no longer going – we can only conclude the hardcore are a minority). This idea could go even further, such as the guild housing found in Runes of Magic, a free to play game. While suffering from the downsides of other ftp MMOs, in that it’s very expensive to play, the guild housing is amazing. Castles to be built up over time, players contributing resources to add features and conveniences, plus the ever-expanding visual aspect of the guild hall. The original Guild Wars had amazing guild halls, all intricately themed and beautifully rendered. I would imagine a large amount of WoW players would love this feature.

A large proportion of modern players lack the time or dedication to play an MMO like they used to be played over a decade ago, and surely it could only benefit Blizzard to go with the tide. Adding features like player housing to the game, with built-in longevity, plus more solo content, and less RNG could make it far more appealing. If such changes came to pass, we might even be able to ‘recruit a friend’ again. (That pool dried up years ago for me.) As it stands, all that potential new players see is a wall of levelling in front of them, too much catch-up, too much group content, and too much focus on progressively more challenging end game. It’s fine to have all those things – and they are part of what make a great MMO – but emphasising them exclusively does nothing to appeal to a wider audience. People I’ve spoken to, who I know would love WoW if they tried it, always say the same thing: ‘there’d be so much catch-up it’s too daunting to start’. And there is – if players aim only at cutting-edge content at the current highest level. The hardcore players (or more accurately perhaps, the wannabe hardcore) complain that WoW has been dumbed down and made too accessible for their taste. Their desired content is valid, but is it the prime interest of the majority? I love WoW and I don’t want to see the game sink further into decline as its players drift away. There are things that could be done not only to retain players but to attract new ones, which frankly I don’t see happening at all at the moment. One character boost does not a new fan make.

After mulling over all these ideas, plus others (too many to list in this article) that other players have come up with, I can’t help thinking that giving WoW some of the benefits of a solo RPG, but within an MMO environment would be a good direction for it to head towards.

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(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.

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!

In my last post I talked about how we’d lost some people from the guild recently and how dailies were the salient reason behind some of those departures. Now another guildie (and raider) has confessed he feels the same, that he just can’t face the grind of dailies, and that for him the experience of random groups in dungeons and LFR aren’t salutary, so he doesn’t want to stomach those to get his precious Valor Points capped every week. So we have another person taking a break, hoping to find his enthusiasm again if he puts a bit of distance between himself and the game.

This post, while unapologetically lengthy, isn’t simply a QQ moan. I’m genuinely concerned about the game I love, and I hope Blizzard is aware of certain problems abounding at the moment. I’ll be surprised if they’re not. I know that in some ways what follows here might seem a contradiction of what I said a few posts ago about adapting, adopting and surviving, but recent events have just got me thinking.

On Friday night, I was chatting with another guild leader I’ve known for a few years, while we waited for a Galleon fight to start. He told me he’d suffered a lot of departures from his guild, and I know that for a time his had been a very large guild, if not one of the biggest on our realm. Like our guild had some time ago, he’d seen some of his raiders hive off impatiently, because they wanted to be more ‘hardcore’ – and to form a guild for that purpose. I wonder, in the face of how things currently are in the game, how long that new guild will last. From what I’ve seen of others founded on the same notion, their survival rate isn’t high, because there is little sense of guild loyalty, and perhaps not much of friendship. Hungry raid guilds, put together in haste, often implode, and quite quickly.

But that aside, my GL friend has also found that the majority of people who are still with his guild just want to be casual or social players, and their raiding itch is scratched by LFR. He can’t field a 10 or 25 man team any more for Normal raiding, so he too is making use of LFR. All the friends with whom he’d formed his guild have left the game. He said to me, in bewilderment, (and even in typed conversation I could ‘hear’ that sentiment), ‘why is this happening? Why are people going?’ I told him that I think, (and I might or might not be right), it isn’t so much the entire player base is bleeding away, but rather that the game is changing. Guilds, I’m sad to say, aren’t as vital as they used to be for people to get the most out of the game. Normal raiding (never mind Heroic) isn’t as vital either. Some of us still like more of a challenge, but many prefer a less stressful mode of raiding. Perhaps the drama you get in guilds associated with Normal (or Heroic) raiding has also contributed to people choosing not to involve themselves in it. People can now dip into LFR and see all the end game content, and get nice rewards. They don’t have to plan ahead. They don’t have to turn up at exact times for so many hours. If they need to leave for any reason, they can just quit the raid. They won’t be letting anyone down, because others are ready in the queue to step in. They don’t end up stuck on progress bosses for weeks, when tempers and patience fray, and friendships are stretched by the tension. They don’t even have to talk to the people they team with. I don’t blame them for it really. I see why it’s an attractive alternative, especially for people with limited time to play and prepare. But that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with the overall implications for the game. Neither are others, and that’s one of the reasons why they are either taking breaks or quitting for other games. I suspect the more casual players are pretty happy with the way things are; they have more freedom and choices than they’ve ever had. And the reality is that there are far more casual players than any other kind.

I was saddened to hear the things my friend told me, but on the other hand slightly relieved, because even though I read about others guilds’ trials and tribulations on forums, when you hear it from someone you know, it somehow makes it more real, and you realise you’re not alone with these dilemmas.

It seems to me that Blizzard is experimenting with MoP, either with an eye towards their next game, or else future expansions of WoW. Theirs has been a juggling act for the past few years, trying to satisfy their wide and disparate player base, where you have extremes of player competence, commitment, and preferences. With around 10 million customers, all with different expectations and requirements from a virtual world, it’s impossible for Blizzard to please everybody. As a company, they have no choice but to do what they must to be successful, to survive. No business would think any other way. And that must mean pleasing the majority of customers. But I don’t think Blizzard deserves to be demonised, as some players seem inclined to do to them. I believe they want to try and please as many people as possible, and to do that, they have to try different things out. I think this has led Mists of Pandaria to be the best of WoW expansions, but in some ways one of the worst as well. I can’t remember players being driven off to this extent before, relatively early in an expansion’s life. MoP has got more things for players to do in it than any previous expansion. And it’s not even a year old.

And to me this is the most important thing. People are fed up after only 7 months or so. They are having breaks or leaving. As far as I can recall, even in Cata people weren’t feeling this way only 7 months into the expansion.

It goes without saying the reputation grinds and the dailies to earn Valor Points are one of the major reasons players are losing interest. I’m probably one of the few people who isn’t hugely bothered about these aspects of the game, mainly because I have an army of alts and I was quite organised on my main character to make things easier for them later on. I dip into rep grinds when I feel the urge, and leave it for weeks now, if that urge doesn’t come. I also enjoy parts of the game some of our guild raiders don’t like particularly, such as the pet battles, and hunting for rare mounts and pets. I’m happy to do things like slaughter dinosaurs on the Isle of Giants to gather bones to buy a raptor mount, while other guildies would just be bored to death with that, and don’t have the same interests (some might say obsessions) as me. WoW, to me, is my respite after working for the day. I’m quite happy just to potter about if something more challenging isn’t going on.

However, I do think Blizzard could have made the dailies less of a chore for people. We know the gating of certain factions, and patterns and recipes for professions, never mind epic gear, being locked away behind those factions, was a cause of major frustration for an awful lot of players. Blizzard themselves have admitted the dailies could have been organised better. When the Isle of Thunder dailies came out, I really enjoyed them. A lot of them were fun rather than boring; they were certainly more entertaining than the previous slew of dailies we’d had. But… As the Isle has opened up while the storyline progresses, the dailies have become harder. Now, they involve elite mini-bosses to kill, and they are very difficult for some classes to do alone, so you have to hope other players are around when you’re doing them. If players are required (or encouraged) to do these endless repetitive tasks, at least let them be painless and fun… like the first Island quests were. The fact that the dailies now involve some quite punishing mobs to kill means it’s difficult to take newly-minted 90s over to the island in starter 90 gear. And even now, with the Island being relatively new, you can’t guarantee others will need to fight the mobs you want, so you either have to hang around waiting, hoping someone else will turn up, or hope another guildie wants to do their dailies at the same time of day you do. If, in fact, you can find a guildie still prepared to do them. The Island dailies came too late to prevent some of our players leaving the game, and even though the new content seemed at first like a great rescue act, now it too has become rather an onerous slog. It’s a pity newly-90 alts can’t confine themselves to doing the less difficult quests we started off with over there. But now, everyone is steered towards the harder section, whether they’re geared for it or not. Many people I know in the game now just won’t do those quests on their mains. And of course they have no desire whatsoever to do them on their lesser-geared alts.

So that’s one reason why people are becoming disenchanted.

For raiders, I believe the other main reason is the difficulty of the Normal raids. I can’t speak for Heroic raiders; perhaps they are happy with the way things or, if they are dissatisfied, it’s because they always want things to be even more difficult than they are. But for a lot of Normal raiding guilds, they have run into progression walls, amplified by the fact they’ve lost raiders because of the dailies problem. If we’d been able to take our best team to every run, we’d have been fine. But as it stands, some of our best raiders are now gone, and those who remain are constrained by family and work commitments to a large degree. It often feels like we’re banging our heads against a wall. If other guilds are in the same position, and I know a lot of them are, is it any wonder some just give up or resign themselves to LFR? If we lose a few more people, we won’t be able to raid either. Quite honestly, we struggle to get a 5 man dungeon group going some nights, and not because there are too few people online. Guildies just don’t seem that keen on doing them anymore. We get Valor Points to buy better gear for our characters, but when we’re stuck in the middle of Heart of Fear, hampered only by the fact we can’t get 10 good players together for a run, there’s little incentive to improve that gear.

I’ve not seen the game in this state all the time I’ve been playing. It’s my virtual other home, and I love its landscapes and peoples, its histories and its lore. It has inspired me, and even comforted me when real life has been hard. Therefore, I’m worried about the way things are going. I want to rise up and meet the challenge, if such a challenge exists, as I’ve said in a previous post, but the population leakage over the past month has been quite noticeable. It seems to me that all it would take to fix things is some quite tiny tweaks. Some aspects of the Isle of Thunder revolutionised the concept of the daily grind, but then it became the same old grind again. I see the idea behind making the quests progressively more difficult, and if they had comprised a one off quest line, that would have worked admirably, as in the excellent solo scenarios on the island, but they are not good as daily quests. No one really wants to do tons of dailies, so if we have to, to gain access to other things we do want, why continue to make them such a chore?

It’s occurred to me as I’ve been editing this post that I’ve done more moaning about WoW recently than praising, but that really is because I think Azeroth is a wonderful creation and I care about it. I care about my characters, because I’ve had these virtual friends for eight years or so. I’ve seen them grow and evolve. I care about my guild and my friends, and I don’t want to see more of them go, these people I’ve seen every week for years. I know for many of them the friendships they’ve made in the game are now probably more important than the game itself, so it says a lot when they feel they can’t play anymore, that they’re only turning up online to chat to people, which they might as well just do on Facebook or similar. That, to me, is not only sad but scary. It’s like the Old Guard of WoW is being forced out; a different, utterly casual, generation of players is taking over. These players might not be guilded, and might not care about committing to progression in the game; both of these being aspects that were once the backbone of WoW, if not every MMO out there.

Times are changing, and while I appreciate that this has to happen in order for the game not only to survive but move on, I don’t think it should be at the expense of losing all the players who sustained the game and enabled its growth. But then, we don’t know what Blizzard might yet have up its sleeve, and maybe some new content is around the corner that will change things again, and that will entice players back. I really hope so.

A couple of subjects I want to touch upon in this post.

After getting a *tiny* bit tired of the new dailies on Isle of Thunder, I wanted something different to do when I stopped work on Tuesday evening. I reviewed my languishing alts and decided ‘I choose you, Jassenah!’ my Priest. Poor old Jass. He was the bee’s knees in TBC and Wrath when he raid healed a lot. Well, I did, but it was on Jass. (He’s not *REAL* you understand.)

Anyway, after I felt he was well and truly thrashed to a pulp by class changes and dungeon/raid changes in Cata, and never enjoyed healing on him then, he was shelved for a while. Shame, because he was actually the second character I made, after Velaxis, all those years ago, and for a long time was even guild leader, before Vel pushed him off the cliff, being played more.

Happily, MoP has brought Priests back with a vengeance. I should know, because on a couple of raid runs we actually had four of them in our team – a healer and 3 Shadow Priests. OK, that’s really pushing it, and far from ideal, but we lacked bums on seats and wanted a run. What more can I say? Jass is a little powerhouse for levelling. Well he was, because I hit 90 on him the other night, so for him the levelling is over. I’d got him to the Shrine of the Seven Stars a while ago, because I hate having characters wallowing about the landscape with no true city to live in, and no portals to anywhere else in the world, and you have to be level 87 in Pandaria to get to the Shrine. (Not counting the creative jumping off the Wall to get there, but I like to do things proper.) Over the last couple of days, I bit the bullet and pugged relentlessly on Jass in Normal dungeons. No blood was shed. He was easy to play, did good for himself in respect of DPS, so no goggle-eyed pugger was going to shout at him, and I got 3 levels in two nights, plus a ton of gear, so he can laugh in the face of the tough level 90 mobs, which we face when we begin our reputation grinds with dailies. Happily, for alts, that is much easier nowadays, so I don’t mind doing a bit of it.

I can see why so many people want to play Priests in Shadow spec at the moment. It really is a walk in the Heartland, and although Jass wears cloth armour like other caster classes, he is so durable he might as well be in plate. I love it when I don’t have to be mincingly careful around mobs, which with so many caster classes in MMOs you have to be. I’ve already said on this blog I’m rather impatient when it comes to levelling quests and dailies, so if I can shoot a lot of mobs in the face in one go and survive, that’s dandy. Mind Sear, the Priest AOE skill is marvellous. It hasn’t been emasculated like my Hunter’s AOE, and I can use it a lot. I know Hunter players who have abandoned their main characters because they hate the focus mechanic so much. Plus Hunter AOE is a shadow of its former self in the glory days of Volley. But I digress…

Jass has been a dream to level from 85 to 90. I won’t really be able to use him much in the guild since we’re swamped with Priests already, but I’m not shy to pug with him, because in comparison to a few other classes, (notably DPS melee), I’m not going to play him badly and get yelled at. I’ve dropped into the rotation of Shadow Priest really easily. Whether I will heal with him or not is another matter.

I’ve already written on here about the problems with tanks and healers in the game at the moment. I’ve taken Ysobi, my Druid, into LFR raids up until the second part of Throne of Thunder. After seeing the new third part on Vel, I wouldn’t take Ys in there yet. On Vel, (like two thirds of the raid group I was part of), I struggled with the mechanics on Durumu, which I found as hard as Normal raiding. I don’t want to try healing when I’m still being killed by the floor. That’s just not fair to my team mates. Once I have my head round it, I’ll risk taking a healer in there. Healers have to be focused on the raid frames to heal. Skipping around the shit on the floor is a tiresome addition to all the other things they have to do. I need to be 100% on avoiding the purple maze before I can heal. It didn’t help that when I first did Durumu in LFR we had some comedians in the group, who had clearly benefited from practicing the raid relentlessly when it was on the PTR. That is, they knew it very well, even from day one. Smugly, these people took delight in calling other players ‘retards’, because they were struggling with the mechanics, which in my opinion are badly-designed. Why on earth should players have to turn down their graphics settings on their computers in order to be able to deal with an encounter? Shouldn’t that encounter really be designed so any level of graphics can deal with it? If it isn’t, isn’t it just, well, too gimmicky? Anyway, I’ve read today that Durumu and his floor have been hotfixed a bit as the LFR posse have been struggling with them so much. If I get chance to go in there this week, I’ll be able to see if the changes have made that much of an improvement.

I’ve not tried a Priest as a healer for a couple of years now. Our best healer in the guild is a Priest, but during Cata I felt the class had become more complicated to manage. Druids are really easy to heal with, once you know the lay of the land. Still, I will give it a try, preferably in a guild group first, if I can get one. And that is another story…

Things are a little quiet in our guild at the moment. We’ve had a couple more people drop out of raiding, and it’s nigh on impossible to get any group activities going outside of raid nights. We lost a couple of good social members, because raid drama spilled over into guild chat and the public part of our forum, which they found distasteful, and not something they wanted to see after a day’s work, when they were intending to relax. This is not good for a guild that has prided itself on its mature atmosphere and lack of drama, but still… Nothing incites drama in WoW more than raid politics. I figured all this was a message from the universe to get over my fear of WoW strangers and pug more. If I want to play the game, and take part in activities that need a group, I have no choice. Hopefully, I might meet some new friends, who might even join us.

People have said to me before, and I have found it to be true, that joining random dungeons on the way to top level is a far more relaxed and friendly experience than when you are at max. I really enjoyed the two nights I did this with Jass, talking to people who were bringing alts up as tanks and healers, and everyone being somewhat forgiving of mistakes. Once you hit heroics at 90, (and of course the Normal dungeons are no longer available to you then), the atmosphere changes radically. This is probably because people simply regard them as an inconvenience they have to suffer to get their Valor Points, and they have no interest in socialising or taking things easy. Many have no patience or tolerance either. I really wish the WoW community didn’t have its toxic elements, because when you come across the best of it, it’s a great way to spend an evening. And unless we get a few new people for our guild, or I resign myself to more solo play, I have to brace myself to face that community and hope I find more good than bad.

Every guild goes through hard times. Some survive, some don’t. We’ve been through worse than this since we began in Vanilla, including two mass exoduses of players, with such a high amount of drama involved, I was moved to write stories about them. On at least two occasions, disgruntled people have flounced off and also attempted to take a lot of guild members with them. Poison whispers; don’t you love them! Both attempts failed – ultimately all that those people could take with them was the friends they’d brought in – but it wasn’t nice to experience, and for a while thereafter a hollow wind always blows through a guild as the dust settles and the departures are accepted. It’s interesting that in the two cases I mentioned, the exoduses occurred after one person brought a lot of friends to the guild, then (certainly so in one case) attempted a coup to oust the existing officers. The first time it happened I was horrified people could behave like that in a game, the second time, (which wasn’t so much a takeover bid, but more of a poaching extravaganza), just wearily resigned that the worst in human nature showed through again. But because we have weathered such storms, I have no fears about us surviving. But, yes, a couple more good people on the roster would be nice. Here’s to positive thinking.

I know a lot of guilds have suffered from game decisions, as they always do. There’s always something that drives players away for a while. At the moment, it is the over emphasis on dailies, and the fact that Normal raids are really hard for people who can’t commit more than a few hours, two nights a week to it. Frustration sets in, because progress in raids is slow, or even stalled, and people become more upset about issues, which if things were better in the game they wouldn’t worry about so much. The annoying thing for us is that we have the personnel, even with the recent departures, but because of real life family and work commitments, it’s incredibly difficult to get 10 on at the same time. Hence, I think we need a couple more people to get over that problem. But recruiting is a nightmare at the moment, because every guild is recruiting. We’re trying, and will continue to try, but we can’t just accept anyone who applies. They have to fit well with us, for their sake and ours. One thing we don’t want to do is compromise the atmosphere of our guild just to get more raiders. We know from experience this never works. And at worst, you end up with the sly snakes, who will turn on you with a poisonous bite some way down the line. We really don’t want any more of those, thank you.

As most of you know, who are aware of my participation in WoW, I am a great fan. I grumble when things don’t seem right to me, but on the whole WoW is a superb game (and world) that has kept me interested for 8 years, for many reasons. It has been a respite when real life has been hard, it has been an inspiration creatively, and it has introduced me to great people who have become friends in real life.

But, ye gods, I really need to vent at the moment. Let’s go back in time a bit. There was this meta achievement grind that required interested players to complete all of the seasonal festival achievements, that more or less equate to the Pagan wheel of the year. It’s called ‘What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been’: I named my WoW book after it. Eight festivals, eight meta achievements to complete. Most were just an onerous grind of visiting every godsforsaken corner of Azeroth to light a fire, eat a piece of candy, say ‘yeah you’re really wise’ to an elder and so on. A few of them involved PvP or player versus player, for the uninitiated. But the thing is, PvE (player versus environment, i.e. not against real people) and PvP players are absolutely, completely, utterly different in their world (of Azeroth) views and playstyles. To throw the two together for some arbitrary reason never made sense to me. Let’s just mention ‘School of Hard Knocks’, an achievement that had most PvE players weeping onto their keyboards. We are not equipped to do PvP, we don’t have the stats on our gear, and most of all, we just messed up the battlegrounds for PvP veterans who didn’t want us there in the first place. It was a constant death experience to try and get the achievement of having our little orphan present, (which in itself is rather ethically questionable), while we completed various objectives in a battleground that everybody else in there didn’t want us to complete. Everyone I know who went for that achievement hated it with a passion. Few people into PvE care about PvP, and vice versa, but for some bizarre reason Blizzard keeps putting things into the game that forces PvE players upon PvP; no one wants us there, we don’t want to be there either. But we have to do it because part of our objectives in our normal play demands we do this stupid thing.

Cue the new legendary quest line from Prince Wrathion. I’ve done all of the requirements for this chain on my hunter Velaxis, and have come to the PvP part. What the hell is PvP doing in this quest line? PvP players don’t really need the legendary items from PvE, and now they just have to put up with us PvE players who hate PvP being forced into battlegrounds incompetently. Really, Blizzard, what is the sense behind this?

Tonight, my good friend who doesn’t want me to name him but his character is Wadde (sorry Thomas, oops), kindly agreed to take me into the battlegrounds to complete my legendary questline quests. I have to be present when my faction wins two particular PvP battlegrounds. Well, excuse me, but that’s just rats’ testicles. I have no Resilience whatsoever; I’m a PvE raider. I die in about a nano-second. I’m no use to my team. Why am I forced to do this and just inconvenience others, i.e. the PvP players of my faction who are really into it and committed to it? My presence there is just a hindrance to their success. How is this good? I got one battleground victory by accident but the other is really hard. It needs proper PvP players. It will be a long haul for me to get this, and I’ll just be riding on the backs of players who can do it properly. I don’t like that.

Blizzard loves PvP; we know this. They love it that CRZ has created all sorts of unpleasant situations for players, and just rub their hands together in glee about it. Every response they’ve given to complaints suggest this. But could they please accept that their players are divided into two camps who don’t want to mingle? Why force PvP on people who are just going to mess up the battlegrounds because they don’t have the gear for it? It just seems totally ridiculous to me. Meanwhile, I will have to suffer countless battleground experiences I hate with a passion just to advance a questline for PvE. Cheers. That’s great.

Sometimes, I just have to get things off my chest. Thank you for listening.

I’m not sure where the title of this post comes from – a film, a book, a tract, some dodgy political manifesto? It’s just familiar to me, and works for this particular post.

What I’m reading in the ethers this week has got me thinking. I’m reading more and more forum threads and blogs about the evaporation of the raiding pool on realms, and the shrinking amount of guilds. A veritable drought, it seems. Some posters provide statistics drawn from various sources that allegedly demonstrate that there are now fewer guilds raiding than there were at the pinnacle of it, which apparently was in Wrath.

I’m also reading a lot from maturing and mature players who say they now simply don’t have the time to commit to strict raiding schedules, and that LFR works better for them. It’s simple logistics.

I think what us veterans have to face and accept is that the game, nearly ten years old, is the not the animal we encountered when we first played. Whenever we fetched up on the shores of Azeroth, be it in Vanilla, TBC, Wrath or even Cata, it is not now the world we knew. Like the real world, it evolves and changes, and not always to our liking. Time moves faster in a virtual world. Generations can pass in relatively few years, well per expansion, probably. So it takes far less time for us to become grumpy old gits.

That said, we have to applaud the fact that this frontier world, perhaps even Brave New World, (who knows what might follow in our life times), not only survives but evolves. The players coming to it now don’t arrive with the baggage of memories and experiences that older players have. To them, it is fresh and new, and, as in real life, we can only envy the young for whom each new experience is a thing of wonder and discovery. Who can forget the first love?

The fact is we are at the vanguard of something wondrous, which is humanity venturing into the New Frontier of virtuality. It’s primitive in comparison to what science fiction writers might dream about, but it is, without doubt, the start. Azeroth lives, in its own way. It has community, an economy, and even a feudal government in the form of its developer, Blizzard. This entity might also be regarded as the prevailing deity of Azeroth, since its whims dictate how the world rises and falls, and the fate of its inhabitants. Plenty for Pop Culture magicians to work with there – and believe me they already have.

All of these concepts are extremely interesting, not only to creative writers like myself, but also to academics in the realms of many observant and scientific disciplines. What we have in Azeroth is a model to study; humanity’s first steps beyond the material world. But that said, evolution can be painful, especially when it’s experienced in such an accelerated form as we find in Azeroth and its ilk.

I’ve written here before of my concerns about the activities within WoW that for nearly a decade have kept people playing. The end game content was The Grail that few players could reach. It was the Mystery, the Heart of the Rose, whatever mystical tag you want to give it. But as time has passed, the mysteries of the game have slowly blossomed, become available to more than the privileged few, and that unfolding was both exciting and curious. Now the rose is open wide, and perhaps, some might say, tending to discard its dying petals. There is no mystery now. All is revealed. But some people prefer this carpet of bruised petals. The rose is not going to rot more than this, simply lie there, open, dismembered, to be trodden upon, its fragrance released by whoever treads upon the fallen petals.

You old ‘uns know what I’m talking about. You know we might be facing the demise of the game as we knew it, the community (warts and all) as we knew it. Even guilds as we knew them might not be the same in the future. Much as I might grumble about some of the changes, I also think the Great God Blizzard has to be brave here and continue to expand frontiers. The veterans of WoW can be regarded as its priesthood, and to them alone were once revealed the secrets of the gods. Now, the common people are given access to what was once the divine. The priesthood are appalled. Obviously. But they cannot fight progress.

So, how do we carry on, us veterans? Simple. Accept what is. We do, after all, have the choice to leave this virtual world, or we can continue with it to see where it heads. Pointless to complain, really. For me, I’m still fascinated by the discoveries, because I don’t just spend time in Azeroth to be a gamer. I’m also a writer and a practitioner of magic. What I see there is of interest to those sides of my being too.

Let’s, just for a moment, imagine the petals of our Heart of the Rose are fractals, a dizzy, unending kaleidoscope of possibilities. Some people might subscribe to WoW simply to play a game, perhaps mostly oblivious of the world of it around them. To others, the world itself is mostly the point, the intrigue, the pull. The petals might have fallen, but within each of them are countless other worlds, other possibilities, the future. I’m along for the ride. Are you?

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.