Category: Mists of Pandaria


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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some time ago, I wrote a post concerning community in WoW and its rather execrable state. All sensible players bemoan the fact that behaviour from others is often disgusting, and many bloggers have been musing about how it could be improved, myself among them. But what I saw tonight made me feel positive about the WoW community for the first time in years.

Blizzard’s decision to allow the powerful rare mobs on the new Isle of Thunder to be taggable by faction, and thereafter available for fisticuffs to any player of that faction, is a marvellous one. Tonight, a few of us in the guild decided to do some group work on the Isle. We’d hunt rare mobs, help each other out with a few quests requiring more than one person and so on. First thing we noticed was how many players were around and not only that… they were talking. We didn’t have to greet the sight of dozens of other players of our faction with a despairing sigh, thinking ‘oh well, there goes my chance at the rare’. Because everyone could join in on the event and get loot from it, there was no need for anyone to be unpleasant or selfish. While we waited for spawns we could… mingle. Unheard of, I know. I chatted to a few people about the new mounts they were on, and about various aspects of the area. I really applaud this new feature and think it should have been instituted well over a year ago, like when Rift appeared with this feature at launch. GW2 took it further. Albeit that game does not have factions, but even so, *any* mob in that game works like the rares do on Isle of Thunder. There is no competition whatsoever for quest mobs. You can casually work with any player who’s around without even having to team with them to share mobs. You can also heal each other without teaming. Admittedly, more of the mobs in GW2 require this type of co-operation because they are not pushovers, but I really think Blizzard should go further than they have and implement similar in WoW. Also, let’s do the same with resource nodes while we’re at it. If you harvest a node of any type in GW2, it disappears for you for a while, but not for other players. How is this not a great thing? Reasons for players to be mean to each other are swept away entirely and if there’s one thing WoW needs it’s those reasons to be swept away.

Another thing occurred to me as we were messing around on the island tonight. If a server has a population imbalance in respect of factions, the lower populated faction will be disappointed and frustrated by the new area, simply because the more numerous faction will control all the tagging on rares, and even if they don’t, if a player hasn’t got a lot of friends around to help with the mobs, they won’t survive, so the larger faction will simply take over once they’re dead. It’s really going out on a limb to suggest this in respect of WoW, I know, given how deeply the faction rivalry is embedded in the game, but I did think about how it wouldn’t hurt for the rares to be taggable by *anyone* who’s there, irrespective of faction, such as we find in Rift.

WoW really needs something to improve its community spirit, and what’s happening now is a small step towards that. Perhaps Blizzard is experimenting and observing the results and will take it further if it appears to work well. I really hope so. All I know is that I had a fun night with far fewer reasons to get angry and annoyed at other players. I spoke to people I didn’t know in a way I never do. The opposite faction was a minor annoyance, since we outnumbered them so much, (must have been crappy for them, though), and some of them did try to get their sport by messing up our fights if they could. But if there’s only 2 or 3 of them against a couple of dozen of us, even if they tag a rare it’s not going to be tagged for long. That’s why I think the faction aspect should be approached differently, but that would be game-changing in the extreme. The lore of WoW, and its (virtual) thousands of years of politics would be challenged, to put it mildly, if Horde and Alliance became more co-operative with each other. I’d quite like it, but a lot wouldn’t. I have noticed though that for one of the dailies in the Court of Bones you are asked to free captives of either faction: those poor sods in cages. That’s another little inch towards what I’m talking about, isn’t it?

We also visited the Isle of Giants tonight, the new Jurassic Park of WoW. Love all the massive dinosaurs and tamed myself a couple on my Hunter. Pity they shrink like socks in the wash once you’ve tame them, but never mind. My only complaint is that the flying pterrorwings aren’t tameable. They look amazing and do turn up as temporary, secondary combat pets when your Hunter uses the Dire Beast skill. So why they’re not tameable I don’t know. The new dino non-combat pets were virtually spilling from the corpses of the dinomancer Trolls too. We all came away from the place with a nice haul of goodies, not least the dinosaur bones you have to collect to buy the white raptor mount there. I expect the drop rate for the mini pets will take a bashing very soon, so get them while you can. Best to go with at least one friend though, because all the mobs on the island are level 90-91 elites and pack a hefty punch. The immense Primal Devilsaurs do a lot of AOE damage, so it’s advisable to go with a fairly organised group if you want to take those on, including a tank and a healer. You don’t have to fight these big ones, and can avoid them, but one reason you might want to fight them is that they drop a lot more bones, and as you will need 9999 of them to get the mount, that’s as good a reason as any. There’s also a rare mob to be found on the boat that’s moored off the island. The boat has a big Devilsaur on the lower deck and an awful lot of dinomancer Trolls all through it before you even reach the rare. They respawn quickly too, and caused us inconvenience while we were fighting the Big Bad. Fun fight though, and this island is certainly worth a visit for Friday night fun.

For those not yet initiated into the mysteries of this island, it’s found off Kun Lai Summit, north of Zouchin Village. You can’t fly all the way there, and have to watch out for fatigue setting in once you’re unceremoniously thrown off your mount and dumped in the ocean, but it’s not too difficult to reach dry land before the fatigue kills you. If you have the Anglers’ Water Strider mount even better, or of course Death Knights can use their Path of Frost for themselves and team members to travel over water quickly.

I really love the new zones, and am looking forward to more of the Isle of Thunder opening up as time goes on. I especially love the Saurok quest area where you become a Saurok for the duration, along the lines of how we became Nagas in Vash’jir in Cataclysm. Only this transformation happens every day for your quests. And it’s not just one appearance either. You can have the big lizard ruff, or one of the metal masks they sometimes wear, or a fairly regular lizard face minus ruff or mask. There might be others, but so far have just noticed these three. The Saurok can leap miles and I mean really leap miles. Be careful when pressing the space bar to jump; you never know where you might end up. But they’re very agile so take no damage when falling off that mountain you just landed on. I defy anyone not to want these saurians as a playable race after doing these dailies. Try out some of the emotes on them; it’s great fun. They can’t dance, which we found really funny. If you type /dance, they stand up straight and look sort of stunned, as if they can’t bear the humiliation of dancing. But they can do quite a few of the emotes, such as /cower and /flex, both of which are hilarious. As I’ve written a story in which the Saurok make a kind of appearance, though somewhat changed and not called Saurok, (as it’s not a WoW story), I was delighted to find these quests. Just have a soft spot for the race and am really pleased they’re included in this way for players now.

So, 10/10 for the Isle of Thunder. I really look forward to going there and doing my dailies as and when I can. And it’s not often you’ll hear me saying that about dailies!

I’ve not yet posted anything about Mists raiding, because quite honestly our guild’s raid team got off to a shaky start this expansion. It’s only since Christmas really that we’ve begun to get back on our feet and carry on from where we were in Cataclysm. Setbacks hit us, one after the other. Core people were  unable to attend, a few found trouble with getting their heads round certain fights, there were recurrent last minute cancellations for bona fide real life reasons, as well as rather unpleasant in-guild drama concerning some new members we picked up and who have now gone… we had it all. Added to the fact we can only raid two evenings a week, because our team comprises grown-ups who have jobs, families and so on, real life emergencies and commitments sometimes meant runs were cancelled again and again. All of this led to us becoming rather glum about our raiding.  And for this reason I didn’t really want to talk about it. All I could have done was grumble.

However, happily, we’ve got over the bumpy bit and are progressing again. I wish we were a little bit further down the line of getting into Heart of Fear – we’re working on the second boss there now – but this couldn’t be helped. It was late before we got into our stride so now we’re a bit behind where we’d like to be. A new patch and a new raid is just around the corner, but we’ll be continuing with the current raids for a while until we’re geared up a little more. One of our core healers has given up the game for the time being – he really can’t stand dailies and well… to any WoW player I don’t need to say more than that in relation to the current state of the game – so we’re having to help gear up a new one. We’ve lost a pally and have gained a monk. Things are going well and our druid Boomkin is happy to step in, swap spec, and be a third healer when needed while our new healer learns the ropes and gets some epics on his back.

One thing that many of us in the guild have said, in those wistful ‘round the fire’ moments, is that we miss the grand scale of raids such as Ulduar and Icecrown Citadel that were the pinnacles of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Cataclysm brought us shorter raids, and more of them, but somehow they felt lacking in character in comparison to the raids of Wrath. Ulduar and ICC were so immersive; you felt you were part of a story and it was truly epic. None of the Cata raids really grabbed us in the same way. It wasn’t that we didn’t enjoy conquering them, but just that there was a certain something missing. Story. Ambience. Lore characters that we found fascinating. For all his foam and bluster, Deathwing never really came off as an A List expansion baddie, certainly not in comparison to Illidan from Burning Crusade or Arthas the Lich King from Wrath. Just wasn’t sexy, I suppose. There were moments we truly enjoyed in Cata, but the overall problems with that expansion meant we didn’t really enjoy it as much as previous ones.

The raids so far in Mists have been fairly short, and I personally can’t say I’ve found them to be as immersive as the Wrath and TBC raids in terms of ambience. The fights are good, but… I’ve only completed Terrace of Endless Spring in the LFR version, but to me it might as well just be a heroic dungeon only with more people along. Actually, it’s not even as big as a heroic dungeon. Fun fights, no complaints about that (although I might complain more when we’re ready to tackle it on Normal mode), but it’s just so… small. We’ve been told by Blizzard that the new Throne of the Thunder King in the next patch will be a return to the large raid format. I prefer this. Although this type of raid might take far longer for guilds to conquer, you cannot emulate the feeling of venturing deeper and deeper into dangerous territory, working towards the Big Bad at the end of it.  Ulduar has us penetrating into the shadowy bowels of a Titan city to confront the Lovecraft-inspired elder gold who dwelled there, while ICC saw us climbing to the peak of the Lich King’s frozen citadel to face Arthas in all his twisted glory. Both raids involved a symbolic journey, and much could be written about the effect on the psyche of such journeys. It wasn’t just a case of, ho hum, raid time, let’s go kill some bosses, as it is now (and was in Cata). There was some sort of emotional kick to the whole thing in Wrath. If the Thunder King brings us anywhere near back to that, it will be great.

The fights themselves in the Mists raids I find fairly enjoyable. The only one so far I’m not keen on is Garalon in Heart of Fear, but then I’ve not attempted that fight on Normal mode, only LFR. Perhaps it will be more fun when I do it with the guild.

Our raid leader isn’t too happy about one thing, though. (He comments on here as ‘Fat Hulk’.) Basically our Hulk cannot stand LFR (Looking for Raid for any uninitiated happening upon these pages). He deplores it. He thinks it’s bad for guilds and bad for the game as a whole. He thinks it encourages laziness and bad habits in raiders, and he’s seen the effects of this in our own raids. Hulk knows he can’t stop any of the guild running LFR. Some do it to help cap those essential Valor Points every week. Some do it to help gear up for our Normal mode raids. Some do it so they can play their alts in raids. Some do it to help learn the fights for when we do them ‘properly’. Whatever their reason, that’s their choice. I do it fairly often to practice fights where deft movement (or dancing) is required, and to get to know the mechanics of certain encounters, even if they are watered down somewhat for the hoi polloi.  It also enables me to do something more than heroics with my alts. I don’t like doing heroics outside of a guild group, because of the swine I’ve met in PUGs. For some reason, although peppered with their fair share of swine, LFR groups don’t tend to be as abusive or cruel as a heroic PUG. But anyway, none of this washes with Fat Hulk. He really cannot abide swine and nothing would induce him to enter LFR, nothing. Not even the opportunity to play an alt for a while with the guarantee that every bonus roll on loot would shower him with epics. One thing that’s really got to him, and I totally empathise with his feelings on this, is that the new legendary quest line can be completed easily by doing LFR, but can be more difficult for those who only take part in proper raids. Hulk hasn’t been able to gather all the Sigils of Power and Wisdom from Mogushan Vaults and Heart of Fear in our Normal mode raids, (which are required for the first stage of the quest), simply because of the difficulties with our raiding in late 2012. But everyone in the guild who does LFR has zoomed ahead. Hulk feels he’s at a disadvantage because he won’t run LFR, and fails to understand why a legendary quest line, (and legendaries before this were always rare and hard to acquire), is more easily accomplished by the most casual of players than it is for a player who’s dedicated to the game and has been for years. In his words, it feels like a kick in the teeth. It’s not that he’s a special snowflake type – he doesn’t care who gets the legendary items – but just feels it’s unfair he’s penalised because he prefers, and will only do, bona fide raiding, not the dumbed down LFR version. When he told me all this, I must admit I saw his point. An item can’t really be legendary if it’s as easy to get as any old piece of loot, can it? And the message from Blizzard, however unintentional, is that people will be rewarded for running LFR rather than tackling the harder content with their guilds.

I’ve always had distaste for the idea that raiders should be given things that other players cannot get, be that titles, mounts or whatever. And for a long time the game was skewed far too heavily in favour of the most hardcore of players being given lavish rewards. But this particular situation does seem to highlight that things might be heading too far the other way. Yes, I think LFR players should get something that’s cool and worth working towards, but for those of us who do take the time, effort and determination to tackle more difficult encounters there should be something more. I don’t think mounts should come into this, because for the serious collector – and many players are far more serious about this than they are about raiding or other group activities – it’s simply infuriating that all the best mounts can only be acquired in raids, where you need the co-operation of at least 9 other people in order to have a chance at them. Then the drop rate will be tiny. So the chances are incredibly slim until the content is trivialised by later additions to the game. I waited years to get an Azure Drake – got one last week. There was no way our guild had enough people to run 25 man Malygos back in Wrath. I never thought I’d get that mount, but now two people can do the 10 man version of the encounter easily and the mount now drops in that too. Quite honestly, I think it would be fair if there was the usual small chance of a mount dropping off a boss even in LFR. I’m not a special snowflake either. It doesn’t bother me who has the same mounts as me. But I digress…  Let the Normal and Heroic mode legendary quest be for something really legendary. Let the LFR version be cool but not quite as cool as what the proper raiders work towards.

Going on from this, we’re still tackling Firelands for our Boomkin’s legendary staff in there. I’ve said before on this blog that we’ve had difficulty getting a full team to go back to complete the meta in there, never mind finish off what’s required for the staff. I’ve now determinedly posted a regular run for Sunday night on the guild calendar, and have been badgering people relentlessly. I hope to get this off the ground this coming Sunday. It would have been great to have finished this back when the content was current and relevant, but finishing it at all will be fine by me and no doubt by our Boomkin who’s waited so patiently without complaint. (I think I’d have been complaining very loudly!)

 

Let’s speculate about the next patch to WoW… the 5.2 mystery. We know some of what’s coming and I don’t need to list it all here – it’s available elsewhere in abundance – but the other day Ghostcrawler, aka developer Greg Street, coyly teased the players about a ‘thing’ that might or might not be coming. A thing to rival LFD or LFR in terms of game-changing.

Suddenly the posting fraternity are thrown into a frenzy wondering about what this little tease might mean. Fact is, it might mean nothing. Or it might mean something immense. At present, we just don’t know. Mr Street, whose patience borders on the saintly, might just be trolling for a laugh. Personally I wouldn’t blame him.

On the plus side, what I would wish this ‘thing’ to be is player/guild housing. Musing about it, and in the light of Mists not offering guild advancement, I had this sublime fantasy. A future patch would bring in the ability to level your guild via its hall or castle. You start off with a basic building and then level it, as we levelled our guilds through Cata. Activities guildies take part in could help build the guild accommodation. It needn’t be the sole privilege of big guilds, just that smaller guilds – as it is now in game – would take longer to level. I don’t think guild halls should be the privilege of level 25 guilds. Just a new avenue of levelling. Another thought came to me, remembering original Guild Wars, of the different cultural flavours of guild halls that were available in that game. Think on it. We could choose a guild home in Arathi and build a castle like Stromgarde. We could elect to build our guild home in Elven territory  and get something Darnassian in flavour. In Horde territory we could build an iron fortress in Orc vein, something more tribal for Tauren and Trolls. In Pandaria we’d get the architecture relevant to that zone and so on. Starting off with a basic home, guilds could build on that through all the guild activities available to us. I think this would be a fantastic way to progress guilds beyond 25. Augmentations could include guild crafting stations, vendors, bank, and so on.

It’s been said that Blizzard developers keep an eye on what other MMOs are doing and in Rift, for example, player housing has really taken off, with competitions to see which is the most creative. We’ve seen a gentle nudge towards player housing with our farms in Valley of the Four Winds, which we have been led to believe will include a hearth in 5.2 so our farm can be our inn… player housing by any other name, lacking only the customisation. Guild housing could just take this further.

One thing I really dislike is what I’ve seen from players wanting to go retro. Please, why? They want your characters to be scaled down to all previous content, so that nothing is soloable again. Really, why? ‘Oh we like things difficult.’ So unless you can find interested guildies to do 40 man MC again, rather than do it on your own, good luck. Are these people mad? If I’m farming any old instance/raid for mounts/pets, do I really want to find suddenly I need a stack of people with me again? For the gods’ sake, masochists, get real. This is not going to happen.

Then we have the ‘get rid of flying mounts’ brigade. I won’t go into the multiple arguments against this Luddite stance, other than the most potent: ‘I bought a flying mount off the Blizzard store or from the Trading Card Game. Now it’s ruined. Money back please.’ OK, Luddites, that isn’t going to happen, is it?

In my view there is nothing at all to be gained by going backwards. We might not love everything Blizzard does to further the game, but on the whole what they do is good rather than  bad.

Guild housing…let me dream. J