Category: Mists of Pandaria


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.

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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!

I haven’t written on the blog for a while, mainly because I’ve not had a lot to say about WoW. Well, nothing I haven’t said before, and eventually the broken record gets boring.

However, I am moved to comment on all this ‘helms in the Blizzard store’ shenanigans. We know an explosion of player feeling occurs nearly every time something new appears in the store. Some people have strong views about a subscription game having such a store, and while they might wistfully look at the shinies and want them, they can’t bring themselves to hand over more cash when they already pay a sub. Or perhaps they simply can’t afford them.

Generally, game shops are the province of the Free to Play games – every one of those will have one because it’s how they get their revenue. So, some players ask, why does Blizzard have one for WoW? Is it simply just to milk more cash from their customers? Some people really think that’s the case and they feel bitter about it. They feel angry that players succumb to temptation and buy things, because in their view that’s just encouraging Blizzard to keep their prices high. Other players aren’t bothered – as far as they’re concerned, they can afford the items, they want them, end of story. I have bought every mount and pet, because I’m an avid mount and pet collector, and I’ve had a lot of fun from those items, so I’m not averse to the store per se. To me, it’s exciting when a new mount or pet appears.

But I am a bit perplexed about the new helms. It’s irrelevant to me what people might think about the look of the items. You either like them or you don’t – same as for the other store items. What puzzles me is the amount Blizzard is charging for them. I’m surprised they didn’t foresee the outcry this would cause. And this is down to the cost in comparison to similar items from the F2P stores.

One important point has to be made before going any further. The teams who design and develop the game we love do not make decisions about how much things cost in the Blizzard store. So there’s no point railing against the whole company. It’s the accounts departments, going ever higher up in the tiers of the company and its affiliates, which are responsible for these decisions.

Maybe a lot of players are unaware what F2P games charge for vanity items because they don’t play such games, and don’t read WoW forums. Maybe to the uninformed the hat price doesn’t seem that bad, but really it is a bit steep. While I’ve heard from friends what other games tend to charge, I can only speak personally about Rift. When Rift went F2P a couple of months ago, a veritable department store opened up. Loyal original customers were given very generous amounts of free tokens to spend in this shop, as well as a plethora of other free items such as mounts and pets. Loyalty was rewarded handsomely. With the tokens I received, I was able to buy a couple of the cool new mounts, transmog sets for some of my characters, plus other little bits and pieces and items for my ‘dimension’ or player home.

Let’s just have a look at this in real terms. You can buy tokens for cash in Rift and use them to buy things in the shop. £20 will get you 4870 tokens, which means that for £1 you get 243.5 tokens. Transmog sets, except for a few more expensive ones, are 765 tokens, so that’s around £3.14 – for a full set of gear. The most expensive mounts cost £6.47 and the cheapest mounts, found throughout the game itself, but which might cost a lot of platinum (the in game currency) are 5 pence. 13 tokens. This includes mounts from the opposite faction you can’t actually buy in the game. Pets range from 720 tokens to 180. All of the items are of high quality.

Rift needs people to spend money in the shop to survive now, and to me it seems Trion is taking the route of making everything cheap to encourage players to buy. What mount collector isn’t going to be tempted by the 5p cost to buy all the more common mounts they haven’t got or can’t afford in game? And there are a lot of them, which will amount to a few quid if you bought them all. I think the prices are very fair and there is a massive stock to choose from. In the transmog sets department, you are really spoilt for choice, and restrictions concerning armour type don’t apply. So you could buy a really cool plate set for a cloth wearer if you wanted to, or mix and match with other pieces to create your own unique look. Each piece of a set costs 39 pence if you break the price down.

Now when you look at the £10 being charged in the Blizzard store for the new hats, it is a bit gobsmacking, and that’s why I’m surprised the company didn’t see the fallout coming, or even why they thought it was a good idea to charge that much in the first place. I presume they must keep an eye on what other games charge for store items, and surely they must be aware a large amount of their player base are familiar with the F2P games and their prices. It was inevitable the comparison was going to be made, and in strong terms. A full transmog set at the new hat prices, if they ever appear, would cost £80, as opposed to the £3.14 we find in Rift.

Perhaps it’s not appropriate to compare Blizzard to a company like Trion, which is far smaller, and has a relatively modest player base. WoW is the top dog of MMOs, and in some ways it isn’t really surprising that its vanity items are going to cost more. It’s like buying supermarket produce from a top store like Waitrose or a bargain basement place like Aldi. I don’t think Blizzard would ever want to match the very cheap prices found in a game like Rift. But even so, their prices are considerably higher, not just a little higher. But so far, people have been mostly happy to cough up for the mounts and pets. However, the cost of the new hats and the associated furore is a shame, because now they have a bad rep, with people complaining vociferously across the internet. People who want to buy them, or already have, might feel awkward about wearing them. There are tales of people being kicked from LFR for displaying one of the hats, although I think that’s probably a WoW urban myth. But then again, who knows? The Celestial Steed caused a lot of hate when that came out, which I must admit did tarnish the shine of having one. I really loved mine too, but felt embarrassed about being seen on it in crowded places, which is just ridiculous. But people felt obliged to be rude, and that trend hasn’t gone away.

Blizzard already gets subs from its millions of players, so I can’t see why they risked invoking the Player Rage Spectre, so often invoked by store items, by placing such a high price on the hats. £10 for all 3 might have been acceptable, or £3-£5 per helm would have been fair. Lots of people would have bought them, and the bad feeling – I believe – wouldn’t have been so toxic.

Maybe the hats are an experiment and a response to the diminishing subscriptions. Perhaps the accountants want to gauge how much players are prepared to pay, and what they consider acceptable. Generally, the price has not been considered acceptable. As far as I know there’s been no official response from Blizzard over their decision on the pricing of the helms, but I would like to know their reasoning and what they think about the reaction.

I’ve been playing my Horde warrior this weekend, Medewza the Undead, bless her rotting jaws. She’s only level 46, but the reason I wanted to level her a bit, and will make her my casual project, is because I sorely want a Jewelcrafter on Horde. Have you seen the prices? Sigh… My Horde characters are my ultra casual ones. I like to play them to see the other side of the story, from a lore point of view, but they’ve never been as rich or as well-geared as my Alliance characters. My Scribe on Horde is still researching Northrend glyphs, so you get the picture… We have a Hordeside sister guild and, like me, a few of our Alliance guildies have characters in there they just enjoy for a bit of fun, nothing serious. There are never enough of us on to run a dungeon, never mind anything else. And we are hampered by the lack of top level professions. We even have a guild Message of the Day about 16 slot bags being available or not… ahem! There is no point in me joining a really active guild on Horde, and it’s the same for my friends, because we don’t play Horde enough to be meaningful members of a guild. We have our little guild – nearly level 10, phew! – and that’s adequate for us.

Therefore, I was rather astonished to read a blue post recently on MMO Champion concerning professions. Someone had asked why certain crafting materials were soulbound, and said that it would be useful for them to be account bound, in that many players have a team of alts attending to all the professions to service their main characters. (It has to be said, too, those alts also service other guild members in our Alliance guild.) The Blizzard response was that players are supposed to trade with other players in respect of goods provided by professions. WoW is an MMO, which inevitably means interacting with other players, and it wasn’t part of the original game plan that players should create their own army of alts to service their mains with crafted items. Therefore, items like Spirits of Harmony will remain soulbound so that players have to work for them. You are effectively required to play your alts a lot, questing and dailies, as well as develop your farms, to get those precious Spirits. Even though your main might be overflowing with them.

The reason for my astonishment over this was that it made me wonder exactly how many Blizzard people actually play the game to understand the reality of the situation. Let’s just look at our guild’s Horde characters as an example. None of them have tons of gold. We cannot afford the AH prices for enchantments, gems, glyphs, gear. Our only recourse is to make those items ourselves. Imagine how it is for a player new to the game. OK, they might get into a good guild that will help them out with things like enchantments, gear enhancements, glyphs and gems, but some items will always be out of reach. If you only have 1000 or so gold to your name, how does an item costing multiple 1000s even come near what you can afford? Some people, like with our characters on Horde, can’t be part of an active guild because they don’t play regularly enough to be a meaningful member. Are people to be penalised because they can’t invest tons of time?

For us, our Horde characters are just an aside, and it’s a simple convenience for us to level alts for professions, but for some, who are so new to the game they don’t even yet know of these huge expenses looming on the horizon, it’s probably essential.

Another thing that was intimated in the blue post about this subject was along the lines of ‘Stop complaining. If we wanted to, we could make it that every battlenet account could only have two professions across all characters, so think yourself lucky.’ That was the essence of it.

Hmm, I dunno, but I really don’t think it’s a gamebreaker if people can use alts to level professions and for that to be made a bit more forgiving for them. Seems daft to me I have a load of Spirits on some of my purely gathering alts, while those who really need them can’t access them. OK, I can cash those Spirits in for useful things like Golden Lotus, but when someone in my Horde guild could do with an item crafted, it’d be really handy if I could, well, just make it for them.

I was thinking about this, and it seems to me sometimes players have to be punished, and not expect the game to be too convenient. ‘Eat your greens and you can have some dessert!’ Am I alone in thinking this?

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.