Category: World of Warcraft


Games turned into movies rarely work. The evidence is there to see, in shudderingly weak examples – ‘Dungeons and Dragons’, ‘Dragon Ball Evolution’, ‘Super Mario Bros’, ‘Prince of Persia’ and so on. (‘Silent Hill’ I rather enjoyed, though.) As a long-time player of World of Warcraft – a veteran of Classic WoW in fact – I was intrigued to discover how the world of Azeroth would translate into film.

The lore of WoW is notoriously convoluted. The story-tellers at Blizzard Entertainment have shamelessly plundered a variety of mythologies over the years in order to build the history of their world. You can spot influences from Lovecraft, Norse Myth, Egyptian Myth, Native American culture, to name but a few. It goes without saying some of the races – Orcs, Dwarves and Elves, for example – can also be found in Tolkien’s work. But Tolkien didn’t invent these creatures. A lot of his ideas came from mythology too. But naturally, because Lord of the Rings is the iconic story of these mythical races – many people know more about LOTR than they do about the source material – any creative endeavour that loots the same sources will inevitably be regarded as somewhat plagiaristic. I’ve never thought this particularly fair.

The lore of WoW has always interested me, simply because it’s so well fleshed out – it’s detailed enough to rival Tolkien’s world-building, even down to the creation of languages. As a story-teller myself I enjoyed that part of the game and became immersed in it. A few of my own stories were inspired by my experiences in Azeroth. I knew that a WoW movie had long been a dream for Blizzard, and several directors had, over the years, been associated with it, but the project never took off. When I read that Duncan Jones had taken up the sword, I felt instinctively that this time it would happen. I’d enjoyed his two previous films – ‘Moon’ and ‘Source Code’ – and when it became clear he was also a fan of WoW, who wanted to do the lore justice, my optimism increased. Was it wisely placed? For me, yes.

I cannot honestly say if people who aren’t aware of the lore will find it as satisfying as I did, but I think those who love fantasy will enjoy it regardless. The advantage the LOTR movies had was that a large percentage of viewers had read the books and were aware – at least to some degree – of Middle Earth’s history. It was part of popular culture. And while WoW is undeniably the most popular MMO ever created, its audience is somewhat niche in comparison to Tolkien’s books. I hope to go and see Warcraft again in the cinema, with friends who don’t play the game and get their opinions, but from what I’ve heard from other players, their non-WoW friends really enjoyed the film.

When I first saw ‘Fellowship of the Ring’, I became so immersed in Middle Earth that when the film was over I remained in a daze for the journey home from the cinema. I had a similar feeling with ‘Warcraft’. I was unaware of the passing of time, and was so completely in Azeroth, I was somewhat stunned when suddenly it was all over and the end credits were scrolling on screen. Part of the pleasure, of course, was seeing familiar places created, as if for real. It was like watching a film of a country in which I had spent a lot of time and remembered fondly. I had ridden down those forest paths, flown over those deserts. I had walked through the city of Stormwind and visited the keep. I had met Llane Wrynn’s son Varian, and Varian’s son Anduin, (named of course after Anduin Lothar who appears in the film). I had worked for and with the mage Khadgar, and had explored the haunted ruins of Karazhan, where once Medivh had worked his magic. I had even fought and killed Moroes, the undead steward of Karazhan, many many times. (Poor old bugger! As if he hasn’t suffered enough.)  I had lived for a couple of years in the flying city of Dalaran. I had gone back in time with Khadgar and other lore figures to an alternate Draenor and befriended Durotan and Draka and their clan, fought with them to vanquish Guldan and defeat the Iron Horde. Back in ‘real time Azeroth’, I had helped the shaman Go’el (or Thrall as he became known), the son of Durotan, fend off deadly threats. I’ve been doing these things in my leisure time for nearly twelve years. So the film was like home to me and its characters like old friends.

Another thing that worked for me was the fact that Duncan Jones told a balanced story. I had read that previous scripts shown to Blizzard had always centred on the orcs being archetypal baddies, while the humans were the white knights in shining armour, destined to vanquish their bestial enemies. I also read that Blizzard had not been happy with this kind of treatment, because it wasn’t representative of how Azeroth is. In WoW, you can choose your faction and race, and play either for the Horde (led by the orcs) or the Alliance (led by the humans). Neither faction is presented as wholly ‘good’ or wholly ‘evil’, although you encounter bad ‘uns on both sides. The factions simply have a different world-view, different aspirations, religions and cultures. You could say that the ‘other side’ is often demonised because of a lack of understanding, or shallow judgements made on physical appearances. Not to be all PC, but there’s an amount of racism involved, although both factions have committed atrocities in the past. I was impressed that Jones intended not to go for the easy route of a run-of-the-mill good vs evil story. Yes, there are nasty characters who have to be overcome, but there is good and bad on both sides. What isn’t highlighted so much in the film, and which is very important in terms of plot, is that the Burning Legion are behind everything, influencing certain characters to further its destructive aims. The Burning Legion is part of the pre-history of Azeroth, interdimensional and demonic, and never up to any good. If there are further films in this series – and I sincerely hope there are – the Legion’s influence will probably become clear. (I can’t imagine the story being furthered without involving this aspect of Azerothian history.)

Because of the depth of the lore, not of all of which could be crammed into a mere couple of hours, some viewers might find the story rather rushed. You are whizzed to Dalaran for only scant minutes, for example – I wanted to see more of it. There could have been further development in the characters’ relationships, but I didn’t feel as if this aspect was sacrificed so that extra fighting scenes could be included, which is often a fault of films, and not just of the fantasy genre. (The material that was left out of ‘Prometheus’ for example, and the excessively long fight scenes – argh! And no director’s cut yet where the interesting stuff is put back in.) There just wasn’t enough time in Warcraft for everything. If there is a director’s cut – and there really should be – I’m hoping more detail will be added to flesh the story out.

As for the casting, I didn’t feel any of it was jarring. If I were to pick nits I suppose I could say Khadgar was the least how I imagine him – really didn’t like that facial hair, but that’s subjective – but the rest were spot on. (Khadgar, in the game, is probably what you’d refer to as a ‘silver fox’, but of course he had to grow into that.) I’ve read negative reviews that have scorned some of the performances, but I was never jerked out of the story by bad acting. All seemed convincing to me. The mo-cap CGI of the orc characters was particularly believable – after a few minutes I forgot they weren’t real, because they looked real to me. The landscapes were awesome too. There was humour and sadness in the tale, and the plot didn’t shy away from the consequences of war. I won’t go into the actual plot in detail because – well, just go and see the film – but the initial premise is that the orcs seek a new home after their world dies. Starving and homeless, they travel through a magically-conjured Dark Portal to Azeroth as refugees and, as we know in reality, masses of refugees turning up often initiates conflict and prejudice, never mind when they look like orcs. But even the orcs don’t know the motives that really lie behind the warlock Guldan’s choice of destination. They are soon to find out – painfully – as do the original inhabitants of Azeroth. Only through alliance can the diverse races hope to survive.

The negative reviews are disappointing, but I think a lot of them can be down to three things in particular. One, some people were determined to hate the film whatever it was like. Two, some reviewers dislike this genre of film anyway and review it dismissively without really giving it a fair chance. Three, Duncan Jones always had that mountain before him of previous film adaptations of games. Some people won’t even bother going to see Warcraft because of that. All in all, this is a great shame. Warcraft is beautifully-made, engaging and well-told, head and shoulders above other films of its kind. People who don’t like fantasy films probably won’t warm to it – I can’t see it changing their opinion of the genre. But those who enjoy being transported into fantasy worlds will be entertained. I just hope the negative reviews don’t affect the possibility of Azeroth’s story being continued. I can’t wait to see Illidan and Arthas on the big screen. I am so prepared.*

*Obligatory WoW in-joke.

 

 

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Whenever I return to the subject of raiding in WoW, I’m aware there are always echoes of previous posts, concerning earlier raid tiers, if not downright broken record syndrome! Some things Blizzard get absolutely right and improve upon, but some things, even if hidden within greater things, persist as flaws.

One thing has to be said, despite what the rose-tinted goggle-wearing, Vanilla-nostalgia crowd might attest: raiding as a group activity has become progressively more difficult. Blizzard constantly has to provide exciting new fights, with mechanics rarely, if ever, seen before, to keep things interesting. Also, player skill is considerably greater than it was 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago, so fights also have to be tailored for this, again to keep the encounters engaging and satisfying. Nobody except the dimmest LFR jockey wants raiding to be face-rollingly easy, otherwise – what’s the point? Raid bosses are puzzles designed by Blizzard developers that we, the players, set ourselves to solve. It’s as simple as that.

However, as once again our team has fetched up against an absolute wall of a boss, in this case Gorefiend in Hellfire Citadel, it’s struck me that Blizzard always does this – plonks an overtuned boss near the start of a raid. The effect this has on teams can be catastrophic. End bosses you expect to be difficult, they are the Big Bads of the raid, but surely bosses should build in difficulty, allowing teams to gear up as they progress, so they are better prepared to tackle the harder fights? I remember Horridon in Throne of Thunder – dear gods! Second boss into the raid and an absolute nightmare. Our team splintered over that. Many dropped out because of low morale and sheer frustration and boredom. Eventually, thanks to an influx of new members, we overcame Horridon, but at the time I thought he was far too difficult for a second boss, and I still think that. There have been others – Garalon in Heart of Fear being another example. Gorefiend is the same. He is the roadblock that teams have to take down to get to easier bosses deeper into the raid. It’s plain silly. You’ve got five potential farm bosses before him on which to gear up your team, but only one tier piece, since Gorefiend drops the second one. And only five bosses that players still needing the legendary ring can farm for the Tomes of Chaos they need. (Some of our players flatly refuse to partake in LFR, even for their rings.)

I’m not talking about Heroic or Mythic level of raiding – simply Normal. As with most teams who tackle this content, we can’t field a bunch of experts every raid. Even in teams that raid at higher level, you get a mixed bag of players – some excellent and some good to ok. In some teams, (more so at Normal difficulty, I assume), you even get fairly inept players, because they are friends or family, or simply because they’re a bum on a seat that means the raid can go ahead because of numbers. Gorefiend does not tolerate such players. Not only does the fight demand perfect execution against a lot of his abilities, but there is also a high amount of RNG involved – random factors that sometimes players have no control over. You can mitigate the damage from such situations by thinking ahead and using initiative learned over nearly a decade of raiding, but even so, players have to be on their toes at all times. That’s fine if you have a team of veteran raiders who are used to such things, but people newer to the game and wishing to learn suffer for it. Not to mention the teams who accommodate them.

Players do not generally learn how to raid at Heroic level or higher – they learn at Normal level. This is partly why I wonder what happened to what was once Flex mode. When this was brought in during Mists of Pandaria, it was an absolute gift to guilds like ours. One step up from LFR difficulty, and perfect for practice. Not only could we take a varying number of players, but the fights themselves were tuned forgivingly. We blithely assumed that in future we could learn fights – and train up new players – through Flex mode, and progress to what was then Heroic, giving us, in fact, more content to play through. We started doing this in Siege of Orgrimmar at the end of the expansion, and looked forward greatly to the new raids in Warlords of Draenor.

The first WOD raid, Highmaul, was fairly easy, with a middling-challenge of an end boss in Imperator Margok. He always felt ‘doable’ even when we were wiping on him. Then we hit Blackrock Foundry and met Oregorger, and the Blast Furnace… and some of their friends. The step up in difficulty seemed large to me, and it felt like we were back on the pre-Flex level of raiding. Moving into Hellfire Citadel confirmed it. While the first bosses were again fairly easy, which is what you should expect at the start of a raid, so that players can have them on farm to gear up a bit, bosses like Gorefiend are nowhere near what the bosses of Siege of Orgrimmar were like. This seems like Throne of Thunder difficulty – not the Flex which we were told is now the new Normal. It isn’t. I don’t know why Blizzard changed their minds on this. It seemed clear they wanted to encourage LFR players to learn the game properly, and Flex was introduced to help them with that, to progress from the farces that are LFR raids. But it seems to me that we’ve simply gone back to how things were pre-Flex. Difficult, then more difficult, and now, with the introduction of Mythic raiding, insanely difficult. We’ve also noticed that all fights are easier on Normal with around 15 players. If you only have 10 in the team (and this is often the case for us), it’s far tougher. While the bosses’ health pools scale in accordance with the number of players in a team, this doesn’t seem to affect positively the difficulty of the fight for a smaller team.

The officers of our guild have read forums about Gorefiend, discovering that he’s seen as a problem at all difficulties of raiding. One poster advised that no team should expect to take him down in fewer than 50 pulls. Others have gone well into the 100s in their attempts to conquer him. I think we’re at about the mid 40s in our number of attempts. We keep finding new strategies to try, and trust that eventually we’ll have the sublime ‘Eureka!’ moment that tends to happen on difficult bosses, when suddenly we can kill him, enabling us to move on within the raid. I don’t mind the puzzles, and enjoy solving them, but as a raid leader and officer, you can just sense when things are going on for too long and your players are starting to get disheartened and are losing interest. I really hope the two new techniques we’re going to try tonight will help matters. It’s not just kills that raise morale. I find that teams are happy to keep plugging away at a boss for weeks if they can only perceive progress. You can feel you’re inching towards a kill, and that’s fine – it’s what raiding is all about. But, the opposite, no progress, is vile and really bad for teams. People just feel like giving up, because they’re swamped by hopelessness.

That said, our team has made fairly steady progress on Gorefiend, depending on which players we have with us. The fact remains that when HFC began, we got 5 bosses down in about six weeks, but we’ve now been on Gorefiend for another six weeks or so. No new kill since early August. That’s not good. Our best pull on Gorefiend has got him to around 33%. Prior to that we were failing at 60% and above. But on some nights, it feels like we’re back at square one, usually because we’ve had a change in the team makeup, because some of our best players are on shift at work, and new faces come along. This lack of consistency does nothing to aid progress, but it’s a fact of life for guilds of mature players who have jobs and families. Three of our best players work shifts – and that’s a lot in a team of our size. Everyone still loves raiding, but often they don’t have the hours that a young person with fewer commitments can put in. With WoW now being ten years old, we can assume many of its players have far more commitments than they did when they first made their accounts.

To finish, I wish that Blizzard would think carefully about the raids in Legion, and once again have the different difficulties tuned for different types of teams. Perhaps they should be tested by a wider range of players than the hardcore ones who take their teams into Beta. You know, ordinary players, the majority? I don’t want faceroll raids, but neither do I want this horrible feeling of hopelessness. There is a happy medium. We once had it.

No one who pays any attention to community forums in WoW could have failed to notice the hue and cry over the fact that Blizzard saw fit to plonk a new mount on the game store yesterday, right after it was announced that subs had dipped by 3 million. Many have seen this move as a cold-hearted effort by the company to claw in some dosh in the face of lost subs. I personally don’t think this is the case, since the mount itself – the Mystic Runesaber – was datamined as long ago as the last patch. It was always destined to be a store mount – simply by the look of it (and that’s another matter) – so *when* it appeared is irrelevant in a way, although it could be said that Blizzard committed a faux pas by releasing it *this* week. Still, if it was a week before or after, or even months, a lot of people would still have shouted that this was a callous attempt to milk money from the remaining player base.

I’m lucky – or some might say stupid – in that I can afford to buy the store mounts when they appear, 2 or 3 times a year. There’s no doubt that these mounts are far flashier than most that appear in the game, and those who can’t afford to buy them for real money have a legitimate reason to be annoyed, or at least disappointed, about that. The new mounts put into WoD itself are pretty poor, aside from the Poundfist (gronnling) and Rukhmar (golden dread raven) drops, which are both very rare. As many have said, why couldn’t store only mounts like the Grinning Reaver and the Iron Skyreaver have been put into the game as rewards for getting exalted with one faction or another? The mounts you currently get for such endeavours are too boring to bother grinding for. There is a precedent for cool mounts in game in the Nether Drakes of Burning Crusade, and the Flameward Hippogryph of Cataclysm. Both required lengthy quest chains and dailies to acquire, but I don’t remember a massive amount of moaning about that.

I have no problem with store mounts in principle, but it’s not good when new mounts provided in the game are so woefully inferior. I’ve often winced at the big, bulky ground mounts, such as yaks, which just scuttle along like poodles. I never ride the ones I bought because of that. The Core Hound was great in that it had a long, slower, but ground-covering stride – exactly how an elekk or yak should move. But the new boars have the undignified scuttle that spoiled many other mounts, including the camels – who should also have had a long, loping gait. In the face of a dearth of content at present, would it really have hurt Blizzard to have put a mount of the Runesaber’s calibre into the game itself – attained through a lengthy quest chain, or a slew of dailies… or something? It would have given bored players something sparkly and desirable to work for. Admittedly, the Blizzard shareholders want their dosh, and store mounts are always a golden goose for the company. However, as a business person myself, in Blizzard’s position, I would have considered providing two distinctly different colours or variations of the Runesaber – one for purchase, one for earning in game. Those with the money and the desire would most likely have bought the store mount anyway, as well as gone for the different coloured one in game. It would have been a win win situation really – those who won’t or can’t buy the store mounts would have been given a pacifier and maybe – just maybe – there would have been less ranting and dissatisfaction.

Sometimes, I’m baffled by Blizzard’s decisions. To my mind, it’s best to keep as many of your customers as happy as you can, even though it’s impossible to please everyone. I wouldn’t continue to rile customers up so much, when obvious solutions are so visible. (Well, I wouldn’t upset customers to that extent in the first place, but then I’m a *small* business, so all my customers are valuable to me.) Certain things get WoW players up in arms, and glossy store mounts is one of those things. Other things, such as changes to classes or talents, are another matter – they have grey areas – but store items are pretty black and white. The fact that Blizzard charge an awful lot for these items is also galling. I can’t help thinking that if they were more generous about the whole issue, making the store mounts cheaper, as well as offering a different but equally attractive alternative in game, it would pour a whole tanker-full of spilled oil onto troubled waters. Those who can’t afford game store mounts, or won’t buy them on principle, would still feel valued as customers, because they could work for an alternative in game. Those who don’t feel that way would buy the new mount as they always do. Mount collectors and fanatics go for all variations of a mount. I know: I’m one of them. Those who would like to buy store mounts but regard them as too expensive would most likely feel the cost was justified – and affordable – if it was £10 or so less. (These mounts are just pixels, they don’t cost much per unit to generate, if anything, beyond the initial design cost.) At a cheaper, fairer price, more store mounts would be bought, more players would find less reason to complain. Why is this such a difficult concept for Blizzard to get their heads round?

I know WoW players can exhibit a ridiculous amount of entitlement, and complain about anything, but sometimes their frustration is justified. I play other MMOs that have game stores, and their prices are far cheaper than Blizzard’s. The sad fact is that it all comes across as Blizzard having contempt for their customers. There is never any generosity. I remember one festival time in Rift – I think it was Yule – when, after an inworld ‘warning’ to alert the players, GMs spontaneously appeared in major cities on all the different servers and literally threw loot pinatas into the air for 10 minutes. Items would just appear in your inventory. People got all sorts of loot, and no one went away empty-handed. Free gifts from Trion, the developers. People were happy and excited. GMs were there among them, their characters visible to everyone, and everyone felt part of something, and valued. It was a small gesture but extremely effective. I could never see Blizzard doing anything like that. OK, their game is far bigger than Rift, and has hundreds more servers across the world, but even so… there are a host of other things they could do if they got their creative heads together and thought about it. Happy customers, who feel valued, are the most important thing to any business, and customers who feel valued will inevitably be less inclined to complain, or indeed abandon the product. Changes Blizzard have to make to the game sometimes will always cause upset, ranting and peevishness. But store items shouldn’t come into that, because ultimately they are not an important part of the game. They might be important in a monetary sense to the company, but they could have their cake and eat it, if they were more accommodating.

I’ve written this piece from the viewpoint of someone who can afford the store mounts and doesn’t object to buying them – but who also sees the downside and unfairness of them. WoW players pay a sub, not like in the free to play games that rely on game stores to exist, so why in WoW should the most shiny things be game store only? I actually felt somewhat nervous getting my new Runesaber out in game last night. I knew that some players I might pass by in Draenor would in some way see my purchase as traitorous, encouraging Blizzard’s meanness and greed, perhaps even to the extent of spitting on my character. It happened with the first store mount, the sparkle pony, which was – and still is – a great mount, but the shine of owning and riding it was diminished by the anger of players that it was a store only item. Some people were kicked from raid groups for wearing the risibly over-priced store helms that came out some time ago. It’s not just because of envy – although that must inevitably play a part – but I think it’s more down to the fact that players feel cheated, or taken for fools. Why pay £10 for a cosmetic helm, when in other games, they cost pence? I worked out that a full transmog set in Rift, including all gear slots, came out at 38 pence per item. £10 for one item? Oh, that’s simply greedy! And players see that, and conclude Blizzard must just think they’re stupid. Game stores obviously can work, but items within them should be balanced with items in game, at least in a sub game.

WoW is the biggest and most successful of MMOs – at least in the West, I can’t speak for the Far East – but the way Blizzard often behave simply comes across as them feeling unassailable, all-powerful, and having a streak of arrogance because of that. My opinion might be completely wrong, but what Blizzard spokespeople say in the face of fierce criticism rarely gives any other perspective.

So, last night, I took my new mount – which flies – out on my Horde DK, who’s only level 78, and flew around Northrend. It’s a beautiful mount, a purple glowing cat, armoured, and with spectral wings, although you’ll only see the best of it in expansions of the game earlier than WoD. I wrote my previous blog post about flying, or lack of in WoD, so I won’t go into that again, but even as I was flying around, admiring my Runesaber, I couldn’t help feeling that it should have been a game reward, not just something you slap on a credit card. How much more sense of accomplishment would I have felt if I’d known I’d just completed a long and difficult quest chain to acquire it?

My last two blog posts have been centred around aspects with which I’m dissatisfied, but I do still love the game and enjoy my time in its virtual world. I don’t want to be a constant moaner, but sometimes you have to let off steam. My next post will have a more positive tone!

I make no apology for the fact this post contains complaints. So… off we go…

As anyone who keeps an eye on the amount of WoW subscriptions will have seen, subs have dropped by 3 million this quarter. That’s with the new xpac only 6 months old or so. We often see doomsayers claiming that this or that game will be the WoW killer, but really, as other more sensible people have stated, WoW itself is the only thing that will kill it.

There was some mystery concerning the release of WoD, which was so much later than we’d been given to expect. Internal problems? Most likely. We’ll never know. But my personal feeling is that WoD was in a way written off from the start; it wasn’t what it was initially supposed to be. Some inner fraughtness within Blizzard affected its development and release – not least that the zone Fahralon (Netherstorm in Outland), is no longer a part of the xpac, which originally it was mentioned as being. There are rumours the next xpac might be as close as an Xmas release. Let’s brush the whole thing under the carpet… perhaps?

I have my own thoughts about the dip in subs so early in an expansion. First of all, (the anti-flying people will rise up and rant at this), the continued no flying is a big annoyance for a large percentage of players. Yes, we *got* the whole ‘experiencing the new world from a worm’s eye view’, and yes, most of us agreed with that, and saw the point of it – for our mains. But I’ve levelled 15 characters to 100. I have two accounts – full of Alliance and Horde on one realm – and by now, dear god, I’m sick of fighting every boring mob from point A to point B. Are hard to get to treasures even important any more? Sheesh. That is surely the only reason not to have flying. I was never a massive fan of Archaeology, as I found it fiddly and frustrating, but now… forget it. Without flying, having to ride round cliffs, and other insurmountable surfaces, while fighting off mobs who are low level and pointless, made any desire to level Archaeology fade to nil.

Also, I bought store mounts and ground (grinded?) for years for mounts in game – that fly. Most look ridiculous and too huge lumbering about on the floor. Plus, one of the most prestigious mounts in WoD is the one that drops from the world boss Rukhmar, which is a flying mount… er, for what point? The new ground mounts we’ve been given are for the most part dull, and all the variations of them are simply recolours. But Blizzard are stubborn. They won’t give in over flying. So the money we might have spent, and the long hours of grinding we might have put in, are worthless – except for any alts we might still be levelling through previous expansions. Not good enough.

I think I speak for many to say that yes – with a new expansion make it non-flying for our first time through the content, but after that – we’ve seen it, done it, let us fly again.

Flying aside, the lack of engaging content at top level was misjudged. I love my garrisons, on every alt, but I can simply log on of an evening and spend nearly all my playing time in the garrisons attending to maintenance. That’s ok, but… We were told that Blizzard wanted more people out in the world. This hasn’t happened. They could have done more with each of the garrison outposts in the various zones. After getting them, they have no point. They could have though, couldn’t they? At the very least, we could have got faction rep from dailies there…. something. We have NO faction dailies now. How many people have even bothered to level the faction reps to exalted apart from the Arrokoa, who we get some follower missions for? I’m guessing… few. The ones we can advance via the Trading Post, for Alliance and Horde, are more of a numbing grind than any before. I just can’t be bothered with each kill in Shattrath or Everbloom granting only 5 rep. Really? Even the Emperor rep in MoP, which was acknowledged as dreadful, wasn’t as bad.

Another thing is what’s happening with guilds and raiding. At the end of MoP, Blizzard introduced flex raiding, which was great for guilds like ours – mainly family and friends – who are of varying skill and experience. SoO was great for us, and we looked forward to the same in WoD. Those of us with a bit more skill could still have fun, but without the crushing experience of endless wipes. Highmaul delivered on this, but then the difficulty curve with BRF caused many guilds of our type to falter. Normal BRF is not flex as we were introduced to it in MoP, which we were told WoD Normal raiding would be. Because we have a limited amount of players, this affects us greatly. We’ve now got the situation where our more competent players are fed up and hiving off – not from our guild, (as we are still a group of good friends), but into the premade group finder, in order to progress in Normal BRF, or Heroic, as is their level. This obviously affects our usual team detrimentally. Others have simply stopped raiding altogether because of frustration. Flex was introduced for guilds like ours, but BRF is too punishing for many. So what happened to that gradated raid difficulty level? I’ve said it before – numerous times – but will say it again. Most raid teams of the ordinary calibre of guild are of varying skill level. We can’t field a constant team of cutting edge experts. Who does Blizzard get to test the raids on the Alphas and Betas of xpacs? Hardcore raiders? It seems that way. Heroic and Mythic are for the younger players who have lots of time they can devote to raiding, and that’s fine. WoW is supposed to be a game for all, the biggest and most successful of MMOs, so what happened to their accommodation for the more mature players? After 10 years, surely, a lot of players are what can be termed mature, with responsibilities and commitments outside the game that prevent rabid raiding at top level of skill. Normal raiding should be a step up from LFR in that tactics and knowledge/experience are vital, but not a guild killer. It should be tuned that the occasional brace of numpties will not mean failure for weeks.

It seems to me that Blizzard’s agenda is to try and herd all players into LFR except the elite minority, who can finish Heroic and Mythic levels of raiding. The way things are going with our guild – but for a very new, potential alliance with another guild on a different server – we’ll have to take our members into LFR if we want to raid. That’s not good. Don’t get me wrong. I love LFR for my alts, but for my mains, two of them, (healer and dps), I want proper raiding. Our guild has existed since Classic WoW. We started raiding in TBC and have kept going since then, with dips and highs, as any guild of our type experiences, but we’ve never had to abandon Normal standard raiding before. I do acknowledge that when players go into LFR, they are then less patient with ‘proper’ raiding, which requires learning, strategy and skill. LFR is a boon, but also a curse. At the very least, it breeds impatience in players, who are no longer willing to spend weeks working on a particular boss.

Another setback I’ve noticed with my army of alts is heroic dungeons. OK, everyone in my guild, (and its sister Horde guild), has got their mains, and often their second main character, through the beginning of the legendary ring quests. Now, if I want success, I have to PUG to move onwards. Dungeons that are risibly easy in PUGs are not so with guild groups, because PUGs get an advantage with the built in buff. Consequently, most guildies now elect to PUG with alts rather than do the dungeons with friends. And that’s good, how? Why should guild groups be penalised by a higher difficulty level? It seems Blizzard discourages guild mates to play together.

I’m not saying Heroic dungeons should be made easier, but when players are faced with the option of an easy run with a PUG or a potential 2 hour stint with a guild group, (happened to me several times), what are they going to opt for? Most of our players are mature people with limited time to play. It’s a no brainer for them to opt for the PUG.

All of these things are bad for guilds that might be termed casual, but which are in fact the majority. And because they’re the majority, when their members get frustrated and bored, off they go. Hence the sub dip. Blizzard has a reputation for its massive pendulum swings within the game. They always go for extremes, rather than look for what succeeds and what needs tweaking in a small way – such as dailies.

I keep an eye on the forums and have seen a lot of extremely good ideas that players have suggested in order to make end game more interesting, long-lasting and engaging, but I also know Blizzard – if they even see these posts – will take no notice. These ideas aren’t radical, or even seem expensive to implement, just ways to extend longevity within the game. It amazes me that some guild mates and I can have a chat about the state of the game and come up with tons of ideas for tweakings, yet the developers don’t even see at the start how their ideas don’t actually work too well. It’s like they don’t think things through, or maybe don’t have the time to.

I guess, ultimately, we’d all like the perfect game, and that will be different for everyone, but there are certain things that are desirable by the majority of players. These things can’t be that hard for Blizzard to accomplish.

Been a while since I added to my WoW blog. Not because I haven’t been playing but because I’ve been so busy with work – and playing – I haven’t had time to write in depth.

WoW had been in the doldrums for me at the end of MoP. I wasn’t just fed up with the lack of new content but somehow with the whole attitude of Blizzard towards their customers. Couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but since the dearth of new stuff in WoW urged me again to play Rift, the generosity of Trion towards their loyal customers in contrast to Blizzard’s meaner attitude grated a bit. OK, Trion *need* to woo players. Bizzard doesn’t have to. But even so… grated a bit.

Still, WoD lured me back totally, and I’ve loved the majority of the new content. There are some fun quests, and lots of things to explore and discover in the landscape. I’ve enjoyed the story and even though I now don’t look forward to tackling certain quests hubs for various reasons, on the whole I’ve not got sick of levelling alts. I like the end game play and want to get all my characters to it.

On Proving Grounds, Pick Up Groups and LFR

I’m no great fan of the Proving Grounds, because on some characters it does seem harder to attain the Silver level and be qualified to do heroic dungeons, than it is for others. Also, how can failing by only a couple of seconds mean you’re unfit to do a heroic dungeon? The DPS challenge is the worst. It really is a DPS race and the tasks involved barely emulate what’s required in a dungeon team. Surely, the most vital requirement is moving from the fire? While my hunters and warlock sailed through PG to silver on their first attempts, my mage took a frustratingly long time. I’ve yet to succeed with my paladin, even though my DK sailed through like the hunters. I imagine that I find it easier on certain characters because I play their class the most, but I know others in our guild have had similar complaints and that’s with their mains. But I do have to concede the Silver PG requirement appears to have improved the PUG community. In dungeons – and maybe I’m just lucky – I’ve not come across any jerkish behaviour. Often quite the opposite, as people ask whether others in the team want to complete quests or do the tasks to gain followers while in there. The atmosphere feels lightened. This might be because the standard of play is higher so people get less frustrated. Or maybe it was the lesser skilled people who were the jerks, and they’re just not there anymore.

LFR too doesn’t seem quite so fraught. I assume that the level of gear form it, plus the removal of tier pieces, has put off a lot of the wannabe elitists who often used to make the experience so miserable. LFR is still great for alts, even if the gear isn’t as shiny as it used to be. However, I do think the ease with which people can use PUGs now, plus the fact they’re not as hideous as they used to be, has been a bad thing for guilds. On my alts, if I want to do the legendary ring quests, I have to PUG the heroic dungeons for that part of the chain. Everyone in the guild is either doing their own thing, pugging themselves, or attending to garrison maintenance. We only seem to get together for group play on raid nights. That’s rather a shame because I remember that the last time we were in Draenor – or its alternate version Outland in The Burning Crusade – guild heroics were available every night. Now, it seems rare guildies get together for them. Of course there’s no reason to do them now but for the ring quests and to get a character geared enough to start raiding. No currency to gain, and mediocre gear that’s appealing only to a character who’s just dinged 100 and won’t wear it for longer than a few days. Another reason, I think, is that PUGs of course get a buff that makes the task easier. Without that, taking lesser geared or skilled players along can still make a dungeon such as Slag Mines a possible wipefest. Given the choice, I know I opt for finding a PUG myself, rather than go with a team unlikely to find easy success.

I think heroics need to offer more than a tiny window between hitting level 100, completing legendary quests and then moving on. Being able to attain reputation with various factions in them, or apexis crystals and garrison resources as rewards for completion might be good incentives.

Garrisons

Although I really enjoy maintaining my garrisons, and hope this is a feature that remains – in one form or another – in future expansions, I must say that multiple garrisons on alts are now getting a bit wearing. It takes so long to attend to them all once a day! I wish some mechanism would come into play whereby we could manage the garrisons a bit more effectively. At the very least, let a follower in the mine or herb garden actually collect those materials for us. Have you tried keeping on top of these things on 8 level 100 characters? I don’t mind the constant repetition with garrison campaign quests and Harrison Jones adventures, but please let the mine and garden be a bit quicker to maintain.

I also think we need some tweaking with the garrison followers. As we can collect so many, being allowed only 25 active ones seems a bit mean. OK I get we can’t have a horde of followers chomping at the bit to devour missions, but perhaps things could be changed so that followers working in profession buildings or the Barracks don’t count towards that 25 man total. Also, couldn’t the inactive ones still appear spontaneously as npcs in our garrisons? We’re allowed 10 mini pets to wander around, so why can’t followers be the same? When our main team are out on missions, our garrisons are sparsely populated.

Paying 250 gold to reactivate a follower you’ve put into retirement also seems a bit steep to me. If we can only have 25 active followers, I think the remaining idle ones should be swapped in and out of our active team as we please, at no cost. As it stands, on my main character I have a bank heaving with bits of gear for my followers that I can’t use, and I don’t want to swap an idle one in temporarily just to slap a couple of 615 pieces on it, then retire it again. It would be nice if it were easier to bring some lower level ones onto the team quickly and easily to level them up and provide more options for our best team. Or alternatively, let follower gear be bind to account, so that our alts can benefit from all that gear lying useless in our mains’ banks.

It’s become clear that the Dwarven Bunker and the Salvage Yard are absolute musts for our characters, especially for alts, yet the poor tailors/enchanters struggle with levelling their followers because many will opt to have the Tailoring/Enchanting buildings, at least until top level, so miss out on the Salvage Yard. Conversely, those of my characters without professions other than gathering end up with a wasted small building slot. So I do think some flexibility needs to be introduced somehow.

Travel

My only other complaint is the continuing lack of flying. On the one hand I get why flying would ruin a lot of the little features in the game, like reaching difficult treasures, but on my 9th alt heading towards 100 I’m utterly sick of fighting my way through every annoying little mob en route to objectives. I remember when flying was brought in for alts in Wrath of the Lich King, and it felt sublimely liberating. Could do with that now too. Yes, we have these odd individuals who want the game to be as hard and irritating as possible, but I imagine the majority feel as I do. Yes, we did the content at worm’s eye level, enjoyed it – even did it on a few alts – but now we would prefer convenience and speed. We’ve already seen all of what Draenor has to offer.
I also think the lack of flying has killed world boss fights. In MoP, I’d regularly log on and join a team to kill the world bosses every Friday evening. I never see that in WoD. Maybe people just do it silently on the Group Finder, but I find myself passing over those bosses continually as I’m being taxied around for quests, and no one’s fighting them. Rukhmar – who can drop an amazing mount, ironically a flying one – is always flapping around Spires of Arak unmolested. Reason? I don’t think people can gather quickly enough, so don’t even bother to try. The bosses are too spread out, but then the starting zones for Horde and Alliance are as well, so that must also contribute to the problem. In MoP, both Galleon and the Sha were very close to the home cities (or shrines) so were quick to reach. Oondasta and Nalak were a bit further away, but didn’t feel as far as the WoD bosses are, mainly because we could fly to them. When you reach Spires of Arak or Gorgrond, even if your taxi is quick, you then have to ride on the ground, around mountains and through areas thick with mobs, to reach the relevant boss. Chances are it will be dead by the time you get to it.

I absolutely understand Blizzard’s reasoning behind why flying was not allowed at the start of the expansion. Being confined to the floor did bring a lot more depth to the levelling experience, but now I truly believe it’s time for Blizzard to relent. Also, doing archaeology without flying is vile. I just don’t do it any more. Not only might you have to ride round an immense unclimbable hill or cliff to get to your next spot in a dig site, (then have to go back to where you started for the next one), it also takes far longer to reach the different sites on ground mounts. Archaeology was never fun for me in WoW – I far prefer the Rift take on it with random artifacts, like the WoD treasures, to be found in the landscape. The mechanics of archaeology are clunky. Your surveying equipment seems dysfunctional to say the least. It can direct you for a long way in one direction only to change its mind and direct you another way. Flying at least made the profession slightly less tedious.

Last Thoughts

Despite my gripes, I think WoD is a fine expansion and I’m not sick of it yet. Blizzard have brought in many quality of life changes that I think enhance the game hugely. I’m all for simplification in an ageing game that had in many areas become cumbersome. I’m glad to see the back of the overcomplicated gemming, enchanting and reforging for gear. It’s great to do a raid, win something, and be able to wear it straight away without it damaging your delicately-tuned reforging etc. I like the changes to gathering professions in that you can start them straight away, wherever you are, without having to spend days in the starter areas, picking the right herbs or whatever. Players have wanted player housing for a long time and garrisons are moving us towards such a thing. All we lack now is a customisable personal house in our garrison!

I expect an announcement from Blizzard at this year’s Blizzcon concerning the next expansion. I’m eager to discover what they’re planning for it and whether the good parts of WoD will be built upon, and the weaker areas strengthened. We still have at least one major patch for this expansion, and that too might spring some pleasant surprises on us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The Mighty Wall of Leveling

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

2. Guild and Player Housing

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

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

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

3. Character Model Overhaul

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

4. Vanilla Pet Model Overhaul

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

5. New Races

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

6. New Classes

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

7. Inventory Space

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

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

7. Gear Customization

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

8. Cross Faction Contact

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

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

9. Resource and Mob Tagging.

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

10. Let PvE Realms be PvE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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