Tag Archive: gaming


As the content drought in WoW stretches towards a summer wasteland, I was interested to hear about a new MMO that’s just been released. Players in its Beta have been praising it online for ages. As I’ve virtually run out of things to do in WoW until Legion (which hopefully will be sooner rather than later) I thought I’d give this new Black Desert a go. It’s a ‘buy to play’ title, and because of the unctuous praise it’s received, I thought I might as well splash out and buy one of the launch bundles. I envisaged I’d be playing it throughout the summer. The game was advertised – and reviewed – as the ‘new generation’ of MMOs. But sadly, if that’s the case, it looks to me as if the genre is moving backward.

When I play a new MMORPG, I like to be able to pick up the basics fairly quickly. Most I’ve played share a syntax, in that components of their User Interfaces share common elements, so that you know pretty much from the start how to move your character, how to use combat skills, how to access your inventory and so on. Obviously, there are differences between games, but not generally to the extent where you can’t work things out and get into playing straight away. Usually there are good tutorials to help with that too. Whenever I’ve run into an MMO whose UI feels utterly alien to me, and/or the tutorial aspect is lacking, it’s put me off playing. I want the way I operate my characters and interact with the game to feel instinctive, not baffling. Black Desert is absolutely baffling – not just to me but to several other members of my WoW guild who are currently trying to play it.

OK, I accept my own prejudices concerning how I like to play are colouring my views of this game, and it is – I understand – typically Korean in the way it operates. Many players who are currently raving about it online are probably already familiar with that style. But to me Black Desert lacks that familiar syntax I look for in a game, which allows me to immerse myself quickly. The complication of learning completely new systems interferes with that immersion. I feel annoyed at having bought this game, purely on the recommendations of gushing reviews, most of which showed videos of characters in combat within the visually stunning world, and slavered over the character customisation. What wasn’t so obvious in these reviews was how you actually play. If I’d been in the Beta to try the game out for myself, I’d never have bought it. Usually, you can trust reviews that come out of a game’s Beta to at least warn people about the downsides. Perhaps I looked at the wrong reviews.

The default mode of character movement is to use the keyboard – I personally prefer using a mouse for that. The default mode of combat is using the keyboard too, but not through the number keys as in most other MMOs. You might have to use – for example – the F key in combination with the left or right mouse button, or with Shift as well. It often also involves memorising a longer series of ‘combo’ button pressing. I’m used to having quick and easy action bars to access combat skills, which are numbered 1 to 10 and can be activated either by a number key button or the mouse. In BD, you can, to a degree, change the UI so that you can move with the mouse, but it’s clunky. Also, you *can* have a basic action bar of 10 slots, but some skills can’t actually be put on it at all. I had to read several web pages to discover how to put *any* skills on this apparently grudgingly-provided bar, and then discovered that there is a ‘mana tax’ for using it rather than the main key combos. Another MMO I played, Aion, uses skill combos, but much more elegantly, and you learn how to get the best from them as you level and acquire new skills. The combos are baked into the key strokes and don’t require any memorising. In Black Desert you get loaded with new skills that require memorising different key sequences almost from the start. There are only two quests that teach you some basic moves, and there is a pop up video you can elect to have on screen that shows the key sequences. But having to peer repeatedly at this while fighting isn’t good. OK, you’ll learn the sequences eventually but really… why? Just seems needlessly complicated and adds nothing to the common combat mechanics found in other games. The combat system owes more to Street Fighter than to games like World of Warcraft. On top of all this, you have to use the Tab key to swap in and out of combat mode, which is often annoying when you find yourself in the wrong stance, chucking fireballs at a hapless NPC merchant. You have to hit the CTRL key to gain control of your mouse, which you need to do so you can click on elements of the UI. Normally, the mouse only swings the camera about. Again annoying when you have to keep doing it, because camera mode swings back into action constantly. You have to use R to interact with anything. I prefer to use the mouse to click on NPCs, loot, mobs, gathering nodes and so on. I don’t like that combat and interaction with the world are what amounts to different stances, and you can’t do them simultaneously. Constant swapping just becomes a tiresome chore and if you’re the kind of player who prefers always to use the keyboard to move, you’ll no doubt get sick of finding yourself flailing around wildly with your weapon instead of walking up the road.

I suppose that with determination I’d get over this unfamiliar way to play so it would become as instinctive as how I play WoW, Rift, Guild Wars, Aion, Wildstar and others. (Tera I couldn’t bear for the same reason I find BD difficult.) But for me, BD’s failings aren’t just down to combat, movement and interaction. The game simply isn’t newbie friendly. Economy and commerce are a huge part of the game, and very complex, (which will undoubtedly keep the game fresh for a long time for those who master these aspects), but it’s all gobbledegook to me. I’ve only just worked out how to get my horse in and out of a stable and to ride it. I got this mount as part of the bundle I bought, but have little idea how you get a horse otherwise, other than you have to be level 20 and then start taming them in the wild, or something. (That might be completely wrong, by the way.) The intricacies of getting more horses, then breeding them to sell, remains an impenetrable mystery, as does the whole ‘become a successful merchant’ feature. I’ve bought a house but it’s not doing anything. I seem to have bought a farm, or am at least renting it, but have no idea what to do with it now. Workers are mentioned, but I don’t know how to hire them. There are crafting professions but I’ve not found out how to learn them yet. You can apparently build boats, and have trading caravans… somehow. There are different currencies, and a core mini-game to do with earning good reputation with named NPCs, all of which again have to be studied online if you want to understand them properly. And even then, there’s a huge amount of information to take in. What tutorials do exist in game miss out important tips or else the translation to English isn’t quite right. I think lots of breadcrumb quests would have helped, that led players to learn about how to get a horse and cart and fill it with produce from their farms, and then sell it, along with a quest to find and hire workers, and so on. Nothing in this game flows naturally for me.

The developers seem to take for granted that players will be familiar with the style of play, which of course might well be the common MMO syntax in its country of origin. Other Korean games have been franchised in the West, and generally get a makeover to make them comprehensible to their intended market, but sadly I’m still in the dark about how to access most of BD’s features, and I’ve had it for about three weeks now. The difficulty of finding out what you’re supposed to do has put me off playing, so therefore I don’t play as much as I normally would with a new title, and consequently I’m not learning it. Vicious circle. Even searching online hasn’t been the greatest help. I’ve found bemused players trying to get information on forums, often to meet with that tiresome scoffing response from ‘expert’ players, who’ve been with it all the way through the Beta, and who scorn anyone who can’t get their head round the arcanery. I can’t see this MMO doing well in the West. People want to get into a game and get on with it as soon as possible, not have to try and find info online every five minutes about its most basic aspects.

Black Desert doesn’t have end game like the majority of other MMOs – there are no raids and dungeons with their enforced gear ladders. I don’t disapprove of this, and do appreciate it offers a new form of character progression – the idea apparently is that you level constantly in such things as trading, riding, farming and so on. As BD would always be my secondary game, (if I could be inspired to play it more), I don’t mind at all being free of the usual end game activities. Trading and becoming a better horse-woman sound pretty good to me for a game I’d play casually. But I can’t get round the way it works. Some people won’t mind, and will no doubt consider my criticisms trivial, if not misguided, but given the amount of other players we’ve noticed floundering around in the game, I wonder how many will feel like me and simply write off bitterly the cost of buying it.

As for the acclaimed character customisation, while you do get a lot of it in some respects, in others it’s limited. (Aion, I think, still holds the crown for having the best character creation in any MMO I’ve tried.) Classes are restricted to one gender, and one class is the obligatory Anime schoolgirl type, which, with a fair amount of tweaking on the character creation screen, you can just about change enough so she doesn’t look too disturbing. Who plays these deliberately provocative ‘little girl’ characters anyway? I always find them very creepy, if not downright perverted. One of the NPC races in the game is comprised of what look like tiny children, who may or may not really be adults – haven’t worked it out yet – but I found one with facial hair that was quite… odd. I know this sort of thing is common in Far Eastern RPGs, and it’s clearly a cultural thing, but I don’t think it translates well beyond their home countries, and I’m not the only female player who finds the idea of scantily-clad, pre-pubescent girl characters with their knickers showing somewhat repellent. But the downsides of the characters are a minor gripe in comparison to the rest of the game.

To be fair, BD does have a ton of features and activities within it, and the world itself is beautifully designed. I understand it’s huge too, although I’ve barely left the starter area. Because I spent money on it, I’ll persist with trying to learn it for a while longer. I don’t want that money to have been wasted. But I’m disappointed with the lack of guidance. Even its most newbie-hostile aspects could have been tolerable if the tutorials had been thorough and well-written. I’m not averse to trying games that do things differently, but only if I’m given clear instructions on how to play. Black Desert just doesn’t do that for me. At least it wasn’t marketed as a ‘WoW killer’ like other MMOs, because it certainly isn’t. It’s ‘buy to play’ at the moment, with a cash shop, and maybe if it goes ‘free to play’ it’d be worth giving a try. All I can say now is don’t waste your money, unless you’re prepared to spend a lot of time getting to grips with the Korean style of playing, or are already au fait with it.

While WoW is the game I play the most, I also dabble in Rift – less so since WoD as I’m kept busy in WoW with what game time I have. I’ve kept visiting Telara, the world of Rift, over the past six months; tinkering about because I do love the atmosphere of that world. Nightmare Tide, Rift’s latest xpac, came out a short while before WoD, so I played it pretty relentlessly during the weeks I was waiting for WoW’s new xpac to hit, knowing I wouldn’t be spending as much time in Telara thereafter. I didn’t manage to get a character to level cap in that time, but recently – having levelled nearly all of my 20 Nordrassil WoW characters to 100, and a bit quested out with Draenor – thought I’d grind out the last two levels on my main in Rift with the benefit of some hefty experience potions.

One thing that struck me when I went back to Rift to level was that I didn’t feel as immersed in the game world as I do in WoW. I think this is partly down to the nature of the Nightmare Tide xpac – we were carted off to the dimension of Water to help out with various calamities, but our faction leaders and familiar figures from Telara didn’t come to fight alongside us or appear constantly as such figures do in WoD. Consequently, you feel sort of isolated from the main world. In WoW, we have a lot of well known figures from Azeroth making the journey with us to Draenor – some of them lose their lives for it – but as a Defiant player in Rift, I missed those old faces, such as Asha Catari and The Faceless Man. It didn’t feel like the faction was doing anything *together*. The new races in the Plane of Water don’t appeal to me that much. The mermaids are cool, and so is the strange aquatic beast, Fenric, who isn’t quite what they appear, (that character is probably the best), but there isn’t much characterisation otherwise. Fenric is the only NPC who travels with you throughout the story, changing and growing themselves, much as Yrel does in WoD. But Fenric is a one off. The ruling class in Draumheim, the major city hub, are all bonkers, living in hallucinations and delirium, and their madness started getting on my nerves rather than amusing me. I didn’t warm to any of them. The baddies are just out and out baddies, generic RPG almost, spouting clichéd lines and lacking the nuances of the Draenor warlords, with their distinct characters.

I also missed the levelling experience of WoD. We take so much for granted in WoW. Rift sometimes seems like the retirement home of all the disaffected WoW players who complained WoW was too easy. Levelling in Rift isn’t. Yes, you can pick your way around carefully and not get into too much trouble, but much of it seems geared towards group play – even during questing. You can’t just plough in and take on multiple mobs and expect to emerge unscathed. With questing gear alone it takes a while to kill things and while mobs aren’t as sensitive as they were in earlier days of Rift, they still get annoyed with you at a fair distance. You often have to search for quest objectives that might be in difficult to reach places; constant lengthy fights with irrelevant mobs gets tiresome after a while. Even without flying (and regular readers of this blog will know my feelings on that!), levelling in WoD was – and is – fluid and satisfying. You don’t get stuck in bottlenecks of difficulty where you can’t progress alone. In a game of this type, I think that’s the way levelling should be, an interesting, colourful journey – save the hard stuff for level cap.

So, going back to Rift has made me appreciate WoW more. I realised how much of WoD I like. One thing I’m utterly satisfied with is the garrisons and I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get something similar in the next xpac. But I can’t help thinking that due to the fact a lot of players seem to dislike garrisons, Blizzard might possibly jettison them, rather than tweak them carefully to iron out their weaknesses. Such is Blizzard’s usual response – go to extremes. For me, garrisons have enabled my army of alts to have purpose again. The follower missions are great for getting them gear, so it’s possible to raid with them, with premade groups, not just LFR. My warlock and mage are both around the 660 ilevel mark, with others not far behind. I like the fact that if I haven’t got time to go out farming for mats, (without flying, a vile chore), I can just send the alts round their mines and herb gardens for a while, gathering enough to support those who need mats for their professions. The only farming I tend to put off, even when it’s needed, is trapping beasts for my barns – one each on Horde and Alliance. That’s a chore, because we have to taxi to Nagrand for it, and with some classes those elite wolves must be pretty annoying, as they pack a punch. I have Hunters for both barns, which makes the job easy enough, but even so, lengthy. It’s fine for passing the time when I’m in a queue for group content, but that’s about it.

Prior to WoD, I’ve always had my two mains, a Druid healer and a Hunter, who’ve stepped in to work as our raid team required them. I’ve had a couple of tanks, who are not needed at the moment, so would, but for WoD, be languishing doing nothing. My next two characters – semi main – were the warlock and the mage, but often they didn’t get much to do, if anything. Now, with the boost of follower missions, it’s possible to have multiple characters capable of end game. I can pick and choose which ones I’ll do LFR with each week – there’s no rush after all . These occasional visits help augment their gear. If there’s ever a situation where we need one of these classes present in our raid team, I have a fairly decent character waiting in the wings, who can be brought up to scratch without too much effort. With my mains, at present I’m healing in our guild raid team exclusively, but have kept my Hunter pretty much on par, should I need to swap to him at any point. I adore this flexibility, which we’ve never had to this extent before. Other guild members have also got a couple or more characters at a decent level, which helps with team formation when members fluctuate. Blizzard have got this aspect just right. Small and medium sized guilds need this flexibility, and the ability to gear up a character to an acceptable level pretty quickly in a personnel emergency is great.

Going back to garrisons, another thing I love about them is the followers themselves. If you bother to ask one to help when you’re defending a garrison invasion, some of them have cool animations and spell effects, as well as great-looking armour and weapons. A friend of mine had the gnome warlock Ranni Flagdabble along the other night when I went to help him with a garrison invasion, and this little gnome spontaneously erupted into a huge demon form to fight. I also particularly like the priest Rorin Rivershade, and her gorgeous armour has tempted me to brave pvp so I can farm honor points for a similar set for my own priest. (There are a lot of older pvp armour sets on sale for honor at the pvp vendors on Serpent Spine wall in Pandaria, many of which are stunning.)

In a way, Rift has player housing with the dimensions, but those buildings you create, and the landscapes you can transform, are empty. There are no NPCs, so they’re like ghost towns, as if everyone has just left. Rift players who are into dimensions plead for some life in the form of critters and humanoid NPCs, but Trion don’t seem keen to devote time and resources to granting that wish. In WoW, we have life in abundance in our garrisons. When all your followers are at home, the garrisons are busy and full of residents. Nor are they just static – they appear to be getting on with their lives, talking to one another, wandering about, going for a drink in the inn… Rift dimension addicts would kill for that!

I’ll really miss my followers when we leave Draenor. They’ve become as familiar as my actual characters and I enjoy seeing them mooching about the garrison. I came across two having a row the other day, and one of them burst into tears as I passed by. I wondered what they were arguing about! I like the way Blizzard has made an effort to give these 100s of NPCs their own little character traits. I don’t want to leave mine behind, and would happily take all of them with me into whatever adventures we have next. I wouldn’t mind levelling them up again, in the same way my characters will have to level, perhaps swapping in some new team members now and again, if someone interesting pops up in the inn. But I’m more or less resigned to the fact they’ll remain in Draenor. I can see myself going back to visit them, once they no longer have to work by going out on missions and are always around the garrison.

Another thing I think Blizzard has done really well is the changes to the subsidiary professions. While the crafting professions have become a bit tiresome, Cooking, First Aid and Fishing are now easy to level. It’s possible to get all your alts to top Fishing without too much effort. That has never happened before, mainly because Fishing was such a grind and so time-consuming. Now, it’s a great thing to do (along with barn stocking) when you’re queued for a dungeon or LFR. Passes the time and is very productive (even more so when you have Nat Pagle ensconced in the Fishing Shack). The more proficient fishermen and women can provide the fish for the daily quest for alts, which awards a whopping 15 points, so you can steadily advance everyone’s Fishing level without having to pay too much attention to it. You need *something* to do while you’re queuing, after all. Cooking and First Aid are also mainly levelled by fish, so Fishing helps max them quickly too. I’m still surprised that it’s most likely all of my alts will have top Fishing by the end of the xpac. That’s unheard of! I still think Archaeology needs some work (shudder), and in the next xpac I hope Blizzard makes changes again to the crafting professions, but they shouldn’t touch the subsidiary profs now – they’re perfect as they are.

One thing that most players seem to agree on is that the levelling aspect of WoD is really good. It’s polished – no other word for it – and I really can’t see it can be improved upon. There are shaky areas in the game, which I’ve talked about on this blog, as have many others on their own blogs and on forums, but really when you look at the competition, WoW still deserves its crown. I’m fond of Telara and my characters in Rift, but if you think crafting profs are now grindy in WoW, go there for a bit. It costs a fortune to level them and they’re really fiddly. All of them. There’s no fast track method to gear up alts, even if crafting materials are easily acquired through minion missions. But those minions are just pictures on a mission Window, they’re not there with you inworld.

I’m not sure Blizzard will ever be able to perfect such aspects of the game as raiding, dailies, class changes, and pvp, since players have so many different requirements, and what pleases one lot of players greatly disgruntles many others. But the aspects that are constant Blizzard generally does well. Crafting, hmm, still needs attention – finding that balance between commitment and result without making it too fast or too slow. As for the story, whether you like the way it’s done or not, there *is* a story, a history, and people within it. It’s not just tacked on as an afterthought.

People tend to look back on earlier days of WoW as some kind of Golden Age, but the improvements to the game and quality of life changes have lifted it miles above its formative years. We just tend to forget all the bad stuff and concentrate fondly on what is perceived as good. I think it’s time we reflected on just what’s so good about WoW *now*. I can remember thinking I’d never get to see places like Black Temple and Serpentshrine Cavern, but now every raid is available to all – at different levels of difficulty. I can remember thinking I’d never be able to afford the faster ground mount in Vanilla. It took me months to grind the gold for the slowest mount. Now, gold comes easily and there is an abundance of mounts – account wide. I won’t go further with the comparisons because it’s old news, but it’s also good to remind ourselves of the changes. WoW is never going to be the perfect game we’d all like, because there are millions of visions of that perfect game. But despite its shortcomings, there’s no doubt: it’s a damn *good* game.

Coda: as Blizzard are renowned for their spectacular pendulum swings, are we looking forward to an xpac that’s flying only? 😉

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.

With the next patch looming over the horizon – it has ships so it has to *sail* towards us – I’ve been concentrating on getting my army of alts to level 100. The experience boost potions you can now buy for garrison resources are fantastic – in fact you almost level too quickly. (There’s an npc sells them right outside your Town Hall, both factions). I’ve had to work out a strategy for completing the main quest lines in each zone that award building plans for the garrison and/or followers. This saves time and gold in the long run.

My process is this:

Starter zone – pretty much do it all, be it Shadowmoon or Frostfire, depending on faction. Get characters to next zone, Gorgrond, as quickly as possible. But completing the whole starter zone gets you started with 10 or so followers, who are then working for you and levelling up.

Once in Gorgrond, take up the main quest chain concerning your outpost building – the arena or the logging type one. I generally go for the arena, since this awards a strong temporary Gladiator npc you can call upon in emergencies. Great for the flimsier classes. Also, while questing around the arena area, you get to pick up Peckers, the cool raptor NPC for your garrison, simply by freeing him from a cage. Once free, he heads for your garrison and then acts up like a Siamese cat. If you pet him, he kicks you to the ground. Also does this to visitors. Cool.

Anyway, doing all quests in Gorgrond that lead to the Iron Docks gives you the building plans to be able to get a level two Inn. Now you can start recruiting a free follower every week, to your specifications. I’ve stopped picking up every single follower you come across while levelling, simply because there are so many cool ones to get from the inn. On Alliance, there is Clever Ashyo, Mia Linn, Rorin Rivershade, Ken Ken, Soulare of Andoral… to name but a few. Some have neat effects on their amour so are glamorous additions to your garrison, when they’re just hanging out and not on missions. On Horde, although I don’t know the names as well, I picked up a delicious female Blood Elf warlock, a half naked male Blood Elf mage (yum.. sorry), a Blacksmith called Charles (Chuck) Norris who’s Undead, and also a voodoo Troll in a top hat. It’s preferable to have different followers on all the alts so the scenery varies. I’ve been recruiting followers with the Treasure Hunting trait for the past few weeks, because this ups your gold income dramatically. Good for people with limited time to play.

Anyway, once you have Gorgrond plans, forget any other quests (assuming this is an alt you’re levelling) and head to Talador. Here, either of the outpost buildings give a good offensive buff, so choose which you prefer. Do the starter quests to get your outpost going and then follow the quest line to the Gordonni fortress. After this is completed, you get more plans, major ones, and you can build a level 2 Barracks. Now you can have a follower bodyguard, which speeds things up a lot for the flimsier characters. At the very least, you can take more risks. For clothies, I tend to use Illona on Alliance and Tormokk on Horde. (Look these up on Wowhead if you don’t know how to get them – don’t want to go into too much detail here.) The more armour and weapons you give your bodyguard when they’re level 100, the tougher and more resilient they get.

After the Gordonni part of the zone has been completed, you can choose to finish the main Shattrath story if you wish, but you’ve already got the garrison plans, and hopefully have picked up the bodyguard follower near to Auchindoun from a quest in the landscape, (available for both factions), so for alts there’s not an awful lot of point to hang around. Head to Spires of Arak.

Once in Spires, do the starter quests, and as soon as you can, take up the quest chain for your outpost there. There are two main chains to follow for plans and they are the same for Horde and Alliance. The Pinchwhistle chain grants the Salvage Yard plans – essential – and also awards the goblin girl Kimzee Pinchwhistle as a follower, who has often turned herself out in purple once I recruit her. Hello, epic chum! The other main outpost chain will also grant a small/medium building plan. While in Spires, I always pick up the cat guy Leorajh as a follower, since he’s a bodyguard. He’s a shaman, and will heal if the mood takes him, which frankly isn’t regular enough for my liking. He cares too much about his dps. Questing with him is like being in LFR! However, he’s good for Hunters or melee characters. Again, look him up on WoWhead if you don’t know where he hides.

In Spires, I tend to do the whole Arrokoa story chain as well starting in Veil Terokk, simply because doing so grants Ishaal the Arrokoa as a bodyguard follower at the end of it. He’s a shadow priest, so good for Hunters or melee classes to have as a bodyguard.

Once Spires tasks are complete, my alts are now almost at 100. I head to Nagrand and do the outpost quests to get another set of garrison plans. At 100, most players will elect to have the Dwarven Bunker (or Horde equivalent), the Salvage Yard and the Trading Post. Some alts might have to miss out on one of these in order to accommodate something like a Barn, for Savage Blood gains. But if you want to gear up your followers and get access to missions that award phat raid lewts, then you need the Salvage Yard and the Dwarven Bunker (or equivalent).

With this plan, I streamline my levelling, accruing important plans along the way and heading for 100 as quickly as possible. There is plenty to do thereafter. In order to do heroics, characters of course have to have 610 level gear. This can easily be attained if you’ve upgraded your Inn early and have been collecting the best followers on offer, covering all the available skills, and have also built the Salvage Yard and the Dwarven Bunker (or Horde equivalent). Gear upgrades come in thick and fast for followers and pretty soon they’re running home with fabulous gear for your character. Even as you’re levelling in Talador and beyond, you’ll get missions that award gear for your character better than quest rewards. Just get that Inn into production so you can choose an effective array of followers. The higher you gear up your followers, so the better missions are offered to them. At top level, they can raid Black Foundry for you and bring home 670 level gear. I recommend the addon Master Plan for garrison missions, which not only speeds things up but keeps you advised about which of your followers you should be gearing up as a priority.

If you keep on top of follower missions and get a level 2 Inn as soon as you can (i.e. Gorgrond), then you’ll have a mass of level 100 gear waiting for your character as soon as it dings. Chances are you can get almost, if not entirely, to the heroic 610 ilevel just by raiding your bank of all those 615 mission pieces that have been waiting there. If you’re below 610, a few quests in Nagrand will sort that, especially since the Dwarven Bunker increases the chance that quest rewards/drops will be upgraded to a blue or epic level.
So that’s my own strategy for levelling alts, making best use of the garrison. Hope it’s of use or inspiration to others.

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.

I’ve not had much to say on my gaming blog for a while, not least because I’d run out of content to do in WoW. I’ve been playing Rift again over the summer, and really enjoying that, not least because of the player housing, which I’ve really got into. Well, player housing is rather a misnomer, as what you get in Rift is not exactly that. You get areas of land called dimensions, which are segments of the actual game world, some large, some fairly small, that you can build upon and transform – in some cases people have done so radically. These dimensions are instanced, but you can set them so that the public can view them, or just friends. Some amazing artwork goes down in these dimensions. I’m only a noob at it; some of the pros, who’ve been doing it for years, are amazing. Yes, you can have a house in your dimensions, which you can build and furnish yourself, but the best ones are when players do things with the landscape, or dream up incredible scenarios, illustrations from books or films, or just their own dreams. So, while WoW has been quiet, that’s been my interest – both building dimensions and spending a lot of time viewing other people’s.

Last week saw the prepatch to Warlords of Draenor arrive, so I’ve been drawn back to WoW, but at the same time (or rather this week), Rift released its new xpac, Nightmare Tide. So plenty to do now in both games. I feel I made rather a mistake abandoning Rift while I threw myself into WoW’s Mists of Pandaria, not least because I used up all the content in Mists and was left with months of nothing to do. When I went back to Rift, there was some catching up to do and I’d cancelled my sub at founder member rate, so would never again be able to have the risibly cheap 5 quid a month sub. Even though Rift is now free to play, I did resubscribe, because the privileges for ‘patrons’ (or subbers) are just too great to do without. If you can afford it, go for it. I believe it’s still a bit cheaper than a WoW sub. I cancelled one of my WoW accounts, just keeping one going so I could visit the guild now and again and meet up with friends. I think now if I’d kept both games going and had divided my time, both Mists and Rift’s xpac Storm Legion would have lasted me perfectly until the games had new content to offer. It’s my plan now to do that. I don’t play as much as I used to, so keeping steadily at both games when I have the time seems best. I enjoy both of them equally, but for different reasons.

Anyway, my thoughts on the WoD prepatch and also Nightmare Tide in Rift.

I’m happy with the changes to my classes in WoW, which in some cases are quite radical. The only one I had any trouble with when doing the new Iron Horde quest chain in Blasted Lands was my priest – but I think that’s down to the fact I don’t play him much anyway so I’m not familiar enough with the playstyle. However, that said, my shaman, who I hardly ever play, did well and seemed far hardier and more powerful than before.

There’s divided opinion over the character model revamp for WoD, which of course came in with the prepatch. I play mainly Night Elf males and Draenei females, and out of the crop these seem to have drawn the short straws with the new faces. Bodies and animations are fine but… I suppose I’ll get used to them. I’m not disgusted enough to turn off the new models and go back to the clunky versions, even though I did prefer the faces.

It’s great we can now go into raids like Firelands and Dragon Soul and zip through them quickly and easily with just a couple of players in a team. Some classes can even solo them. As the mount runs for those raids are on my list, this is a welcome innovation. I’ve done the Iron Horde quests on my main account so now just waiting for WoD to drop. Debating whether to revive the second account, but it seems a bit lavish when I’m playing Rift too.

So on to Rift’s Nightmare Tide. The xpac was delayed a couple of weeks, partly because players on the PTS (public test shards) reported on tons of bugs. I went on there myself and fell foul of a few, literally falling through the world on one occasion! But the bugs seem to have been ironed out. Playing in the first zone hasn’t yet thrown up any horrors to me. Rift’s main theme has always been interaction with the elemental planes, and NT’s theme is the Plane of Water. Those who disliked the zone Vash’jir in WoW’s Cataclysm probably won’t feel entirely comfortable in it. Not all of the zones are underwater, but there are underwater parts to them. And for those who hate the camera giddiness of 3D water combat, never mind edging yourself close to NPC’s and objectives would no doubt hate it. I don’t mind it. The first zone is beautiful, a realm of exposed coral reefs and deep dark pools and grottoes. There are several new water-themed races to encounter, one of which is mer-people, somewhat prettier than the Naga of WoW. Their realm is under attack and we’re there to help them, not least to prevent it drying out completely. (Think WoW’s BC Zangarmarsh type of scenario.) If you bother to read the quest text, the new races have some witty banter about us hairy dry skins! The game play is evenly paced, not too challenging but interesting. Rift was once a PITA for questing, sort of old fashioned in that it was often too difficult with far too much you couldn’t solo. That has changed now, and I’m glad, even if hardcore players whinge about dumbing down. When I’m questing and levelling, I just want to work alone, although it’s fun to group up with others for rifts and other world events. The only gripe I have is that a few quest objectives, such as interacting with certain objects or collecting them, aren’t plentiful enough. This has happened often in WoW too, and is especially annoying at the start of an expansion when hordes of players are about in the starting zone. However, in Rift you can ‘shard hop’, which means crossing from server to server instantly, so on the most problematical quests, I found myself an object I needed to collect/interact with and simply parked at it and shard hopped till I fulfilled the objective. Cheating a bit, but beats riding round and around and around, searching for coral polyps and such like when every other player is doing the same. I’ve really enjoyed the questing so far and annoying quests have been few. The first city you come across, an underwater one, is pretty awesome.

Another new thing in Rift is minions, which is similar to the Garrison followers that will be coming to WoW in WoD. Minions go out on missions for you, such as gathering artifacts (similar to archaeology in WoW), gathering crafting materials, earning notoriety for you (reputation) with game factions and collecting items for your dimensions. I’m only at the start of it, with low level minions who don’t have the most exotic abilities, so not sure if gear rewards come later on. Missions come in various lengths – just a minute to get minion xp, 5-15 mins for slightly better missions, then 8 hour and 10 hour ones, with the longer missions obviously giving better loot. So far it’s been great fun to claim all the rewards. Looking forward to this in WoW also. The game gives you one minion to start off with, but you can buy others in the game store – not expensive either. There’s also an NPC in the game who sells one of each elemental type for 1 platinum each, so again not expensive. Others can be picked up from quests and random drops in the game world. The idea is to match minions to all the quests that pop up in the Minion Window, which are random. You might get a quest such as gathering artifacts from a graveyard, which is a Death mission, so would be best to send an undead minion on that to get the best rewards. If you haven’t got a Death minion you can still do the mission, but a Death minion would be more likely to bring better rewards back to you. The quests and minion matches get more complex as time goes on, so that a mission might do best with – for example – a minion who gets dimension items for you, who is also fire. Some minions have the diplomacy skill so are better for sending off on missions to gain notoriety with the various factions. If the notoriety faction offered for the quest is water-based (very likely at the moment), your best option is to send a minion with both diplomacy and water affinity to complete it. I imagine the trick is to build up your minion collection to match all quest objectives to ensure you reap the fullest benefits from the quests. You start with the ability to send two minions on missions at a time, but can buy extra active minion slots from the game store. You can have as many minions as you like but if you’ve only got 2 slots for missions, only two can be out doing things for you at once. However, if you’re not impatient, two is enough to cycle through the random quests and get nice loot.

Anyway, in summary very happy with both the WoD prepatch in WoW and Rift’s new Nightmare Tide expansion. Can recommend both.

The goddess Arenjee clearly approves of my offerings, since she’s lavished me with love the past few weeks. On my regular ‘disappointment runs’, otherwise known as mount runs, I received divine bounty in the form of Ashes of Alar, Onyxian Drake, Vitreous Drake and Drake of the North Wind. This was all within a couple of weeks with Onyxia and Slabhide coughing up within minutes of each other last week. Some of these mounts I’ve farmed for years, so I’m surprised but grateful to the goddess for deciding she likes me – at least for now, but we know how fickle she is.

However, the shine is taken off my dizzy fervor slightly with the uncertainty still hanging over the fate of flying mounts in Warlords of Draenor. I’m still seeing a lot of debate on forums about it, and it seems to me the people stating ‘I’m all for flying going away’ are the ones who follow it up with ‘anything that annoys other players is good’, or sentiments along those lines. That says it all to me really. I also assume the majority of these posters are into PvP, since unfortunately that mindset seems to go with it snugly in certain players. I do see a few genuine posters talking about their preferred way to play is as a ground-bound pioneer, which is fair enough, but as has been said many times, it’s a player’s choice (at the moment) whether to fly or not. It’s disappointing that people are regarded as ‘whiners’ when they talk about anything they’re unhappy with concerning the proposed game developments. An opinion isn’t necessarily a whine. But of course that’s just the way a lot of the berating forum posters operate – do unto others as you would never do unto yourself, and then have a fit if anyone does unto you in the same way.

My gut feeling is that Blizzard are going to wait and see how things go with WoD concerning when, if ever, to introduce flying into the expansion. Will the players quieten down and just accept they won’t be able to get about quickly and easily, or will they continue to complain about it? Difficult to predict. I do wonder what the real reason is behind Blizzard’s decision over it. Part of me can’t help feeling the ‘flying destroys immersion in the game’ excuse is not the entire truth. It simply doesn’t rest easy with the lucrative store mounts, including very recent ones, being flyers, and all the other reasons I stated in my last post about it. What *is* the real reason and why aren’t we told? Still, really no point speculating any more – we’ll have to wait and see.

I think it’s peculiar we’ve not had any news about a Beta for WoD, never mind a definite release date, other than the vague ‘Fall’ that’s mentioned when you preorder the expansion. You just can’t help feeling something’s amiss, since most people expected a Beta to appear a couple of months at most after Blizzcon last year, with a late spring/early summer release to follow it. Silence is the worst thing, and the only times it’s been broken recently is to let out snippets of news that has unnerved the players. I really wish Blizzard had backed up these snippets with something like ‘We know some of these changes might sound startling, but don’t worry about them, because we’re aware of your concerns, know what we’re doing, and it’s far from our intention to cause upset.’ Even that would have been better than the lack of any reassurance at all.

It’s interesting, and worthy of an entire post on its own, how people take so seriously changes to the world of Warcraft. I’ve thought about it a lot, because I too sometimes have what can only be described as emotional reactions to changes in what is only a game… or is it? After pondering it, I came to the conclusion that for many players, perhaps even the majority, WoW is as valid an environment as that of the real world, because they spend a lot of their leisure time in there. Decisions made in that world affect their enjoyment of and participation in the game. If Azeroth is regarded as a valid yet virtual world, then the Blizzard team is her government, and decisions made by politicians, whether in virtuality or reality, affect their subjects. The Blizzard team comprises a feudal government, since we didn’t elect them. Their chancellors demand tithes – the monthly sub – and in return we are allowed to live on land we do not own. It belongs to the government. This body controls the world and although the subjects might have a say concerning potential changes, they know their voices can be ignored if the government chooses to do so. Mostly the governors are benevolent, because happy subjects are more likely to continue living in that world and paying the tithes, rather than packing their bags and seeking a different world. But ultimately the government has the final say on everything, and like in reality it might impose changes the population just has to accept and live with. You could explore this idea in far more depth and length – I find it really intriguing to think about.

Still, on to cheerier things. I’m really enjoying Reaper of Souls, the new Diablo expansion. It’s come at a good time to keep members of our guild occupied while we wait for news or materialization of WoD. The other night there were more players on our Clan roster in Diablo than there were on our guild one in WoW. At least we’re still all playing together, rather than people splintering off to do other things because they’ve got little to do in WoW. The new Act in the game is beautifully designed, despite the ‘yuck’ moments of having to wade through streets full of corpses at some points. Well, this is Diablo; it’s always had a high ‘yuck’ factor here and there. Killing a huge burrowing worm with such force that all that’s left is a bloody spine on the floor has both sickening and comedy value, I suppose, as do the heads flying off and bouncing across the ground now and again. I really like all the improvements and additions made to the game, and applaud the decision to remove the Auction Houses. Now you can just go to get your own gear, and not be hampered by the greed of players putting good items on the AH at daftly inflated prices. Gear drops have improved to accommodate this, although you do come to a point where you find nothing useful is dropping any more and you’ll have to punch above your weight a bit and go for a much harder level of play in order to get things moving again – which of course is the whole idea of the game. Legendaries appear far more frequently, as do really good plans for excellent pieces of gear to craft.

The new Crusader character is fun to play, although I’ve spent most time when I’ve been in there working on my Witch Doctor. She was a bit so-so before but seems a far more rounded character now and much more enjoyable. I’m accruing Paragon levels on her swiftly. All the new activities added for end game are great too – random scenarios you can solo or do with friends – to collect loot and also special shards that enable you to open a Nephalem rift for even greater rewards. Some of the ‘bounty’ scenarios are very short so are ideal for people with limited time to play.

The transmogging and enchanting systems are also good additions – I wish WoW emulated them. Being able to ‘learn’ the appearances of bits of gear you pick up, and add them to your private store, so that you can transmog into them on all your characters is a cool idea. No need to store bits of gear in your Stash or on your character any more – and in every game of this type storage is always an issue, so anything to help with that is most welcome. The enchanting is far more specific than the reforging in WoW, allowing greater customization into more useful stats. All in all, I haven’t found anything I don’t like. If there is a downside, it’s that the world of Diablo is far smaller than what you find in an MMO, so there’s a danger of becoming bored of the same scenery over and over, but the new random scenarios have done a lot to counter that.

I know there’s always the argument that MMOs are supposed to be games where you group with people, and I wouldn’t disagree with that in terms of large group ventures like raids, but I do like the choice you have in Diablo, of being able to solo everything or play with friends if you want to. It doesn’t make our guild any less social, but just adds a refreshing amount of freedom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My love affair with the fantasy turn-based strategy game began in 1996 with the release of Heroes of Might and Magic 2. A magazine I bought contained a free demo of it. Jim and I played that demo through a weekend virtually without pause (mainly me watching him play!) and we bought it as soon as possible afterwards. Before then, I’d been hooked on games like Lemmings and Civilisation.

I’d never played a game like HOMM before; it reminded me of the best board games from when I was a child that had involved collecting ‘bits’. Flagging mines to earn daily resources for my towns, looting dead foes, picking up treasures – all this was completely new to me. I also loved the concept of building up cities and making choices about what fantasy race to be. As it was not a RTS (real time strategy) game, since you took turns with the computer for both world exploration and combat, you did not have to keep on your toes with events happening in all directions at once. In fact when later Jim became enamoured of RTS games, I found them almost exhausting, preferring the leisurely turn-based model of HOMM. The fantasy aspect of HOMM really appealed to me and journeying around its maps inspired story ideas. For the first time I had dreams inspired by a game, in which I was travelling through that world; this again fed into my creativity and helped flesh out stories and novels.

One thing I would like to say here before continuing with the story; contrary to what many anti-games people say, (and have even said to my face), computer games do not stifle creativity, or suck up a person’s life so much they are no longer creative. Most of the games I’ve played, and certainly the ones I’ve loved, have inspired me. It’s no different to watching a film that sparks off ideas. But anyway, back to the story…

The pinnacle of the HOMM franchise (which is still going strong) was for many of us the next release, HOMM 3 in 1999. By this time Jim and I had devoured all of what HOMM 2 had to offer, although we still played the game on different difficulties, or just to revisit maps we’d particularly enjoyed. When in America for a convention, we’d even bought the rather basic HOMM 1 (1995), just to play through it and see how it all started. HOMM 3 was far superior to its predecessor, bringing in new races and cities. There were eight different races to play, and you could choose to play the same campaigns but from different racial perspectives. I favoured the Dungeon race, wherein lived warlocks and overlords, commanding creatures of the underworld, culminating in the awesome black dragons. There were two levels for each of the seven creature types you could breed in your towns, starting off with the lower level variety. You could upgrade the spawn buildings when the city reached a certain level of development and you had the resources to build them. New troops were available to hire every week from the buildings.

The campaigns for HOMM 3 were quite difficult in their later scenarios, but Jim and I tended to work through them together so it never became too much of a strain – him being far more patient than me. On evenings when I played alone I would work through the single player maps, eventually discovering the cornucopia of player-created maps you could download from various fan sites. Generally, the best of these were superior to what shipped with the game. I even started creating my own maps, based on the Wraeththu books, which I shared with friends who also played the game. Sadly, those maps are now lost on some long dead computer and I never kept backups. You could tell a story through a well-designed map, and all of the game resources were available for their creation, so you could guide your players through them in exactly the way you wanted so that the story unfolded in a satisfying way.

Two expansions appeared for HOMM 3, and also a series of five stand alone campaigns, Heroes Chronicles. Two more downloadable Chronicles became available, but sadly only to American players. (If anyone reading this has the final two Chronicles, The Fiery Moon and The World Tree, sharable and playable for a European machine, please get in touch!) A player-created ‘expansion’ HOMM 3 and 1/2 was available for free as a download and kept people busy until the next version of the game. HOMM 4 appeared in 2002.

This game was a departure from the winning model of HOMM 3. A more 3D look was brought to the game and there were now only six playable races – all with new creatures and heroes to hire. While I enjoyed HOMM 4, it never really engaged me as much as HOMM 3 did, and some people I know were content to stay with the earlier game, continuing to download player-made maps. HOMM 4’s campaigns were much harder to complete and by this time I was playing the game alone more than not, as Jim had moved on to other games. I found the difficulty frustrating a lot of the time. I don’t mind a challenge but I’m not one of those gamers who love their games insanely hard and virtually impossible to win. I play for fun and part of the fun is being able to achieve objectives eventually without hitting your head against a wall of difficulty again and again. The so-called easy mode was not noticeably easy at later stages of a campaign. A lot of players resorted to ‘cheat codes’ which enabled you to boost your armies when faced with overwhelming defeat. A friend who also played showed me these cheats and I must admit that out of sheer frustration I would sometimes use those codes, conjuring a pile of dragons just to wipe the smile off the faces of the swarming enemies who had swamped me beyond rescue. That is not a great way to play, of course, but other than give up there seemed no other path to follow. Expansions to HOMM 4 followed, which I bought, but still found myself enjoying more the previous game and its player made follow up.

Eventually, my interest petered out and I started playing a similar game called Disciples: Sacred Lands (1999) and its sequel Disciples II: Dark Prophecy (2002). While remarkably similar to HOMM 3 in certain ways, the beauty of these titles is that the difficulty is matched by what it says on the screen. If you want ‘easy’ mode to learn the game, you get easy. There are no horrible surprises halfway through a campaign on the lowest difficulty setting, such as when the AI throws a bundle of foes at you, all twice your level and with armies three times the size of yours (the typical HOMM campaign scenario).

While my interest in WoW’s Mists of Pandaria is waning a little, since I’ve got nearly all my characters to level 90 and there is little more to do other than raid, I’ve been revisiting my old loves. Hauling my oldest computer out of the spare room (which is the only one out of our computer menagerie that still has Windows XP on it and is affectionately referred to as the ‘legacy machine’), I installed the HOMM 3 games on it and also Disciples II. Working through the campaigns on both, I ran into the same problems with HOMM yet not with Disciples. While the end scenarios of the Disciples campaigns pit you against some really tough foes, you have time to build up before being swamped by the enemy, so that you can take on the big bad in your own time. Even so, you’re not guaranteed a win; you have to be careful and make the most of the strategy part of the game to succeed. I realised this was what made Disciples more satisfying than HOMM, at least in the campaign department. But then I am perhaps not the most dedicated of gamers and don’t like things too difficult.

The HOMM franchise is still going, although under the leadership of a new company, and Heroes 5 and 6 are available to buy – in fact you can acquire all of the Heroes games plus expansions (minus HOMM 6), in one bundle now at a very cheap price. 6 is playable on a modern machine but Heroes 5 can cause problems on any OS later than Windows XP. However, having tried both HOMM 5 & 6 recently, I discovered the problem of difficulty not only persists but has increased. I found both of these games too hard, even on single player maps. The AI does the usual thing of throwing insanely tough foes against you before you have time to build up. I’m told by a friend who designs games that the idea is to rampage through maps, not bothering about enemies taking your towns, in order to reach objectives quickly and ahead of the enemy. Precise timing of when to do what is essential and you need to study a walkthrough of each scenario to succeed. That’s not the way I like to play. Reading up on strategy is fine for raiding in an MMO like WoW, but I don’t expect to find it mandatory in a single player turn-based strategy game. Surely the game should unfold as you play it, and conform to the difficulty level you chose when you started your map? I enjoy the town-building aspect and prefer to take my time to strengthen my heroes and armies before taking on the baddies. I do not enjoy being townless, with no way of getting more troops, and not being strong enough even to take a new town, as my armies are whittled away to nothing by foes along the road and I give up in frustration. While both HOMM 5 and 6 are more beautiful to look at than HOMM 3, with truly gorgeous new races and cities, they do not inspire me creatively, mainly because I’m so angry and frustrated as I try to play that I have no time or inclination to admire the scenery or the story-telling. Maybe I’ll have to find some cheat codes, eh?

Happily, I discovered very recently that the Disciples franchise is not dead either. Disciples III: Renaissance was released in 2010, with a sequel Disciples III: Resurrection in 2011. Apparently, both of these can be acquired through Steam and any bugs that had existed at release have been ironed out. You can also buy both Disciples II and III from stores like Amazon very cheaply, (which I did), thereby avoiding Steam’s more annoying and intrusive aspects on your machine. Also, you get to have the disks. Whether a Disciples IV is in the pipeline or not I have no idea.

Disciples III plays fine on a new computer and while its look emulates that of HOMM 6, being more ‘realistic’ graphics-wise than its predecessors, it is far more welcoming to the newcomer. It’s possible to play the game without being swamped by foes. The campaign can be played through from the perspective of three different races, and there are also player-made maps to download from fan sites, which is good since only one stand-alone scenario comes with the game itself. While Disciples II differed from HOMM in several ways, not least artistically, but was also very similar, Disciples III might as well be a HOMM 6 clone, only more forgiving. You have heroes, you build up towns, you hire troops, you gather resources and you fight foes in the landscape as well as the heroes governed by the AI. That’s HOMM by any other name. But I really don’t mind that. The city of the faction Legion of the Damned reminds me strongly of the fiery underworld of Diablo – the cities all in fact look great.

So for anyone looking for something to play until Warlords of Draenor appears, or whose WoW time is dwindling during this period, and/or who fancies a dabble in these older games, here are two cheap fantasy franchises to try. HOMM 4 onwards for those who like things very tough, HOMM 2 & 3 and Disciples I, II & III for those who like a gentler ride. If you do have a ‘legacy machine’ I highly recommend HOMM 3, as that really – to me at least – was the golden moment of fantasy turned-based strategy. And its fan base survives as people continue to play that game, despite its great age in computer game terms. While we talk about WoW being an ‘old game’, if it manages to keep going as long as HOMM 3 that will be an accomplishment!

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.